Pacific Association Roundup – Part 1: Introducing…

Welcome to B&N, Clive Barker

Minor League baseball teams and leagues are dotted all over the United States and Canada. Many of these leagues are “affiliated”, with the clubs who play in them linked to clubs in the Majors . However, there are also nine fully independent baseball leagues.

These leagues tend to be filled with unsigned players and the odd veteran who is either trying to work their way back or simply still wants to keep playing baseball. The players are still paid but the salaries are much lower than even the lowest level of the Minors – Short Season leagues. In the Indies, players  generally take home $650-$850 per month and live with host families – they’re here because they love the grind, not to get rich.

One of these leagues – the smallest, ‘lowest’ of the low – the Pacific Association of Baseball Clubs, became slightly more famous in the last couple of years. During the 2015 season, Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller (both of Baseball Prospectus at the time) were given the opportunity to run the Sonoma Stompers. The book ‘The Only Rule Is It Has To Work’ details Lindbergh and Miller’s unconventional approach in Sonoma. If you’ve listened to their brilliant ‘Effectively Wild’ podcast, you’ll know what to expect – top relievers in the middle innings, five-man infields, they all got their own natural experiment.

The book brought international attention to the Pacific Association; a relatively young league, having been established in 2013 which is made up of four teams and primarily located north of San Francisco/Oakland.

There are currently four teams making up the Pacific Association:

Pittsburg Diamonds

The Diamonds joined the league in 2014 as the Pittsburg Mettle before rebranding to become the Diamonds in 2015.

They play at Winter Chevrolet Stadium in Pittsburg, CA (Not to be confused with Pittsburgh, PA, home of the Pirates) and are managed by former major leaguer, Aaron Miles who won a World Series ring with the Cardinals in 2006.

Pittsburg have yet to post a winning season, having come closest in 2015 when they finished with a 38-39 record. They have finished third out of the four teams in both 2015 and 2016, having finished fourth in their debut season.

Interesting fact: Jose Canseco (Yes, THAT Jose Canseco) has played for the team on three separate occasions. He played two separate weekend stints in 2015 and was signed for the final month of the 2016 regular season.

San Rafael Pacifics

The Pacifics were formed in 2011 and have been in the Pacific Association since its inception, having previously played in the North American League.

They play at Albert Park in San Rafael, CA and they also have a major league link with staffing. Mike Shapiro, who worked in front office roles for the San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals is the team’s general manager.

The Pacifics have the most titles in the short history of the league, having won the title twice, first in 2014 and 2015, having been defeated in the championship play-off game of 2013.

Interesting fact: Just like the official MiLB affiliate of the UK, Erie SeaWolves, the Pacifics will be holding an “Alternate Facts” night in August.

Sonoma Stompers

The Stompers came into existence for the 2014 season, succeeding the Sonoma County Grapes who previously played in the North American League (though they played as a road team, rather than playing in Sonoma). When they were established, they became the first professional baseball team in Sonoma since 2002 when the Sonoma County Crushers ceased playing.

They play at Peoples Home Equity Ballpark at Arnold Field in Sonoma County. The Stompers’ GM, Theo Fightmaster, was given his first baseball job – counselor at a baseball camp – by Washington Nationals skipper Dusty Baker.

The Stompers have gradually improved since they came into the league in 2014. In their debut season, they finished third, in 2015 they lost the championship play-off game to the Pacifics, but then came back to win the championship in 2016. It is also worth noting that in 2015, when the team were run by Lindbergh and Miller, they ‘won’ the first half of the season and only lost the championship by one run.

Interesting fact: The team is one of the most inclusive professional teams, having signed the sport’s first openly gay player, Sean Conroy, in 2015 and signing three female players  – Kelsie Whitmore, Stacey Pigano and Anna Kimbrell– in 2016,  the first time since the 1950s that professional baseball had a co-ed team.

Vallejo Admirals

The Admirals, just like the Pacifics, have been in the Pacific Association since it started, having been founded in 2013.

They play at Wilson Park in Vallejo. Their manager, P.J. Phillips, spent seven seasons with the LA Angels and two with the Cincinatti Reds before joining the independent Atlantic League in 2014.

The Admirals have had a chaotic history in the league. They were suspended in 2013 for a time before finally finishing 3rd, a spot they took in 2014 before being last in 2015 and 2016.

Interesting fact: During 2016, the Admirals had three players signed by major league clubs. The club’s closer, Tim Holmes, was the first to go, when the Yankees picked him up after just nine games of the season. During the 2016 offseason, second baseman, Allan Silva, signed with the Washington Nationals and starter, Kida De La Cruz signed with the LA Angels.

The Pacific Association season started on June 2nd with the Stompers looking to repeat last season’s success. I’ll be here weekly with a round-up of the action and latest news. Hopefully you can join me as we travel through the 2017 season by the Pacific.

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