Geoff Safford, Broadcast & Operations Assistant
The Sonoma Stompers Professional Baseball Club, presented by Virginia Dare, has built a tradition of great defense since their inaugural season in 2014. In 2015, seven Stompers were selected as Defensive Players of the Year, and that tradition continued in a championship season in 2016.
Defense was a huge part of the Stompers success this year, and players from around the Pacific Association were rewarded for their efforts by being named Defensive Players of the Year at their positions. This season, two Stompers were chosen for their efforts.
For the second consecutive year, Mark Hurley was elected the top defensive left fielder in the league, and Mason Morioka was chosen for his work behind the plate. The winners were voted on by managers, general managers, and broadcasters from around the Pacific Association.
“Once we worked out some of the kinks on defense in the early part of the season, our defense was as much of a reason as any that we were able to win the championship,” said Vice President, and General Manager Theo Fightmaster.
Coming into opening day, the starting catching position was a questions mark for the Stompers, after the 2014 and 2015 honorees Andrew Parker and Isaac Wenrich, respectively, had departed. But Morioka brought his experience from the Frontier League and American Association and signed with the Stompers during spring training, and ultimately filled a void for the ball club.
"I only know one thing. Without Morioka, we would not have won the 2016 Championship,” said Stompers Manager Takashi Miyoshi. “He has done tremendous job for our organization. There are no words to express how much I respect the man he is on and off the field."
Morioka played with a chip on his shoulder after being released from spring camp by the Vallejo Admirals, a team he spent time with the season before. Morioka proved with his play that he not only belonged in the Pacific Association, but he was one of the league’s best talents.
The 25-year-old catcher’s play was something special and the numbers bore that out. The Torrance, Calif. native had 24 assists – second most by any catcher on the season – and Morioka committed only six errors (a league low among starting catchers). He also had the second highest fielding percentage (.988), and number of putouts (462) on the team. The Stompers could not have done what they did in 2016 without the veteran behind the plate.
“I’m so happy for Mason. I don't think there is anyone more deserving of this award than he is,” Fightmaster said. “Hell, he could have earned this honor solely based on his performance the night we clinched the second half, if you ask me. There was no better all-around player at their position in this league in 2016 than Mason.”
Morioka’s value was also shown in the batters box as he asserted himself as one of the Pacific Association’s best hitters. Morioka was the best hitting catcher in the league with a .292 batting average to go along with five home runs and eight doubles. He also did a great job of getting on base by finishing with 30 walks, and a .382 on base percentage. Morioka’s OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of .793 was the best of his professional career. Morioka was fourth on the team with 44 runs scored, 66 hits, 34.875 runs created and eight doubles. He led the team with three triples, and drove in 31 runs.
“This feels pretty awesome,” Morioka said. “This is my first award in my pro career, and I have to thank the whole organization from ownership to (Stompers Manager Takashi Miyoshi) and (bench coach) Chris Matthews, my teammates who believed in me, and my family and friends who supported me this season.”
Hurley earned the reputation of being a fantastic outfielder for his work in left field during his rookie year of 2015. The Hollister native and Cal State Monterey Bay product committed just three errors during the entire season, was named the Defensive Player of the Year in left, and was recognized with the league’s Rookie of the Year Award. Hurley built on that success to have an even better year statistically on defense in 2016.
Hurley was one of the most consistent outfielders in the league, boasting the highest fielding percentage on the team among qualifying positions player (.989,) and only committed one error during the entire season. Hurley added three assists from the outfield (most on the team, and among the top five in the league).
“Mark is a true fighter. He never complained, and never showed any weakness while on the field,” said Miyoshi. His character brought us to different level of professionalism. I am extremely honored to call him my left fielder."
Hurley was a key part to an outfield that was solid defensively all season long, and along with center fielder Matt Hibbert and right fielder Derrick Fox committed only 13 errors as a unit. Hurley has established himself as one of the league’s best defensive players at in the Pacific Association after winning this award for the second straight season.
“For two years in a row, Mark has provided us with great stability in left field, and was even better with the glove this year,” said Fightmaster.
Hurley added, “I feel honored to win this award with all the great outfielders in this league. I had such great support from my teammates, the Verdus (my host family), the front office and the fans. They all made this possible. Thank you, Sonoma!”
The Pacific Association will announce the rest of the post season awards over the coming weeks starting with the Rookie of the Year award to be announced Wednesday October 26. On Monday October 31 the Reliever of the Year will be announced with the Manager of the Year award to follow on November 2. The Pitcher of the year and MVP will be announced on November 7, and November 9.