LIKE THE MOM-AND-POP stores of days gone by, local sports teams come and go. They have their small-town run and then become a distant memory, perhaps in the form of collectible logo caps or faded T-shirts. While the public’s romance with major baseball league teams endures, the minor league teams often struggle to stay viable. Yet when the umpire yells “play ball!” the fire for the local home team comes alive, and the crowd roars.
Historic Albert Park in downtown San Rafael will soon transform into Marin’s Field of Dreams (minus Kevin Costner and the rest of the 1989 movie cast) as it hosts the county’s first minor league baseball team — the San Rafael Pacifics— who step up to the plate this summer. No plowing of corn needed. “The park has been home to baseball games since the 1950s, when it was built,” says lifelong baseball fan and owner of Centerfield Partners LLC Brian Clark. “We are so enamored with Albert Park. It’s an incredibly charming venue, and the people who go to it talk about it with reverent tones.”
Clark is the kind of guy who believes if you build it, they will come. He is the visionary known for having been instrumental in building Virgin America from the ground up, and now the East Bay resident, through Centerfi eld Partner LLC, has bought the territory rights from the independent North American Baseball League (NABL) to start expansion teams here in the Bay Area. “This is about passion more than anything else,” says the 39-year-old married father of three. “We want to connect with families and engage with the kids, providing an entertainment option that’s affordable.” The Pacifics team is expected to be part of a stable of probably three more teams Centerfield would like to roll out over the next few years in the Bay Area.
Former Major League Baseball all-star Mike Marshall, who has played as an outfi elder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox and California Angels, is thrilled to be managing the Pacifi cs. “Independent baseball is the closest thing to the major leagues,” he says. Marshall expects to sign a mixture of ex-major leaguers, players with experience ranging from Single-A to AAA ball, as well as younger players overlooked in the major league draft. He anticipates that most of the 22-member team will come from the Bay Area, which he describes as a “hotbed for terrific talent.” Steve Detweiler, who played at Fresno State after attending San Rafael High School, is among the local talent Marshall is focusing on. Former S.F. Giant Mike LaCoss will be the pitching coach.
The 90-game 2012 season begins at the end of May and runs through August. Season tickets will range in price from $10 to $20 per seat per game, and home games will begin at 7:15 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. on Fridays, and 1:15 p.m. on Sundays.
Centerfield expects the 45 home games at Albert Park to pack the stands — and that’s exactly what some neighbors are worried about. The Albert Park Neighborhood Alliance is crying foul, fi ling a lawsuit against the city of San Rafael and Centerfield Partners, asserting that the California Environmental Quality Act is being violated because an initial environmental study on the impact of professional minor league play at the park has not been conducted. The city contends such a review is not necessary. It says the plan has been scaled back in an eff ort to appease neighbors, and it will review activity during the season. The new plan calls for adding just 100 seats instead of 700 and provides free parking. As of press time, a hearing date was set for February 28.
For local little league players with big-time dreams, the launch of the San Rafael Pacifics could help bring the fantasy into focus. “We’re teaching sportsmanship and a sense of community,” says Mark Lubamersky, president of San Rafael Little League. “Having the Pacifics provides a natural extension of that, with positive role models for the kids.”
Centerfield Partners says it’s had an incredible response from the Marin business community. “We’re talking with dozens of businesses and are in the process of signing on many of them,” says Clark. As sponsors, businesses will most often get signage in the stadium. But this is the minor league, and Clark enjoys the hyper-local aspects. He says there will be creative advertising too, such as, perhaps, the mascot walking a bouquet of flowers into the stands to promote a local florist, or a hot dog race on the field sponsored by a local restaurant. “The goal is to have fun doing what we’re doing,” says Clark. “And so far, so good.”