While the Ports ultimate goal of a league-leading 12th California League Championship fell short, players and fans alike can walk away smiling at the valiant effort shown by the team that many have dubbed the future of the Oakland Athletics’ organization.
Coming into the start of the season, the Ports’ franchise had been experiencing a playoff drought, something that seemed a bit odd for an organization who leads the California League with 11 league titles. The last playoff season Stockton put together was back in 2011, in which they lost to the Lake Elsinore Storm in the California League Championship round.
With the conclusion of spring training, the Ports’ roster formed a young squad that featured several top prospects of the Athletics’ organization. Such stars included shortstop Daniel Robertson, first baseman Matt Olson, and third baseman Renato Nunez, to name just a few.
The Ports were led by first-year manager Ryan Christenson, who came to the Ports from Beloit after putting together a highly successful 2013 season for the Snappers which included a second-round playoff berth. Many of the players Christenson managed were now with him in Stockton.
With the elevated level of talent on the 2014 Ports roster, many people within the organization had high hopes going into the season, but with a team that featured so many young prospects, the approach was still a “wait and see” type of outlook.
As the Ports began the season on the road in Visalia and Bakersfield, Opening Night at Banner Island Ballpark finally arrived with the Ports taking on the Rawhide on April 10th, marking the 73rd season of Stockton Ports Baseball in the California League. The game, much like the Ports’ season, proved to be a marathon, with the Ports putting everything on the line to walk away with a win. After 18 innings of play, Ports OF Billy McKinney had a walk-off base hit to seal the victory for the Ports.
While fans eagerly awaited fireworks that night following the victory, the wait for the Ports’ internal fireworks as a team proved to be an even longer wait.
Throughout the early stages of the season, the team showed flashes of brilliance, putting together a 6 game winning streak in April, and another six-game winning streak less than two weeks later in May. However, inconsistent play kept the Ports at .500 baseball for the better part of the first half of the season.
Both the Ports’ offense and pitching played a pivotal part in helping the team’s first-half run but never seemed to really sync up. Inconsistency was often displayed as the Ports dropped crucial first-half series to teams they were very capable of beating, including the Inland Empire 66’ers and Modesto Nuts.
While the Ports never really seemed to be able to get over the .500 hump for much of the first half, several players began contributing. Ports pitcher Seth Streich set the tone early as the team’s ace, and catcher Bruce Maxwell proved to be one of the most dangerous catchers in the league, throwing out base runners with ease. Both players represented the Ports in the 2014 California-Carolina League All-Star game. Maxwell was eventually promoted to Double-A Midland, while a second-half injury finished Streich’s season earlier than expected.
Ports position players Daniel Robertson and Chad Pinder provided the Ports with consistent offense for the first half and quickly became one of the most feared offenses in the league. Ports slugger Matt Olson also contributed to the Ports team total of 174 home runs (good for second in the league) as his power helped push the Ports forward. Other players including Aaron Shipman, Billy McKinney, Ryon Healy, and Bobby Crocker contributed to the Ports’ offense as well. A mid-season promotion from Beloit to Stockton for Ports pitcher Chris Lamb and a trade for Jake Sanchez also helped pave the way for the Ports and improve their pitching tremendously.
As the first half wrapped up, the Ports started to play consistent baseball and finished with an overall 37-33 record, good for second place behind first-half champions Bakersfield Blaze. Stockton’s record proved to be the highest wins over .500 they amassed all season long.
The same Ports team that struggled to finally reach a record above .500 in the first half looked like a different team at the start of the second half of the season. Stockton rattled off an impressive 9-game winning streak which spanned from June 13th to June 25th and helped propel them to the top of the standings board in the second half of the season, something they never gave up.
Ports third baseman Renato Nunez caught fire and quickly became the California League pitcher’s public enemy number one. At the All-Star break, Nunez was hitting just .255 with 9 home runs and 29 RBI. By season’s end, he finished with a .279 average along with 29 home runs and 96 RBI. Nunez was added to the World Team in the 2014 MLB Futures All-Star Game, marking the second straight season a Ports player participated.
Matt Olson also kept fans paying attention with his league-leading 37 home runs (two shy of tying the Ports all-time record) and 117 walks.
