Bruce Johnston can finally say it: “Napa is going to have a professional baseball team.”
Johnston, the prospective owner of the Napa Silverados, has informed the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs, an independent league based in Northern California, that he has made a commitment and is “moving forward with the team and we will put the team on the field in June of 2018.”
“I’m excited for Napa. I’m excited for the County. I’m excited for the City,” said Johnston. “I’m excited for the people that live here. And I’m excited.”
In a letter dated June 28 to Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs Commissioner Jonathan Stone and San Rafael Pacifics president and general manager Mike Shapiro, Johnston wrote, “I am hereby exercising my right to the grant of a professional baseball franchise in the league beginning with the 2018 season.”
“The league and each of its teams couldn’t be happier to have Napa join us next year,” said Shapiro. “Having Napa in the league sustains our vision for community-based independent minor league baseball committed to fun, low-cost family entertainment.”
The Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs, founded in 2013, granted Johnston a deadline of June 30 to determine if there is enough community support in terms of sponsors and advertisers to support the team. He made a franchise deposit agreement on Dec. 21, 2016. The remainder of his league franchise fee is due and payable no later than Oct. 1 of this year, according to Johnston’s letter.
“The Pacific Association is thrilled to be growing and introducing the important city of Napa to our brand of professional independent baseball,” said Stone. “The league has well established teams in neighboring Sonoma and Vallejo, making for an instant natural rivalry.”
Johnston has a contract with the four-team league, which consists of the Sonoma Stompers, Vallejo Admirals, San Rafael Pacifics and Pittsburg Diamonds. Each of the teams plays an 80-game schedule, with the season running from June through August. Forty of those games are home games.
“Based on the agreement that I signed with them back in December, all I had to do was exercise my right to own the club,” said Johnston. “This is completely my option. I guess it’s official as of (Wednesday) that I own a professional baseball team.”
The Sonoma Stompers, who play at Arnold Field, won the league title last year, the franchise’s first title. The San Rafael Pacifics are a three-time Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs champion.
Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs is not affiliated with major league teams, but professional scouts attend games and players do occasionally move up to major league play, Johnston said.
“These ballplayers are very, very grateful for the opportunity that they have,” said Johnston. “This is a chance for them to get seen by scouts in the minor leagues and maybe get a chance for a call-up.”
Johnston is in negotiations with Napa Valley College to try and secure Storm Field for the Napa Silverados to use starting in June of 2018. Johnston, a Napa resident for the last 10 years, is in discussions with NVC about trying to secure a lease agreement to use Storm Field.
“We are working through an agreement right now,” said Johnston.
There are several projects that Johnston is looking into, including increasing the seating capacity, maybe modifying the press box, and creating an area for concessions.
NVC does not have any issues with parking.
Johnston said he wants to create a fun, enjoyable atmosphere for families, where it’s affordable to go to games.
“This is a huge undertaking, with a tremendous amount of moving parts,” he said. “But this is for the people of Napa. I’m very, very excited for the families who will finally find some fun, affordable family entertainment in the summer time when the kids are out of school. I’m hoping that this is something that Napa is really going to rally around.
“It’s designed to be fun. It’s designed to be enjoyable. It’s designed to be family friendly.”
The Silverados’ team colors are red, black, silver and white.
There is a lot of work still ahead for Johnston, who formed Johnston Real Estate Services in 2006 and works as a consultant in the shopping center business. He consults for shopping center owners, managers and institutional investors.
He is hoping to hire a general manager for the Silverados this fall. It will be the GM who will then name the team’s manager. It will be the GM and manager who will then find the players to assemble a team. Those players from outside the area will need to stay with host families for the three-month season.
“That’s very, very important, because it allows us to bring talent into the area,” said Johnston.
Players are paid monthly. The league’s preseason starts in mid-May, with the regular season beginning in early June.
There is additional staff that Johnston will need to have, including field maintenance, customer service, sponsorship services, concessions, ticket and merchandise sales, and other operations. He has been traveling to the different ballparks in the league, to watch games and talk to team management so that he can better understand all that goes into running a team.
“It’s almost like today just starts everything,” Johnston said Wednesday. “The tickets and concessions and merchandise don’t cover all of the operating expenses of the baseball team. So therefore, I need advertising, I need sponsors. I’m going to continue to be out in the community, looking for those people that want to help bring professional baseball to Napa.”
Johnston has secured two sponsors so far: Downtown Joe’s and PPI Engineering.
“I did not secure the amount of sponsorship and advertising income that I wanted to, prior to exercising,” he said. “But based on the response that I’ve gotten from people, I’m confident that that’s forthcoming.”
League games generally start at 6 p.m. on weekdays and either 1 or 5 p.m. on weekends.
“What I’m trying to do is learn as much as I can from the other owners and the operations, so that I’ll be better prepared when I begin to make decisions,” said Johnston.
Home games, according to a press release, will feature ballpark-style food, beer and wine, souvenirs, and free or reduced admission for local youth baseball and softball teams.
Johnston is originally from North Carolina and graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1979 with a degree in English literature.