The church of the round ball

Walt Williams

Baseball is a religion in Sonoma. From T-ball at the Boys and Girls Club to Giants games at AT & T park, the elements are the same: Faith, devotion, inspiration, symbols, sacred histories and tradition.

Whether you follow the Abner Doubleday sect (invented baseball in 1839 in Cooperstown) or the Alexander Cartwright sect (developed the rules of baseball in 1845), all are welcome.

Maybe baseball morphed from the game “rounders” or “cricket” or “stoolball” or “schlagball” but, regardless, by 1876 the national league was developed and the church of the round ball took off.

If you are lucky enough to live in a devoted community like Sonoma and you are lucky enough to raise a boy (or girl) in a devoted community like Sonoma then you will be exposed to the church of the round ball. Belief begins early, a plastic bat and ball teaching hand eye coordination and simple fundamentals, running, catching, hitting.

Then the first T-ball experience where many parents begin to focus their progeny to live out whatever level of devotion they deem important (Devout Christianity? Progressive Protestantism? Non-committal Agnosticism?). A few become Atheists (soccer players? golfers?) but most get on board.

As the devoted grow, they move up in places of worship. Maxwell Park to Teeter Field to Hughes Field to Paul’s Field to Arnold Field. With this growth comes the strengthening of devotion and faith. Faith is good, faith is comfort, faith is security, and faith brings peace.

Each year the teams vary from leader to leader who promote various philosophies of devotion. After tryouts, a lucky few will be chosen to enter the house of Curt Dunkle and his Bears Empire, others become Falcons, Tigers or Blue Jays. Then when the regular season ends the lucky, talented or chosen few share the all-star roster, an early level of Nirvana in the church of the round ball.

Amazingly some parents prioritize their decision for high school attendance not on the quality of education but on the church of the round ball. Who has the best history, best coaches, and best program, best players? Which high school will lead to that college scholarship and pro career? The simple truth in the church of the round ball is the same as perfecting devotion in anything: work hard, play well, play often, and maintain your faith. If you really think your child is the next Buster Posey then great, support the dream but do not force them to overcome your shortcomings in life.

The Stompers are the newest sect in town (Rastafarianism? Mormonism? Scientology?) One of four teams in the newly formed Pacific Association league, they compete against the San Rafael Pacifics, Pittsburg Mettle and Vallejo Admirals. The Stompers have refreshed the church at Arnold Field to include not only access to the sacrament (All hail the mighty Lagunitas IPA) but they have resurrected professional baseball in our beautiful city.

“Here we have the perfect balance of great weather, great food, great hospitality, and now, the love and passion of the great sport of baseball, explained mayor Tom Rouse. “The city council was extremely pleased when the Stompers organization chose Sonoma to be their ‘home base.’”

The Stompers are the newest addition to a colorful local baseball history. Joe DiMaggio played summer ball here in 1932 and 1933 in an era of the Healdsburg Prune Packers, the Santa Rosa Rosebuds, Sonoma Merchants and the Petaluma Leghorns. In the 1940’s The San Francisco Seals and the Oakland Oaks would come to Boyes Hot Springs for spring training. And who can forget the Sonoma County Crushers, 1995-2002, and their abominable snowman mascot with giant purple feet used to stomp grapes.

 

A favorite story from the Stompers opening night: Visiting team the San Rafael Pacifics are warming up their monstrous pitcher in the visitors bullpen on the left field side of the ballpark and his knuckles keep grazing an overhanging fig tree. Their pitching coach asks field manager and baseball deity Mario Alioto if he can do anything about it,

“Yeah, get a shorter pitcher,” answers Mario, explaining the classic hometown advantage in the church of the round ball.

The Stompers also provide a local and more accessible place of worship. Three-dollar bleacher seats, two-dollar sodas, four-dollar dogs and five-dollar Lagunitas Hop Stoopid IPA means a family of four can see a game for under twenty bucks. At the church of the all-mighty Giants that’s about half of what it will cost you to park.

The hometown experience is also compounded by the fact that many Stompers are living with local residents during the season.  You will see them walking the aisles of Whole Foods, riding bikes through the plaza, signing autographs at Black Bear Diner, inspiring Sonoma youth to follow.

Plus the fellowship at the Stompers game is incredible. Standing in line for concessions is just like donuts and coffee before church. You catch up with your neighbors; the kids run off to their own self-designated meeting spot, traditions are started.

So get to church, believe, have faith, become inspired. Feel lucky to live in a community that devotedly supports the church of the round ball.

Amen.

 


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