On July 4th, a trade between the Athletics and Cubs, which sent Ports OF Billy McKinney to Daytona Beach and A’s top prospect Addison Russell to Tennessee, shook things up a bit for Stockton. However, the Ports were able to rebound quickly. Outfielder Jaycob Brugman was called up from Beloit and provided the Ports with a solid offensive output and at one point smashed 10 home runs in 11 games down the stretch. Daniel Robertson took over as the A’s number one prospect and carried the load, finishing with a .310 batting average, 15 HR, and 60 RBI while providing solid defense at the shortstop position.
In the end, it was the Ports’ pitching that was vital in helping maintain a first place standing in the California North Division. Overall, the pitching staff posted a 4.08 ERA, good for first place in the league, largely in part due to a solid bullpen which put up 3.71 ERA in 517.1 innings pitched.
With more than a week remaining in the regular season, the Ports clinched a second-half division championship and finished with a league best 85-55 overall record.
The second-half surge of the Ports was so dominant that they finished nine games above San Jose and Visalia in the race for the crown.
Ultimately, the Ports fell short and were swept by the Visalia Rawhide in the first round of the playoffs to end the season. While the race for a title ended abruptly, the team that dominated the California League at one point featured 13 of the Athletics’ top 20 organizational prospects, something that will have A’s fans excited about for years to come.
Standout Position Players:
Jaycob Brugman, OF
.282, 13 HR, 35 RBI
Currently ranked the A’s 19th top prospect, Brugman became an asset for the Ports in the outfield and at the plate after his promotion from Low-A Beloit on July 7th, most notably from August 6th to August 18th when Brugman hit ten home runs in just eleven games.
Ryon Healy, IF
.285, 16 HR, 83 RBI
The California native, currently ranked as the 17th prospect, led the California League in at-bats (561) and saw a 21-game hit streak from August 7th through August 30th, when he hit .344 during the league’s longest streak of the season.
Renato Nunez, IF
.279, 29 HR, 96 RBI
Nunez, the A’s third top prospect, ranked fourth in the California League in home runs and fifth in RBI. After the All-Star break, the infielder hit 20 home runs and had three multi-run games, earning him the California League Player of the Week title for the week of June 23rd and a nod on the Post-Season All-Star Roster. Nunez also represented the World Team at this year’s All-Star Futures Game.
Matt Olson, IF
.262, 37 HR, 97 RBI
The A’s second top prospect finished the year as the California League’s home run leader (37) and Joe Bauman Award leader for Class-A. The Ports’ power-hitter also led the league in walks (117) and was named a Post-Season All-Star.
Chad Pinder, IF
.288, 13 HR, 55 RBI
Ranked as the A’s sixth prospect, Pinder started off the season hot, ending April with a .324 batting average, having hit 7 of his 13 home runs on the season during that month. While an injury from June 28th-July 16th sidelined the infielder, he ultimately acquired the team’s second highest batting average.
Daniel Robertson, IF
.310, 15 HR, 60 RBI
Robertson became the A’s top prospect after Addison Russell’s trade to the White Sox and quickly backed up his new title. The shortstop had an 18-game hit streak from July 26th-August 14th and ended the season as the California League leader in hits (170).
Austin House, RHP
54.2 IP, 3.46 ERA, 19 SV
The right-handed pitcher acquired 19 saves on the year, tying him for second in the California League. With a strong arm out of the bullpen, House led relievers in strikeouts (79).
Chris Lamb, LHP
19 GS, 4-5, 3.21 ERA
On two separate occasions, Lamb won the honor of California League Pitcher of the Week, allowing no earned runs during his combined 14 innings during the weeks of July 14th and July 28th. The Ports looked to Lamb in game two of the playoff mini-series, who shutout Visalia until the fifth inning, ultimately allowing two earned runs in his 5.2 innings pitched.
Jake Sanchez, RHP
12 GS, 8-2, 3.42 ERA
After joining the Ports in mid-June, Sanchez quickly became a solid starter for the team with his 8-2 record on the season, tying him for second in the wins column for the Ports’ pitching staff.
