Tim Livingston, Director of Media Relations & Broadcasting
Daniel Baptista strode to the plate at the baseball diamond in San Quentin State Penitentiary. It was the fourth inning, and he had already had himself quite a game, smashing a line drive to left center in his previous at-bat and a towering home run to right that bounced off the cement wall that surrounds the prison yard well beyond the playing field in his first at-bat.
Behind home plate, a heckler named Mike had just arrived to the ballpark, and just in time to let loose his best banter for anyone in the vicinity. That banter had no allegiances, and was just as loud for the home team as it was for the visitors.
“Big Papi striding to the plate!” yelled Mike, as the hulking left-handed hitting first baseman dug in. Baptista had actually been heckled at by Mike and others to try and go the other way instead, saying if he had kept pulling it, the teams might run out of baseballs and couldn’t finish their game.
So on his next swing, Baptista went the other way. That didn’t help the whole baseball losing conundrum.
His second home run drew oohs and ahhs from everyone watching, with one of Mike’s buddies yelling, “That’s gotta be illegal!”
Mike was also not afraid to call out references to his favorite ballplayers that the Stompers reminded him of. When Austin Delmotte came to the plate for the all-too-rare reliever at-bat, Mike yelled that he looked like Clayton Kershaw.
Even the front office members weren’t exempt. General manager Theo Fightmaster got an AB and got a Steve Balboni comp. Balboni played with the Kansas City Royals in the 1980’s as a first baseman and designated hitter and led the team to the 1985 World Series. Clubhouse manager Anthony Grant even got an at-bat, getting compared to Mike Marshall in the process, the All-Star outfielder with the Los Angeles Dodgers from the 1980's.
That was just a taste of the scene at San Quentin Saturday morning. A few hundred of the near 4,000 inmates that populate the prison were watching, talking, and inquiring about this Sonoma Stompers professional baseball team and their visit to the prison to play the inmates.
There were even some who remembered returning players from the team’s visit in 2015, such as Baptista, Mark Hurley and Mike Jackson, Jr., who threw two innings in the seven inning exhibition and looked ready to assume his role in the starting rotation.
Gregory Paulino, another returner who had established a pen pal with a fellow Dominican that was an inmate after the team’s visit in 2015, was someone that a lot of the Latin inmates came up to during the game, with one inmate going so far as to show him a photo album of members of his family.
The game was designed as a way for the Stompers to give back to people who had lost their spots in society. When the game was over, even with the score 16-0 in favor of Sonoma, the inmates were quick not only to congratulate the Stompers on the win and thank them for coming to play, but to make them realize the great opportunity they have as professional ballplayers.
The message of the All-Star team was one of gratitude, and to let the Stompers know that things can change in an instant. That their presence at the ballpark was a reminder of what the inmates who are close to finishing their sentences can look forward to when they re-enter society.
That gratitude was not lost on the Stompers. The team donated the baseballs used in the game to the inmates for use throughout the summer, with players and coaches signing a few as mementos from Saturday’s game. The inmates presented their own signed baseball to Fightmaster as a token of their thanks for the visit from the Stompers.
Weekends are normally visiting days at the prison, and it’s clear after Saturday’s visit by the Stompers that both the inmates and the visitors learned from each other, and that both groups earned some perspective thanks to the day they met on the dusty field at San Quentin.