They may be homeless, but in the minds of the merry band of baseball wanderers known as the Salina Stockade, there’s always hope.
Playing in the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs for the first time has been rough for the Stockade, who played Pecos League home games in Salina, Kansas during their 2016 maiden season before drifting west.
Last-place Salina takes a 9-40 record and a 19-game losing streak into Wednesday’s 5:05 p.m. game against the third-place Napa Silverados at Miner Family Field on the Napa Valley College campus.
The Stockade have beaten three of their four PAPBC opponents multiple times – the first-place Sonoma Stompers twice, the Silverados three times, and the second-place San Rafael Pacifics four times – but have yet to defeat the fourth-place Vallejo Admirals.
Chuck Rocker, 25, is not only the Stockade’s manager. He also plays and runs the business operations.
“We’ve had fun and I’ve had a chance to manage, which only happened because the guy backed out who was supposed to do it,” he said before a recent game at Sonoma. “I’ve got a lot of baseball left in me and it’s been a blessing to experience the game from both sides of the ball. Everyone’s glad I’m doing it because none of the other players want to.”
Rocker said people from Salina occasionally drop by one of their games thinking they might see a familiar face, but that’s not going to happen.
“I’ve never personally been to Salina,” Rocker said, “and as far as I know, neither have any of our other players. All the players, including myself, are from all over the country.”
It’s not as if Salina has nothing going for it.
Ten miles east is the inspiring Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library. Ten miles south is the Kansas Cosmosphere, with the most space memorabilia you will find outside of Cape Canaveral or Houston. As for Salina itself, best part yourself at the local Braum’s with the best burgers and ice cream you’re likely to find anywhere.
“Although the team is based out of Salina, Kansas,” Rocker said, “it’s really just a front and has been marketed as a travel team just using the Salina Stockade city and emblem the past few years. Last year we played in the Can-Am League, and the American Association before that, and then came over to the Pacific Association this year.”
Rocker said he understood that the Pacific Association was in trouble and on the verge of folding.
“We were welcomed in here and now we’re playing 64 games on the road, doubleheaders on Saturdays, afternoon games on Sundays,” he said. “It’s a real grind.”
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He said that while many of the players live in the Sonoma area during the season, every game they play at the Stompers’ Arnold Field is considered an away game as much as any other.
“To start the season, we had nowhere to live,” Rocker admitted. “We had guys living out of their cars and trucks, but we got lucky and everyone eventually found homes. It was tough, but we do whatever it takes.”
Despite the oddity of a team from the Heartland in its midst, the Pacific Association has been very welcoming – especially since the club has helped preserve the league.
Rocker said the Stockade doesn’t really mind being the road team every game because they get to hit first.
“Which we like,” he chuckled. “We don’t win any games by walk-off, but we do get all of our at-bats.”
Rocker was a football and baseball player at Iowa’s Cornell College and now calls Phoenix home.
“For the past three years,” he said,” I’ve been coming out to the Bay Area to play baseball and the past two years I’ve played in Monterey and Carmel. I love it out here and I’d like to come back and play here next year. I hear the league is expanding to a couple of more teams next year, and if I don’t play for Salina I am hoping to play for one of the other teams in the Pacific Association.”
Cody Bishop is an eight-year baseball veteran on the Stockade who is just happy to have a place to play.
“This is my first year playing for the Stockade. In fact, I think this is the first year here for everyone on the club. It’s high-level competition here, but the difference is clubs higher up have one or two more good pitchers and hitters.”
Stockade pitcher Eric Gleese said he began the season playing for the Florence Freedom in the Frontier League, although he calls Tracy, Calif. home.
“It sucks being the road team every game,” admitted the lanky right-hander. “I’ve had a couple of unfortunate starts, but I’m having a good year.”
One gets the sense Stockade players have their bags packed and are ready to play wherever the baseball gods take them. But one thing is pretty likely: No matter what it says on the front of their uniforms, it won’t be to Salina, Kansas.