Seth Streich, RHP
22 GS, 9-6, 3.16 ERA
Currently ranked as the A’s eighth prospect and third pitching prospect, Streich quickly became the Ports’ most consistent starter before an injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season on July 29th. Streich represented the Ports at the California-Carolina League All-Star Game, was named as a Post-Season All-Star, and led the California League in ERA (3.16) in 2014.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s, a duo of young Oakland A’s players captured the attention of the Bay Area, smashing home runs at will. That duo, known as the “Bash Brothers”, was compiled of A’s sluggers Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco.
More than 20 years later, a new duo of young up and coming A’s hopefuls are bringing back the magic that captured the hearts of Athletics fans everywhere.
Ports first baseman (2nd overall A’s prospect) Matt Olson and third baseman Renato Nunez (3rd overall A’s prospect) are slugging their way into the Ports history books.
As of Thursday, August 21st, the tag-team duo has smashed a total of 65 home runs and are currently ranked number one and tied for second respectively, in the California League for home runs (Olson has 36 and Nunez has 29).
With Nunez’s 27th home run on Friday, August 1st, the Venezuelan born third baseman put the Bash Brothers 2.0 in the Ports history books. Before the 2014 season began, the record for most home runs in a season by a Ports duo was set by 2008 players Chris Carter and Sean Doolittle with a total of 57 home runs. That season, Carter went on to pass the Ports’ single season home run record with 39 homers.
The Ports currently post a 76-53 record, good for first overall in the California League on top of a 39-20 second half record, good for a first place standing by 5.0 games. Much of the success can attributed to Olson and Nunez’s high-powered offense which has helped the Ports power through a long season of baseball.
Nunez has been automatic since the All-Star break, posting .284 batting average on the season. With already impressive numbers, when you compare that to the 9 home runs and 29 RBI he posted in the first 60 games of the season, the progress is eye popping.
While Olson’s batting average of .254 could always use some room for improvement, the Georgia born prospect’s on base percentage of .400 and 110 total walks are beyond impressive. Olson has also placed himself in prime position to break Chris Carter’s home run record.
With 11 games remaining in the regular season, Olson needs just 3 home runs to tie the record, and48 to pass it, something that very easily could be obtained.
Both prospects are just twenty years of age and show a promising future that has excited fans from the Central Valley to the East Bay.
As quoted by MiLB.com, Ports manager Ryan Christenson who managed both players last season in Beloit sees a competitive but friendly nature between both players. “I definitely think that they do feed off of each other, they have a great friendship and competitive relationship when it comes to that. I think they feed off of each other, and it pushes their performance up a notch because of it.”
While many Ports fans are excited at the possibility of ending a two year playoff drought, many will also be excited at the prospect of seeing one, if not both, players become a part of Ports history.
With Matt Olson just ahead of Chris Carter’s 2008 home run pace, he has a legitimate shot at taking the home run crown for the Ports.
Nunez however, has kept a steady pace with his counterpart and has demonstrated his power each night.
While it has been several years since fans got a chance to witness the raw power of McGwire and Canseco, Olson and Nunez are certainly making enough noise on their paths to the big leagues, something A’s fans will be sure to take notice of.
At the start of this season’s All-Star break (June 14th), Renato was hitting a pedestrian .255 to go along with 9 home runs and 29 RBI. Since the break, Nunez has been a force to be reckoned with for the Ports and a nightmare for opposing pitchers across the California League.
As of July 9th, Nunez has raised his batting average to .286, along with 20 home runs and 57 RBI, an increase of 28 RBI and 11 home runs in less than three weeks.
What’s even more impressive is that in the three week span, Nunez has had three multi-HR games, an accomplishment that he had only reached twice during the entire 2013 season in Beloit.
Nunez’s success has been no surprise to the Oakland Athletics who signed the Venezuelan born prospect at the young age of sixteen. At only twenty years of age, Nunez continues to be a bright spot in a talented pool of prospects within Oakland’s organization.
Currently ranked as the Athletics’ 4th overall prospect behind teammates Daniel Robertson and Matt Olson, Nunez’s strong 2014 season with the Ports has made his selection to the 2014 MLB Future’s Game an easy one.
Nunez will be representing the World Team, and with the selection he became the second Ports player in back-to-back years to join a Futures roster (Addison Russell-2013).
