Diamond Notes: California Winter League Day 1

Theo Fightmaster, General Manager

There’s a lot that goes into a nebulous job description such as General Manager. In the world of pro sports, it carries a fair amount of political capital and prestige. But, in reality, at the independent level the GM is as concerned with the condiment station at the concession stand as he is with the second baseman's OBP. But there are times like these, thankfully.

This week Ray Serrano (the Stompers 2014 manager), our CFO, Derek Rampone, and myself  (Theo Fightmaster, the Stompers GM) traveled to Palm Springs to scout players at the California Winter League. This week is all about the baseball, something I’m incredibly passionate about.

After Monday’s 8-hour drive from Sonoma County to Palm Springs — where Ray and I discussed 1990’s gangsta rap, our favorite performances from Sunday night’s Grammys, and how driving past Harris Ranch makes us consider alternative lifestyles, like vegetarianism — Tuesday was pure baseball.

We strolled into Palm Springs Stadium about 9:30 a.m., and it was already a balmy 81 degrees. The stadium is a quaint little ballpark, built in 1941 in the shadows of the Santa Rosa Mountains. The stadium was originally constructed to serve as an area polo grounds. In the late 1960’s former Los Angeles Angels owner Gene Autry was awarded expansion from Major League Baseball and made Palm Springs the team’s spring training home. Since then it’s been used for countless affiliated teams, independent teams, college and high school playoffs, and for the past six years, the California Winter League.

The league is made up of 10 teams, with about 18-20 players on each club. These young men play for a little more than a month down here, competing for league supremacy, their teammates and, of course, the hopes of a pro contract.

Ray, who is like the Puerto Rican Bob Hope, seems to have friends wherever he goes. He was taking photos with old teammates, catching up with old friends, coaches and opponents. Today, he also ran into an old manager, Tim Johnson — who also managed the Toronto Blue Jays in 1998, as well as countless other teams and holding other titles. Tim turned us onto a handful of infielders, introduced us to some other well-connected coaches, and pointed out a pitcher who was converting from the outfield — and happened to throw an easy 92 MPH. The old whicker-hat wearing scouts had the radar gun fixed on the 6-foot, 4-inch right hander.

The talent here covers a wide swath. There are some guys who definitely can play, like one catcher from Puerto Rico, who is coming off a championship in the Caribbean World Series. There are also a number of guys who probably struggled to get on the field for the high school teams. This is why a guy like Ray, and his connections to Tim Johnson, James Frisbee, and countless others is so valuable; they help us weed out the wheat from the chaff.

Well, that’s about all for now. It’s almost dinnertime, and Derek, Ray and I need to set up a game plan for tomorrow. There’s a lot of talent out there, and only 99 days until the Stompers report to Spring Training.