MARTINEZ, CA (May 28, 2023) – In light of the millions of dollars paid to players and the billions that individuals and ownership groups are doling out to own profession sports teams, the Martinez Sturgeon baseball club is a refreshing throwback to a simpler, by-gone era of town teams.
Baseball movie afficionados might recall Kevin Costner’s reference to them in “Field of Dreams” in the scene where his character pulled the van over along a country road and in hopped a young man who was carrying little more than his glove and knapsack.
Archie, aka Archibald “Moonlight” Graham, had heard of small towns with baseball teams and was looking to find one to play on. Smiling, Costner shares he knows of just such a place, to which Archie showed a huge satisfying grin.
The community can see their town team in action on Sunday, May 28, when the Sturgeons have their home opener against the visiting Dublin Leprechauns. First pitch is 2 p.m. All games are played at Martinez Waterfront Park, 1204 Joe DiMaggio Drive. Tickets, priced at $10 each, are available at the park or online at www.Martinezsturgeon.com.
Martinez is among a handful of teams playing in like-sized communities such as Garden City, Kan., Blackwell, Okla., and Trinidad, Texas, that dot the seven-state landscape of the 16-team independent Pecos League of Professional Baseball.
Variety of fundraising options
With the exception of salaries, the centralized Pecos League covers all expenses for the teams, including facility fees, paying the field manager and other permits. The league makes money from ticket sales, sponsorship, league merchandise and the snack bar.
“It is a costly endeavor and has small margins,” said Sturgeon general manager Eric Halverson. He serves in a volunteer capacity for the team, recognized as a 501c nonprofit.
Pecos League commissioner Andrew Dunn said the structure makes it a unique situation, because each community is guaranteed a team without investing millions of dollars. While “the team is not guaranteed to make money, they are able to provide a good product for the people” to watch.
Community support drives the success of each club. Player salaries are paid through 50-to-50 fundraisers held at the team’s games, with additional financial incentives earned from “passing the hat” when someone hits a home run or the pitcher strikes out the side.
Other revenue streams for assisting the players on the Sturgeon roster include sales of booster merchandise and holding nine, two-day baseball camps for kids, up from three last year, where the players contribute their time and talents.
Host families help out
An important element of these community teams is the role of host families, who open their homes and hearts to the players.
“They come a long way on their own dime to play,” said Dennis Freeman, whose family hosted multiple players the past two seasons. During two different stretches last season, a pair of Sturgeons occupied a bedroom in Freeman’s home.
Serving in a volunteer capacity this season, Freeman couldn’t say enough about the help families extend for even a few months to make it as comfortable as possible for players. These young men come from as far away as North Carolina and even foreign lands, like Columbia, to play a game they love and maybe get noticed for a chance to play at the next level.
“The basics are all we ask to be provided,” Halverson said, echoing the essential role of host families, which includes supplying a room and bed, a bathroom to use and kitchen access for the player to prepare their meals.
Little down time for players
“The players are very busy through the season, between games, camps, practice and community involvement; they don’t have much time for anything else,” he continued. “Most of these guys are right out of college and are trying to continue their playing career with the hopes to make the big leagues.”
Expectations for the players extend to involvement in community activities over the summer, which Halverson noted they do willingly. This includes participating in the Martinez 4th of July Parade, King of the County BBQ and helping at other events.
“They all know that if they are not handling their business, they will be sent home,” he added.
Some of the guys may have in season jobs they can work remotely whether at home or on the road, but for the most part members of the Sturgeons are full time professional baseball players.
“They are doing their absolute best to make it up the ranks of the minor leagues with the dream of one day being a Major Leaguer,” said Hew Repplinger, the Sturgeon’s new manager.
As the season approaches, Halverson has secured enough host families to house the players.
In his GM role, Halverson wears many hats. Along with hosting the Sturgeon’s new manager this season, his off-field responsibilities include being the liaison between the league and the city of Martinez and heading up a team of volunteers that make up the team’s booster board.
Labor of love
But it’s all a labor of love, and he’s confident the team’s organization has put together an amazing program for the upcoming season.
Repplinger is excited about the season ahead and getting started. Ahead of the Spring Training workouts that started in mid May, phone calls and emails were his initial means to get a feel for the players who he found “polite and sincere.”
“I was impressed by their professionalism and eagerness to prove their talent,” he continued, knowing he would have a better assessment of them once they were all together.
Fans who come out to Martinez Waterfront Park to watch the Sturgeons will see a “fast paced” brand of ball. The players may not be the five tool superstars that make up the rosters of the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s, but Repplinger was certain the community will be proud of how they play and represent.
David Scholz is back in journalism as a freelance writer and photographer after nearly two decades in education. Prior to moving into teaching in 2000, he worked as a full-time journalist since 1988 for rural community and small daily newspapers in Central Ohio and Northern Nevada, and later in California with The Business Journal in Fresno and dailies in the Bay Area, including The Oakland Tribune and The San Francisco Chronicle. More recently Scholz also worked in an editing, writing, and page layout role with the Rossmoor News.