While many young prospects tend to go through growing pains in their transition to big league ball, Renato has steadily improved in each of his professional seasons.
As a key piece of the puzzle to 2013’s Beloit Snapper’s playoff team that featured several current Ports, Renato continues to lead the Ports to a successful run to the playoffs in 2014.
With nine of the Oakland A’s top 20 prospects on the Ports roster and four of the top ten prospects in the starting lineup, one can find it difficult to keep up with just about every player on this season’s star-studded cast.
Enter Aaron Shipman: the speedy left fielder from Quitman, Georgia who is quietly having himself an impressive season. After starting off fairly slow in the early stages of 2014, Shipman kicked it into high gear seemingly reaching base in nearly every possible way.
Shipman successfully raised his batting average to an impressive .282 mark until a nagging oblique injury in May forced him to miss nearly 30 games for the Ports.
Since returning to action, Shipman doesn’t seem to have missed a beat as his approach at the plate and aggressive base running has given the Ports an extra offensive boost on an already dangerous hitting team.
“Starting slow has been something I’ve done every single year. This year is different because my slow start didn’t last as long,” said Shipman. “I had a meeting with our manager and hitting coordinator near the end of April, and we discussed changing my approach. ‘Operation Hack Attack’ was the name of it. It was basically a call for me to be more aggressive and attack every strike with intentions of doing damage, no many mechanical adjustments at all.”
Shipman is currently hitting .301 for the Ports while stealing twelve bases on thirteen attempts, good for second on the team, along with having a .422 on base percentage.
What’s even more appealing is that Shipman is only 22 years of age, making him someone the A’s will be sure to keep a watchful eye on as he continues to develop. Since being drafted in 2010 in the third round out of Brooks County High School as an eighteen-year-old, Shipman has steadily progressed throughout the A’s organization.
In 2013, Shipman was a part of the successful Beloit team that consisted of many of the Ports’ current players. Shipman chipped in to the success of the team with a .279 batting average and 17 stolen bases.
“It feels amazing to take the field with such an amazing group of guys. This is by far the most talented team I’ve been a part of,” said Shipman when asked about the Ports success in 2014.
With Shipman back on the lineup card for the Ports, his enthusiasm for the game remains the same. “I am feeling great and ready to play when my name is on the lineup. God has really blessed me to be where I am and I owe everything to him.”
In 2008, a 23-year old by the name of Josh Donaldson arrived in Stockton after being traded to the A’s from the Chicago Cubs, the same organization that drafted him with the 48th overall pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft.
Upon his arrival in Stockton, after playing half of the season with the Peoria Chiefs of the Midwest League, Donaldson’s confidence and baseball swag seen today was not yet present.
“One of the first days I arrived in Stockton, I wasn’t playing and was sitting the bench. I remember seeing Chris Carter hit probably a 500 foot home run and still, to this day, I remember saying to myself, I’ll probably never be able to play at the next level.”
Any confidence that Donaldson may have lacked at that time quickly vanished as the c
atcher (now third baseman) posted a .330 batting average, along with 9 home runs and 39 RBI in a 47 game span.
By 2012, Donaldson got the call he was waiting for and was promoted to the Oakland Athletic
s. By 2013 Donaldson capped off his MLB coming out party with a .301 average to go with 24 home runs and 93 RBI, a feat that propelled him to a 4th place finish in AL MVP votes.
Since making the transition from Minor League ball to the Majors, Donaldson continues to take it all in stride. “The biggest thing is that you have to enjoy the game and understand that it’s a long season and not focus on one specific play or one specific at bat.”
“The biggest difference between Minor League ball and Major League ball is that there’s a lot of outside pressure you have to deal with. In Stockton, everybody is there wishing you well. In the big leagues, everyone is trying to take your job and pick you apart, so you have to be prepared.”
The pressures Donaldson describe seem to be remote for the power hitting righty. Currently Donaldson has racked up 18 home runs and 56 RBI this season, which are numbers that could put him back in the running for an AL MVP award.
In the end, Josh still remains thankful to the fans that supported him during his tenure with the Ports.
