Bruce Johnston would like to bring independent professional minor league baseball to town and 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, spoke before the Napa Valley College Board of Trustees at their meeting Thursday, but the board did not take a vote.
“The board was generally supportive,” said Doug Ernst, NVC’s public information officer who is with the Office of Institutional Advancement. “They all agreed to allow the continuation of talks. There are certain negotiations that have to continue. It’s not something you can vote on today, because all those negotiations haven’t taken place.
“We have to figure out how Bruce is going to work with the college and the college has to decide if the improvements are enough to do this. It really involves improvements to the field.”
Johnston has a contract with the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs, which the Silverados would play in pending approvals. It’s an independent league based in Northern California and 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.
The Sonoma Stompers, who play at Arnold Field, won the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs title last year. It was the franchise’s first title.
The Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs, founded in 2013, has granted Johnston, the team owner, a deadline of June 30 of this year to determine if there is enough community support in terms of sponsors and advertisers to support the team.
Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs are not affiliated with major league teams.
“I gave them a nonrefundable deposit and said, if you give me until the 30th of June of 2017, I will either move forward or not. If I don’t, you get to keep my deposit. If I do, then it’s play ball on the first of June, 2018,” Johnston said Friday.
“The sponsorships and advertisers are one thing. Securing the field is another thing. It doesn’t make any difference if I get all the support in the world if I have no place to play.”
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.
“There’s a lot of those issues that we’re going to have to work through,” said Johnston. “Obviously, it’s going to call for some investment on my part. There’s a lot that’s up in the air that we just haven’t resolved yet.”
Johnston, 59, works as a consultant in the shopping center business. He consults for shopping center owners, managers and institutional investors. Johnston formed Johnston Real Estate Services in 2006.
Last year, he met with members of a local exploratory committee, looking into the possibility of getting a team in Napa. He made an offer to the exploratory committee and to the league.
“I have a contract that says if I pull the trigger by the 30th of June, it’s mine,” Johnston said. “And if I don’t, then I lose my deposit.”
Johnston wants to do all he can to try and rally the community around the Napa Silverados, the name of the team.
“I want to make sure that we’ve got plenty of charities,” he said. “This is not going to be my baseball team. This is going to be Napa’s baseball team. I want it to be community-focused and community-oriented. I want people to feel engaged and feel like that they’re a part of what this baseball team is.
“It wouldn’t be professional baseball in Napa if it wasn’t for the fans sitting in the stadium and the people supporting the team and the advertisers and the sponsors.
“To me, it’s a little bit of my way to give back to what I feel is a wonderful place to live. I think this is something that Napa’s going to really support.”
Johnston is in discussions with NVC about trying to secure a lease agreement to use Storm Field.
“We haven’t finalized everything,” he said. “But we’re optimistic that it will be a good opportunity for us and a great opportunity for the college to expose their facilities to a wider range of people.”
Johnston said he wants to create a fun, enjoyable atmosphere for families, where it’s affordable to go to games.
“The whole family can have a lot of fun for not very much money and enjoy a beautiful evening in the Napa Valley,” he said. “You’re going to be able to go out and have a great experience and not break the bank.”
Johnston said he asked the league for an extended deadline so that he can go the league’s draft, to spend time with each of the teams, and understand all he can as to how the baseball operation side of it works.
“The support that I have gotten so far from the other owners has been extraordinary,” he said. “They have basically said, it’s in our interest for you to be incredibly successful and we will do everything we possibly can to help you, including sharing how they do promotions, how they budget, how they draft players, where they find them, what do uniforms cost.”
Johnston is a native of North Carolina and graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1979 with a degree in English literature.
Those who wish to sponsor or advertise with the team can call Johnston at (707) 254-8377.