After traffic and high housing costs, the complaint we hear most often from readers about life in the Napa Valley is some variation of “there’s nothing for families to do.”
Entertainment options are limited for kids in Wine Country, they say; you have to go to Vallejo or Santa Rosa or even down to San Francisco for affordable family entertainment. So common is this complaint that there is an inside joke in the newsroom: we compete to see who can predict how quickly any discussion on social media will feature a commenter calling for a skating rink to be built in Napa.
We’re not sure the era of the skating rink will ever return, but our readers do seem to have a point: the options for affordable, family-friendly entertainment in Napa County are relatively limited compared with larger nearby cities and counties.
And that’s why we are pleased by a recent development on the family-friendly front: Business consultant Bruce Johnston, a 10-year resident of Napa, is trying to bring professional baseball to his adoptive home.
Preposterous, you say?
Johnston has the tentative go-ahead of the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs to found a team in Napa. The four-team independent league features the Sonoma Stompers, the Vallejo Admirals, San Rafael Pacifics and the Pittsburg Diamonds, but they are looking to expand to six teams as early as the 2018 season.
We met this week with Johnston and we were impressed with his dedication and vision for the team. He has already put up a non-refundable deposit of his own money (he won’t say how much) to reserve a spot in the league and he has until the end of June to say whether he will be able to build a team.
He’s in talks with Napa Valley College to use their baseball field and he is beginning to reach out to local businesses to establish the sponsorships that will make a team financially stable. He says he needs to have commitments for at least $250,000 to get the team off the ground, excluding improvements he would need to make to the NVC facilities to make it work.
We believe Johnston is on to something. Anyone who has been to a minor-league baseball game can testify to how much fun they are. The ball parks are small and intimate, the players are easily accessible to the fans, and the games tend to feature zany promotions and between-inning stunts involving fans. They may not always feature major-league quality play, but small-town baseball takes place in an atmosphere of community, fun, and wholesome family entertainment.
And best of all, it is cheap. Where trips to see the Giants or As can run into the hundreds of dollars for a family, Johnston is looking at ticket prices of around $10, with a fair number of tickets given away free as part of promotions and sponsorships. He expects to have between 35 and 40 home games per season. The NVC facility doesn’t have a concession stand yet, but he is planning on inviting food trucks and expects to be able to serve beer and wine to round out the complete experience of America’s pastime.
The team, which he plans to call the “Silverados,” would not be affiliated with any major league team. Like the other teams in the league, it would feature a mix of eager young high school and college graduates who didn’t quite make it into the professional farm team system and older pros who have washed out of the Major League but still have a passion for the game. Salaries are modest – averaging just $500 per month – but the players take the field out of passion, love and the hope that some major league scout might see a flash of promise (scouts do attend independent league games, Johnston said, and a handful of players have found themselves called up to the farm team system).
There are similar independent leagues around the country, but the Pacific Association is notable. In 2016, the Sonoma Stompers became the first professional team in more than half a century to feature multiple women, adding three female players to the roster. The year before, a Stompers pitcher became the first openly gay professional baseball player, and in 2014, another Stompers pitcher became the oldest man ever to win a professional game, at age 67.
Johnston said he would welcome the same inclusive spirit in a Napa team.
Napa County needs something like this. It builds community and, yes, provides a venue for wholesome, affordable family fun without a long drive to some other city.
We urge Napa Valley College to look favorably on Johnston’s plan and we urge any Napa County business with the wherewithal to support the team with a sponsorship to discuss the matter with Johnston. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/silveradosbaseball.
Let’s play ball.