“I really appreciated the time they spent coming to see us play and supporting us. I know they will continue to support the kids they have now and continue to cheer them on.”
On May 30th, the Ports honored Donaldson with a bobblehead night devoted to the A’s star, something Donaldson still finds a bit surreal.
“As a kid, you go to games and see bobblehead giveaways and things like that and think to yourself that it would be cool to have that happen to you. It’s really exciting, it really is one of those things that you would love to have happen but you don’t actually think it will.”
Providing Ports with Veteran Leadership
With the young and talented 2014 Ports roster making a strong push for the playoffs, two players in particular are doing their part to make sure the two year playoff drought for one of the California League’s most historic franchises, ends this season.
Bruce Maxwell and Seth Streich were the two members of the Ports selected to this year’s California/Carolina All-Star Game held in Wilmington, Delaware. While a long season of play can tend to lead to streaky outcomes for many players, Maxwell and Streich have been consistent all season long.
Maxwell, the Division III talent from Birmingham-Southern has come out the gates for the Ports as a defensive threat to base runners all over the California League. The catcher’s rocket arm has thrown out a total of 40% of runners faced attempting to steal this season.
Maxwell has also let his bat do the talking by posting a .270 average, with 5 home runs, and 25 RBI.
“I’m glad that somebody recognized my hard work and the homework that I do off the field. I feel that I’ve thrown better this year. I’ve hit a lot better than most people anticipated, so it feels good to be honored with an all-star selection, and I am very thankful for it,” said Maxwell.
On the pitching side for the Ports, Seth Streich has been nearly unhittable and leads the Ports pitching staff in several categories including wins and ERA. As of June 23rd, Streich holds an 8-4 record to go along with a 2.93 ERA including 85 K in 80 IP. His opponents are hitting .233 against the 6’3’’ righty pitcher from Johnsonburg, Pennsylvania in his 15 total starts in 2014.
Through it all, the Ohio University Alumni and 2012 sixth round draft pick of the A’s remains humble on the success he has experienced at Banner Island Ballpark.
“It felt good to be selected to the All-Star Game. That’s definitely one of the goals I set for myself this season. Obviously there are a lot of deserving players on our team and in the league who could have made it so I feel pretty fortunate that I’m one of the guys from our team who got selected.”
On a Ports roster that compasses several players under the age of 21, both Maxwell and Streich have taken on a leadership role that is beginning to show results.
Early in the season the Ports showed flashes of brilliance, but at times the youth also been shown with inconsistent play on the field.
As of June 23rd, the Ports have appeared to turn the corner and start to put everything together as a team, completing a successful sweep of the first-half California North Division Champions, the Bakersfield Blaze.
The win put the Ports in first place in the division and overall first place wild card spot in the entire league.
The efforts and veteran leadership of both Maxwell and Streich will be essential for further success down the stretch, a role both players appear to be ready for.
As one of the leading offensive players on the 2014 Ports, at age twenty-two, Chad Pinder has become a core player on the 2014 team and is leading the team in batting average.
Pinder stayed loyal to his home state of Virginia in college, where he entered his first season playing with Virginia Tech as a third baseman. As Pinder developed as a player, he gained experience throughout the infield, and fans can spot Pinder in the Ports’ starting lineup at second base.
Coming out of Virginia Tech as the 71st pick in the second round supplemental of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, Pinder was the highest draft pick for the Hokies since 2002.
Pinder played his first season of professional baseball with the Athletics’ Class-A Short Season affiliate, the Vermont Lake Monsters. While with the Lake Monsters, Pinder hit .200 with three homeruns and four doubles in his 42 games. Through his first 42 games in Stockton, Pinder is currently hitting .313 with 11 homeruns, three triples and 28 RBI.
Pinder, now ranked 17th on the A’s top prospect list, advanced to the Ports at the start of the 2014 season and skipped Oakland’s Class-A affiliate, the Vermont Lake Monsters.
While many of the Ports’ young players this season came from Vermont’s 2013 playoff team, Pinder has enjoyed getting to know his new teammates. “Being my first full season with a new group of guys, I am excited and feel lucky to be playing with this group and coaching staff.”
