Originally Published: Sonoma Index-Tribune
Tim Livingston, Special to the Index-Tribune
After a history-making 2015 season that was featured in the New York Times bestselling book “The Only Rule Is It Has To Work” by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller, the Sonoma Stompers return to action on Tuesday for their third season in the Pacific Association.
Sonoma begins their 2016 season on the road in their first week of play, beginning with a three-game set in Vallejo before heading to Pittsburg for the weekend. They’ll return to Arnold Field on Tuesday, June 7, and host Vallejo in their home opener.
Takashi Miyoshi is back at the helm once again after taking over the managerial role midway through the 2015 season. Rookie coach and Texas native Chris Matthews will be the team’s bench coach.
Six players return from last year’s team that came within a walkoff single by the San Rafael Pacifics of winning the league championship, including 2015 Rookie of the Year winner, Mark Hurley, who will be patrolling left field.
Joining him on offense is first baseman Daniel Baptista, among the league leaders in hitting in 2015, and middle infielder Eddie Mora-Loera, a late addition to the 2015 squad that became a spark plug down the stretch for Sonoma.
The Stompers brings back three pitchers, as well. Mike Jackson, Jr., who has been with the franchise since its inception in 2014, returns for his third season with the team, along with second-year Stomper Gregory Paulino, who had two complete games last season and tied a team record for strikeouts in a game (12) on June 24, 2015.
Sean Conroy also returns after his historic rookie season, as the first openly gay professional baseball player in history had mementos from his thrilling Pride Night start shipped to Cooperstown for enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Clifton Park, New York native will be the team’s opening night starter.
As a team last year, the Stompers had six members of their organization get called up to higher levels of independent baseball, and just one week ago, once and future staff ace Santos Saldivar arrived in Sonoma only to be signed by the Milwaukee Brewers that same day. Salidvar is now working out at the team’s training facility in Glendale, Arizona, awaiting his first affiliate assignment.
The newcomers brought in by general manager Theo Fightmaster hope to plug up the holes left by the departed members of the team, beginning with third baseman Caleb Bryson. A powerful right-handed hitter, Bryson hit 30 home runs in only 62 games playing for Trinidad of the Pecos League, and should fit right in to the middle of the lineup.
Two players who had short stints previously with the Stompers are also back, as middle infielder Derrick Fox, the 2015 Pecos League MVP who played in seven games for the 2014 team, and pitcher Eric Mozeika, who threw two innings for Sonoma last season before getting a quick call-up to Bridgeport of the Atlantic League, will add experience to a young squad.
Conroy, Jackson, and Paulino will be stalwarts in the starting rotation. Joining them will be two players with affiliated experience, as Jose Flores (Brewers) and Oliver Garcia (Seattle Mariners) fill out the other two spots. Garcia has been truly impressive in Spring Training, hitting 94 MPH on the radar gun to go along with a wipeout slider.
An interesting late addition to the pitching staff arrived last week in sidearmer Taylor Thurber. The young right-hander played for Schaumburg in the Frontier League in 2015 and was targeted by the Stompers throughout last season as a possible mid-season addition. He joins the staff as a key bullpen asset much like Conroy was last season.
Tickets for the opening home series against the Admirals and all home games are available now at stompersbaseball.com. They are also available at The Fan Shop located on 234 W. Napa St. in Sonoma and can be purchased beginning one hour before any home game. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 938-7277, ext. 12.