Originally Published: The Press Democrat
hil Barber, Columnist
More than 20 Sonoma Stompers players and coaches lined up along the first-base line before Friday night’s game against the San Rafael Pacifics, all of them in white uniforms with black numbers. Only one guy had his name sewn across the shoulders, though. The name read: CANSECO.
Jose Canseco, a former American League rookie of the year and most valuable player, among the most prolific sluggers of his era and one of Major League Baseball’s most controversial figures since his retirement in 2001, suited up for the hometown Stompers, the first of two nights making up Jose Canseco Weekend at Arnold Field.
More than 1,000 people showed up to take in the spectacle, the Stompers’ biggest crowd of the year in this young minor-league season. They cheered Canseco throughout the game.
The Stompers won 6-2 to run their record to 7-1, but the 51-year-old Canseco wasn’t a big contributor. Batting in the sixth slot as the designated hitter, he went 0 for 4 with two groundouts to third base and a pair of fly outs to center field — one of them tagged pretty well.
“I think when younger players face me … the last thing they want is a 51-year-old Jose Canseco hitting one over the fence on ’em,” he said. “I’m a softball player, that’s what I play a lot of now. I think the pitcher’s gonna have a big advantage over me. But … don’t let my swing hit that ball.”
Canseco proved his point during batting practice Friday, mashing several balls far beyond the left-field fence. He even struck the Sonoma Veterans Memorial Hall, well past the playing field, on a couple drives.
Canseco, who has played in other minor-league games over the past two summers, arrived in Sonoma on Thursday night and spent much of the day with the Stompers, signing souvenirs and meeting with team officials. The team paid him for his appearance, though general manager Theo Fightmaster declined to state the fee.
The Stompers had a 3-0 lead three batters into the game Friday on a three-run homer by Gered Mochizuki, and never relinquished the advantage. Starting pitcher Gregory Paulino, a native of the Dominican Republic, went got the victory.
But it was the chiseled, 6-foot-4 Canseco who drew most of the attention all night, whether he was taking mighty cuts in the batter’s box, dwarfing his teammates along the dugout rail or sticking around to sign autographs afterward.
“It’s really cool,” said Brian Miller of Santa Rosa after the game, standing in line to have Canseco sign a commemorative plaque celebrating the player’s famed 40/40 season — 42 home runs and 40 stolen bases in 1988. “Honestly, between him, Rickey Henderson, Mark McGwire, I mean, watching those guys growing up made me a fan for life.”
Canseco is scheduled to play for the Stompers again Saturday, and will challenge all comers in a home run derby.