Originally Published: Sonoma Index-Tribune
Christian Kallen, Index-Tribune Staff Reporter
It’s not every small- market independent league baseball team that can claim a Hall-of-Famer, but for a few months at least, the Sonoma Stompers are represented in Cooperstown.
Last month the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, the fabled repository of the National Game’s finest moments, updated their “Today’s Game” display – documenting the highlights of the sport over the past year – and included the line-up card for the Stompers vs. Vallejo Admirals game of June 25, 2015.Starting pitcher was Sean Conroy, who thereby became the first openly gay active baseball player in the professional sport. Although usually a reliever, he tossed a complete game shut-out to win 4-0, celebrating National Pride Day with a memorable moment in sports.
The Today’s Game case is in a newly re-modeled section of the Hall of Fame, known as “A Whole New Ball Game,” covering the years since 1970, according the Brad Horn, the Museum’s Vice President for Communications and Education. “It’s where we show achievements from the recent year or the last couple of years,” Horn told the Index-Tribune.Stompers general manager Theo Fightmaster appreciates Conroy for more than just that one game, however. “He was competitive from the first pitch he threw in spring training, and put together one of the best seasons this league has ever seen by a pitcher,” he said, noting that Conroy won the league’s most valuable relief pitcher vote for the season as well.Other memorabilia on display in the current Today’s Game case include the bat Alex Rodriguez used to homer for his 2,000 RBI, the red Phillies cap Cole Hamels wore when he threw a no-hitter against the Cubs on July 25, the jersey Mike Hessman of the Toledo Mud Hens wore when he hit his record 433rd minor league home run (shades of “Bull Durham”).
More esoteric collectibles include a faux “rookie card” for Pope Francis celebrating his September visit to Philadelphia – and that signed lineup card, with a photo of Conroy hurling toward victory, and a place in the Hall of Fame.
“The reason that piece was of interest to our team and the curators, and has a place on display now, is that it continues to show the world that baseball is about inclusion,” said Horn. “It certainly is a notable mark whether it’s at the independent level, the minor league affiliate level or the major league level to show that baseball is a game played by all for all to enjoy.”“He rose to the occasion, and then some,” said Fightmaster of Conroy’s June 25 start. “He struck out 11, allowed just three hits and pitched a complete-game shutout to earn a win in his first start as a professional.
“It was maybe the highlight of the year, and will endure as one of the best moments in franchise history.” The Today’s Game exhibit is always in flux, so once the 2016 season starts and the no-hitters and historic homers start again, the Sean Conroy exhibit may be phased out – but it will remain in the archives until the time comes when it’s once again relevant.
Ironically, when Conroy and family dropped by the Baseball Hall of Fame over Thanksgiving weekend, they found another group paying particular interest in the Today’s Game exhibit. It turned out to be Isaac Wenrich and family– the former Stomper who caught the historic game.
The two posed for family photos and went their separate ways – Wenrich home to Pennsylvania, Conroy to history.
Email Christian at firstname.lastname@example.org