Talent runs deep in the Pinder family, as Chad’s father, Chris, was drafted in the seventh round in the 1987 draft by the Baltimore Orioles and played in the Minor Leagues for both the Orioles and Indians.
Although this is Ryan Christenson’s first season as manager of the Ports, it’s not his first time managing many of the players that you are watching today. Last year, Christenson served as the manager for the Beloit Snappers, the Oakland Athletics’ Class-A squad in the Midwest League. He helped propel them to a first-half division title, as well as a playoff appearance and series sweep of the Clinton Lumberkings. Though they would eventually fall in the second round to the Quad City River Bandits, the success Christenson instilled in his players last year has carried on in their to promotion to Stockton. Says Daniel Robertson, 2013 Snapper and current Ports’ shortstop, in regards to Christenson, “Last year he did a great job and kept the clubhouse loose. Coming from a winning team in Beloit, and having some of the same guys, it makes the transition easier.”
Robertson is doing his own part in keeping up the winning tradition from last year. As of this writing, he is contributing a slash line of .292/.389/.435 while playing quality defense at a premium position of shortstop. For comparison’s sake, last year’s Ports’ shortstop and top prospect, Addison Russell slashed a .275/.379/.508 average. While the stroke might not be as powerful as Russell’s, Robertson is hitting for a higher average and getting on base at a higher clip. Although the slugging percentage isn’t quite as high as Russell’s, Robertson still has displayed above average power for a shortstop with his six home runs this season.
Also like Russell, Robertson is considered a top prospect for the Athletics. Drafted 34th overall in the 2012 draft straight out of high school, Robertson has ascended through the organization quite rapidly for a young man who can’t yet buy his first legal drink. After spending time in Arizona and Vermont during his first professional season, he joined Christenson in Beloit last year. Now in Stockton he, along with Chad Pinder and Matt Olson, has been dubbed as a part of Oakland’s infield of the future.
While many changes within the Stockton Ports organization have occurred over the last ten years, Vic Zapien, the Ports’ clubhouse manager, has remained a constant at Banner Island Ballpark.
It all started in 2003 when Zapien took a job as a bat boy for the Ports at Billy Hebert field. Vic did not imagine that he would soon be the man behind the scenes, working as the team’s clubhouse manager.
“In 2003 when I worked as a bat boy for the Ports, I started helping out the clubhouse manager on a regular basis. The entire season I doubled my responsibilities as a bat boy and a clubhouse manager.”
By season’s end, Ports President John Katz had noticed the hard work Vic put in and took action. “He called me into his office and asked me how I would like to be the team’s clubhouse manager. I said yes and took the job on the spot at the age of 18.”
As a Stockton native, the Ports were always an important part of Vic’s life; he had grown up going to games at Billy Hebert field since the age of two and always knew he wanted some sort of a career in the game. “I’ve been around baseball my entire life. It’s always been my favorite sport.”
After ten seasons with the Ports, Zapien’s passion for the game and the Ports organization remains the same as it did from day one. Zapien however, finds himself very fortunate to be in his position. After three seasons as the clubhouse manager, Vic took the 2006 season off to raise his daughter Amya who was born that same year.
After the new ownership took over the Ports (7th Inning Stretch LLC.), Zapien got a call in 2007 that he wasn’t expecting. The Ports front office had tracked him down and wanted to bring him back as the clubhouse manager.
“At the time, I wasn’t really thinking about baseball or coming back. I wanted to be there for my family and help raise my daughter. I decided to give it a chance and accept the position, so I literally quit my job at the time on the spot and drove to the ballpark. I’m thankful I made that decision. I love the game of baseball and couldn’t see myself without it.”
Now in his tenth season, Zapien’s career with the Ports has been nothing short of remarkable. Zapien has represented the California League All-Star roster as clubhouse manager three times (’07,’11,’13) and won the California League Clubhouse Manager of the Year in 2010, the first year the award was created.
“It was truly an honor to be recognized as the best clubhouse manager in 2010, and that’s something I’ll never forget,” said Zapien.
While Vic finds it hard to pinpoint exactly what his best memory as clubhouse manager has been, the 2008 Championship team is definitely one that sticks out. “That season was awesome; the players were a bunch of goof balls and fun to be around, great guys and great ballplayers.”
