It was almost too good to be true. The Oakland A’s had both their Triple-A and High-A affiliates within an hour’s drive (no traffic) from the Coliseum. This was the set-up from 2005 until this winter, when the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats changed their affiliation to the San Francisco Giants.
Raley Field, built in 1999, is a fantastic venue which has led all minor baseball in attendance since it was built. In fact, attendance once reached over the 900,000 mark in 2001. Spurned away, the A’s then latched on to the Nashville Sounds, which was abandoned by the Milwaukee Brewers. The Sounds play at new First Tennessee Park, located 2,290 miles away from Oakland. Gulp. Guess watching Triple-A games in person was fun while it lasted. The A’s Double-A team, the Midland Rockhounds, play in the Texas League. That’s also a no-go for a spur-of-the-moment kind of visit.
With Oakland’s Low-A squad located in Beloit, Wisconsin, this leaves A’s fans with the Stockton Ports as the lone minor league team west of the Rockies. Stockton, as a city, first began playing organized baseball back during the Civil War and won its first California League pennant in 1888. Their original ballpark was located on Banner Island and referred to as “Mudville,” and when a San Francisco Examiner reporter named Ernest Thayer attended a game, he penned the famous “Casey at the Bat” poem. The team known as the Ports has a long history stretching back to 1941 and has represented the prospects of many professional franchises. Count the Oaks, White Sox, Browns, Cubs, Cardinals, Orioles, Angels, Mariners, Brewers, Reds and Rangers as former clients before Oakland took over 10 years ago. There was a brief time in the ’70s when the Ports went out of existence and another two years in 2000-2001 when they were called the Mudville Nine. Suffice to say, the Ports have been around the baseball block.
We all know Stockton has had its share of crime and is always named on lists of Worst American Cities, along with other such doom-and-gloom reports. But there’s nothing wrong with new Banner Island Ballpark, which celebrated its 10th opener last night with yours truly in attendance. Moving from Billy Hebert Field was a godsend for the team and the city itself. Herbert Field was named after the first resident of Stockton to be killed in World War II, but it is a relic from the 1950s and more suited to the high school games which now take place there. Banner Island Ballpark, adjacent to a fantastic new arena, gives Stockton not only some civic pride but also outsiders like myself a reason to go there. The ballpark is really fantastic and has everything a family of baseball fans could ever need or want.
So last night as I sat down in section 108, I learned that there are many new faces on the Ports this year. No more Olson, Robertson, Nunez, Muncy, etc. Now the exciting young prospects have names like Barreto, Marincov, Boyd and Bragg. As the summer heats up, I will be attending more and more Ports games – you just cannot beat the value and charm of minor league baseball, especially when it’s your favorite team’s affiliate. Knowing Billy Beane as we do, the odds are rather low that any of the present squad will ever wear the Green and Gold of the Oakland A’s, but that doesn’t spoil the fun. Two thumbs up for the Stockton Ports experience from me. See you in the 209.