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Sports Corner

League baseball without the major headaches

San Rafael Pacifics first season could bring a spring training vibe to summer ball (Photo: steve hermanos)

Want to watch professional baseball on a warm summer evening? Would you like $10 seats and free parking? Want to match the driving time that it takes to go from the Marina Green to
AT&T Park?

If so, there’s a new quasi-local team: the San Rafael Pacifics. They play in Albert Park, about two miles from the twining of 580 and 101, about a mile from the 101 if you peel off the highway in the heart of San Rafael.

The Pacifics play in the North American Baseball League (NABL), one of a handful of leagues around the U.S. that is not affiliated with Major League Baseball. Historically, independent-league teams have wildly unpredictable degrees of stability. Many are birthed one year and die the next. This might be a one-year phenomenon, or the San Rafael Pacifics could become a fixture like the Giants or (ahem) the 49ers.

San Rafael Pacifics games are scheduled to start June 4 and continue through the summer. You can sit on plastic seats in a fenced-in box on the field for $20 ($22 day of), or in the late 1940s-era concrete grandstand for $10 ($12 day of). As of press time, the Pacifics plan to play their entire 84-game schedule against three teams – the Orange County Flyers, the Yuma Panthers, and the Na Koa Ikaika Maui – so expect rivalries to develop.

Season ticket purchasers I spoke with are looking forward to a relaxed, spring-training-in-Arizona vibe. This should be a great place to bring kids just learning about baseball, where you can sit close to the action, explain the game for a little while, then go on to the brightly colored, sugary treats.

The owners of the Pacifics plan to put some money into the currently rusty, paint-chipped ballpark. They plan to add a small centerfield party pavilion, but the jury is out on what, exactly, the experience will be. The baseball is likely to be very serious. Mike Marshall, the ex-major-leaguer who played for the Dodgers for 10 years, will be the manager of the Pacifics.

Giants fans with elephantine memories might recall that on April 21, 1987, with the Giants–Dodgers game in extra innings, Giants manager Roger Craig ordered an intentional walk to Pedro Guerrero, preferring that the Giants face Mike Marshall, who blasted a homer in revenge. Rounding the bases, Marshall repeatedly pointed at Craig, a gesture that was taken as taunting. The next pitch was thrown over the head of the subsequent Dodger batter, Alex Trevino, and Candlestick field became host to a bench clearing Dodgers–Giants brawl, after which Giants fans threw cups of beer and fired coins at the Dodgers as they returned to the dugout.

I dig up this artifact because they say a sports team emanates the personality of its coach/manager. This Pacifics season might get very interesting, with some non-pacific, non-kid-friendly interludes. We will see.

The level of play should be about that of double-A, and arguably similar to the Cal or Stanford teams. Many ex-pro minor-league players have graced the fields of NABL teams. San Rafael Pacifics players will be paid an average of $700 per month and housed by host families – think student exchange (by the way, host families are still needed; the Pacifics pay for players’ food).

In Major League Baseball’s minor leagues, players are coddled. Each player is a significant investment for their team, and the investors don’t want their investments getting injured. By contrast, the players you will see on the field in San Rafael have been passed over, or cast off, by the major league franchises. San Rafael Pacifics players will be clinging to their dreams of playing in the majors and, I predict, this will lead to exciting, daring, aggressive, and borderline-desperate play.

At a recent Pacifics tryout, at which about 150 men showed up in uniform (one wearing basketball shorts), Anthony Terrell Ray of Emeryville was leading off third, and when the catcher lollopped the ball back to the pitcher, Ray stole home. Later he said, “I’ve got to do something to make them notice me.”

Getting to the game: The key is carpooling. Marin County commuters are a one-to-a-foreign-car type, so put a total of three humans in your car. After driving across the most beautiful bridge in the world, through the tunnel, and down to the Sausalito flats, swerving into the carpool lane on 101 in rush hour should get you to San Rafael in 25 minutes.

Be prudent: Check the team’s website (www.pacificsbaseball.com) to make sure that the team is still viable and the day’s game is still on.

Weather: Did I neglect to mention that it’s usually warm in San Rafael on summer evenings? Leave your quilted coat and ski hat in the car and let your body relax in the last rays of the day.

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