In the end, the long bus rides and early morning laundry sessions are all worth it to Zapien, who loves his job. “Every year is great, and the players are fun to be around. They make this job very special for me, and I truly love what I do and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
As a baseball lifer, Zapien is having too much fun to leave the game anytime soon and has bigger aspirations for the future. “I think my ultimate goal is to make it to Major League Baseball and become a clubhouse assistant. That’s where I want to be, and I’m waiting for that call.”
Member of the 1969 California League Championship Team
1. What is your favorite memory from your time with the Ports?
Winning the ’69 championship against the Visalia Mets with all their fancy high draft picks.
2. What accomplishments from your days with the Ports are you most proud of?
I played every day and I played hard.
3. What favorite memory do you have about your teammates? Your manager, coaches?
Great group of characters who played loose and played tough. Billy Kirkpatrick, our ace, from Cal, local hero Ralph Manfredi, Alonzo Bumbry (who hit about a hundred for us and then went to Vietnam and came back and hit about 350 and became a big league star), Petey Watts who’s swing looked like a monkey doing strange things to a football, but he could hit, Scott McDonald…lots of great guys. Manager Bill Werle was great and underrated. He once threw all the bats into the shower while we were showering because we’d just been no-hit—he said we didn’t need ‘em. Years later I put that scene in a certain movie.
4. How involved were you and your teammates in the community?
There wasn’t much time to be involved in the community—a pancake breakfast here and there for charity, that sort of thing.
5. What was your favorite ballpark in the Cal League to play in? Reno—the ball flew and the infield was like concrete. Hit a granny there. And Visalia where the fences were very close in. Our park, Billy Hebert Field, was a real pitcher’s park.
7. Who was the toughest opponent you faced?
They all blur together, though I recall the Angels team (San Jose) always seemed to have good pitching. The bus ride to San Jose, invariably, had some guy playing the Dionne Warwick song over and over again all the way there, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?”
8. What was Stockton like when you were with the Ports? How much has the city changed?
Working class, not quite the bedroom community to the Bay Area yet, a struggling downtown, even then.
9. Have you followed the Ports at all since you were on the team?
I check ‘em out in the paper now and then.
10. What has been your biggest success in your career following your time with Stockton?
Making movies in general, and certainly the success of BULL DURHAM which was inspired by all my years in the minors, including Stockton. There wasn’t anybody like Annie Savoy in Stockton, although I do remember this one young lady who went by the name of “Froggie,” for some reason.
11. Do you keep in touch with any of your teammates? If so, whom? I have some contact occasionally with Bill Kirkpatrick through contacts out of Rochester where we played AAA. And lately I’ve been in touch with Ralph Manfredi, which is a good thing. The stories flow…
12. 1969 was a memorable year in American history. Did the current events at the time affect your team at all?
Yes, they affected everyone in society so of course a ballclub reflected that. The Vietnam War was very divisive—I was against the war and a lot of players supported it—so we chose to not discuss it much. Also the civil rights movement was in full force and that tended to cause some tension at times among some players. On balance, however, the diverse group of young men worked together and played together and didn’t let these volatile issues impact the games.
13. How did your time with the Ports influence the movie Bull Durham?
Obviously there are some things that directly connect. In Class A ball you feel you’re a long ways from the Big Leagues—it’s so far away you can’t even smell it—so you’re just concentrating on the task at hand today. Each at bat, each ground ball, must be dealt with—and trust that you’ll keep moving up if you do your job well. The bus rides and the camaraderie and the humor and irreverence of life in the California League is certainly the same as in the Carolina League, where Bull Durham is set. I never played in the Carolina League, so you could say that I’m projecting the Cal League into it.
14. What was the best part about winning the 1969 California League Championship?
Not the paycheck, that’s for sure. I think just the satisfaction of being the best, if only for a moment.
15. If you could give any piece of advice to current Ports players, what would it be? Don’t blow all your meal money on the first day of a road trip.
16. What major league team do you currently follow?
I follow my 9 year old son’s Pony League team, whoever they are.. That’s my major league.
17. Name a fun fact that most people don’t know about you? I just wrote the Broadway Musical version of Bull Durham.