Of course, there’s something cool about attending a baseball game at one of the big stadiums, like Wrigley Field or Dodger Stadium. However, the game is much more accessible as a purely American activity at any of the hundreds of minor league ballparks and especially by fans while sitting on rough bleachers and watching a hometown team play its heart out for the joy of the game. I’ve known the game at the big league level and spent eight years playing infield positions for a number of professional baseball clubs. On August 9, I’m scheduled to go to St. Louis for a promotional event in honor of the Cardinals’ triumph in the 2011 World Series. The team is manufacturing bobbleheads of a dozen players who played key roles in that win. One of the bobbleheads looks a lot like me. Furthermore, I’ve been selected to throw out the first pitch in the game, participate in an on-air interview, sign autographs, and sit in the announc- er’s booth for a couple innings, providing color.
However, I’m currently channeling my energies towards my role as manager of the local Pittsburg Diamonds ball team, which is a member of the Pacific Association Baseball League. We are the remnants of the old Golden League that was an important county fixture years ago.
Like a three-legged stool, a successful ball team involves three essential require- ments. The first is to provide a great family fan experience including everything from quality hotdogs to great on-field entertainment. The second requirement is putting a competitive hard-playing team on the field. The third requirement is active engagement with the community, establishing a community identity through outreach to schools, service organizations, and other community programs. We changed our colors to orange and black in order to match Pittsburg High School colors. We also changed our name to the Diamonds, which was a former famous professional team in Pittsburg.
The Pacific Association Baseball League has been around for five years. There were originally five teams but dropped the Hawaiian team three years ago, because of travel costs. Our teams currently include the Sonoma Stompers, The San Rafael Pacifics, The Vallejo Admirals, and our Diamonds.
I became involved in 2014 as the player coach for the Pittsburg Diamonds, which at that time was called the Mettle. I stepped away after a month because of personal issues but continued attending games and cheering them on. Last year there were some management changes and, even though I initially resisted becoming involved, last May, a month before opening day, the general manager, Tom Macari, together with the new owner, Kurram Shah — who owns All County’s Towing — came to me with an offer I couldn’t refuse. Kurram has a longtime love for baseball and always dreamt of owning a team. We were both scrambling because we had only ten days before Spring Training to put together a season — getting sponsors, negotiating with stadium operations people, and then cramming training into eight days. At this level, the position of head coach involves a lot of details and it seemed that everything was thrown on my plate.
It was tough creating the necessary great family experience with that little heads-up and is difficult, in any timeframe, to make even a small hometown ball team succeed with some deep pockets to cover expenses. However, we’re working hard to help people have a great fan experience and to create quality entertainment at the field not just on the field so that adults and children will leave the park at the end of the game, planning to come back as soon as possible. We’ll have good food, good music, Taco Tuesdays, and a Mariachi Band.
We have some good things going on. Winter Chevrolet and Sutter Delta are providing sponsorships. Winter Chevrolet has the naming rights to the ballpark, and we’re printing Sutter Delta on each ball. We’re providing spaces for other sponsors on the back wall, the gates, and beside the walkways for them and other sponsors to hang banners. Our field, Pittsburg City Park, will be changed to Winter Chevrolet Park. The City of Pittsburg wants to see the team thrive and has gotten behind us 100 percent. They are putting in a new snack bar and are planning a kids’ play area.
Small leagues like ours pop up all the time, often popping down just as quickly. One team in Georgia lasted a year. Last year a league in Oregon shut down after only three weeks. Our baseball league is like the girls’ team in A League of Their Own movie because we are having the same difficulty maintaining our existence as the girl’s team in that movie. In fact, to emphasize the League of Their Own qualities, the San Rafael team played a game while wearing the same style skirts the female players wore in the movies. They got some airtime on ESPN. We are always trying out new things to attract interest in the game. We brought out the first robotic umpires for a few games. Fun stuff, but our human umpires are not in immediate danger of losing their jobs.
Our small league is traditionally led by the San Rafael Pacifics that, like the Yankees, have the resources to ensure their program is near the top. They have provided significant sponsorship money for many exciting promotions and events at the ballpark. The league is becoming competi- tive however, and we are raising our quality of play to challenge their dominance. We were actually in first place during much of the final part of last season.
Our Diamonds team is charging ahead in a number of ways. We did a memorial for Vince DiMaggio, brother to Joe, who was manager of the old Pittsburg Diamonds. I added some very competitive players to the team. Our owner Kurram Shah enlivened the atmosphere for a week by enlisting the help of a couple former big leaguers. He signed Jose Canseco and Tony Philips to play some games with us. Those guys can still play quality ball. Canseco can still turn on a 90+ MPH pitch. In one memorable game, he went three for three. During the week he was with us, Canseco dominated a homerun derby. He can still hit the ball out of the park. The former A’s star, Tony Philips, retired from the game in 1999, but still had a fire inside him and proved he could still play ball at a high level. He was fun to watch.
Unfortunately, he unexpectedly passed away in February. He was only 56 years old. Kurram hopes to bring in some more ex big leaguers again this year.
Coaching the Diamonds has turned out to be a great thing for me. I love the sport and, unlike my pro career, which was spent in distant ballparks, I can now be involved in the game and remain available to my kids. We’re all doing everything we can to spark interest in the game, especially trying to make a trip to the ballpark a lot of fun.
Maybe it’s working, because I don’t think I ever had a better time with the game than I’m having coaching those amazing Diamonds and being part of this league of our own. Our young players are living their dream. They are hoping to one day be signed by a major league team but, in the meantime, are having fun bringing a lot of happy and exciting ballgames to our fans.
You can follow the team on our Pittsburg Diamonds Facebook page and on the web at www.diamondsproball.com.
Opening day is Tuesday May 31. C’mon out and cheer your local ball team on to victory.