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Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead

The following article was posted on June 26th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 16 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 16

The Benchwarmer

Baseball belongs in Santa Maria

BY KRISTINA SEWELL

Last week, I found myself sitting on a different kind of bench. This one was at the City Hall in Santa Maria; Parks and Recreation heard a presentation on bringing minor league baseball back to the city. Being that I’m a baseball fan (devoted to the Anaheim Angels), I had to see what was shaking down at this meeting.

Turns out a private investment company wants to bring in a minor league team. From my spot on the bench, that could be just what our fine city could use to boost its culture of baseball. 

There’s no doubt that Santa Maria is an area rich in baseball history. From Ozzie Smith and Robin Ventura to Cappy Harada and Bryn Smith, Santa Maria has seen its share of minor and major leaguers. But more importantly, there’s a kind of baseball that thrives in Santa Maria: minor league.

Don’t let the name fool you; there’s nothing “minor” about the semi-pros. In fact, a lot of professional players spend time in the minors before making their way to the MLB; the minor leagues continue to fuel the “bigs” with some rather colorful talent. 

Since 2008, the popularity of the minor leagues has steadily grown and continues to bring big-time baseball to smaller cities. The beauty of minor league teams is a guaranteed independence from the MLB; they form their own rules and regulations. In addition, minor teams choose and pay their own players. They often rely on a “grassroots” advertising method by sending players out into the community to fundraise.

Most importantly, minor league teams thrive on community involvement and support. Players are also able to engage more with fans as the talent is drawn from and remains in the area. 

The investment group, the proposed “Santa Maria Baseball LLC,” said it chose Santa Maria partly because of its baseball tradition, and partly because the city boasts a prime demographic for minor league baseball. Still small town but with a large enough population to support a team, Santa Maria has an established line of gifted players.

The last decade here in the city has witnessed a rise and fall in baseball—not to mention relocations and changes in power. If you’re an avid baseball fan, I’m sure you can think back to once upon a time when Santa Maria lived by the “Big Red Machine.” For more than 65 years, the legendary Santa Maria Indians lit up Elks Field. With showdowns against the Santa Barbara Wahoos and crowded summer games, the Indians reigned as the oldest semi-pro team in California before financial issues forced the team to relocate to Templeton. 

The proponents of this new proposed minor league team appear honest enough in their intentions. Without building a new stadium but offering improvements to the current field, they’d like to establish a semi-professional, community-involved team. I may be getting soft in my old Benchwarmer age, but I liked those guys and think they have the potential to do good things in the name of baseball.

Think about it: Santa Maria can do nothing but benefit from bringing semi-pro ball back to the city—economically and socially. As a minor league team, all the money from profit and fundraising would stay with the team and Santa Maria. Games also provide an affordable source of family entertainment in addition to drawing tourism to our local businesses. 

Perhaps one of the more important aspects of having a minor league team is it provides a chance for numerous local baseball players. With about 10.5 percent of the player population ever making it to the MLB, a minor league team allows players to pursue their sport at a semi-professional level. There are a plethora of club baseball teams, high schools teeming with talent, and the Allan Hancock baseball program that could fuel a new minor league team. In a sense, it would be a way for the community to show support for its own.

While the addition of a minor league organization sounds good in theory, some of my fellow sports fans weren’t too fond of the idea. 

For instance, the idea of sharing Elks Field with another team wasn’t a pleasant prospect for the Santa Maria Reds or Babe Ruth Little League. Elks Field has maintained the spirit of baseball and supported numerous local teams throughout the years. There were also concerns about lack of available parking.

Some rather shallow solutions to those issues? There are numerous fields in Santa Maria and Orcutt that could support the Little League teams for games and practices, while Elks Field can be reserved for the Santa Maria Reds and the potential minors team. As for parking, a shuttle service to Elks Field could be worked out—but like I said, this all sounds good in theory, but my knowledge is relegated to the bench, not parks and recreation. 

I think there were also some major concerns about how the establishment of a semi-pro team would affect existing organizations like the Packers and Reds. 

From what I gathered, the idea is to build on what these two quality teams have already started; adding another team to the mix will only draw more of the community to come out and show support. I want to see Santa Maria get back to the glory days of hot dogs, summer nights, and crowded bleachers. While no team can ever replace the Indians, nothing says Santa Maria can’t once again claim a semi-professional team with players proud to represent the All-America city. Ultimately, I’m a baseball fan, and you just can’t beat having America’s best game in your own backyard.

Fortunately, the proponents made it very clear that they don’t want to move forward without community support. At this time, the city is a long way from making any decisions; the investors will begin gauging community interest and determining solutions to logistical issues.

What needs to be recognized here is that this is an opportunity for the city on multiple levels. Economic stimulation, entertainment, opportunities for local players, and America’s greatest game are prime reasons for bringing the semi-pros back to Santa Maria. 

I’m a believer in the “if you build it, they will come” philosophy. I have enough faith in the baseball spirit of Santa Maria that we as a community could support a minor league team. The city had it once and can do it again, but the effort will certainly be a team one. If the drive is there, all the small details will fall into place.

The driving passion is baseball; the bigger picture at hand is opportunity. But what do I know? I’m just a benchwarmer. 

Staff Writer Kristina Sewell has her own field of dreams. Contact her at ksewell@santamariasun.com.