Minor league baseball rounds third base and returns to our North Bay baseball diamonds this summer, as twelve teams from Sonoma and Napa Counties compete in the inaugural season of the Wine Country Baseball League.  In grand fashion, the season will start with a rare triple header this Saturday, June 12, with the 3 p.m. game pitting the Petaluma Piratas against the Rohnert Park Dragons at Cardinal Newman Field in Santa Rosa. 

Befitting the league’s name, its founder and CEO is entrepreneur Howard Leonhardt, of the award winning Leonhardt Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley, a major sponsor of the San Francisco Giants.  With world class athletes on the field and celebrity owners, music, and games off the field, the league is covering all its bases as “America’s pastime.”   Leonhardt is not bashful about his desire for the WCBL to become the West Coast’s premium independent baseball league and he seems to have the appropriate backing and enthusiasm to bring this goal to fruition.  WCBL is modeled after the world famous Cape Cod League, where major league teams often scout unsigned minor league talent. 

Our Petaluma Piratas (Spanish for “Pirates”) are tentatively slated to play at the St. Vincent High School baseball diamond, modified on game days for a more professional appearance.  Players/managers Dave Hunt and Nate Wall where chosen for their experience and contacts on the field as well as their amiable personalities off the field.  With hundreds of candidates vying for a spot in the lineup, Hunt and Wall have assembled a respectable team from a talented field of local players.  “We’ll make the playoffs,” claims Nate, confident that his squad stacks up well against the other teams.

Juggling practice with managing the team presents some unique challenges, but Hunt and Wall are taking it all in stride.  “Our team chemistry is already there,” explains Nate.  “Everyone’s giving each other advice, especially players who have been to a higher level.  We are all coaching each other but in the end we’re all here to win, so we put our egos aside.”  This is a rare and encouraging proclamation in a sport that often emphasizes individual achievement over team goals.  In true “old fashion” baseball style, the WCBL takes us back to a time when our local team played for hometown pride, not individual glory. Including three sets of brothers, Piratas’ games promise the camaraderie and zeal that is often missing from the overly commercialized majors, and their affiliated minor leagues.  Wall’s coaching strategy emphasizes team pride over personal glory, stating, “We keep it fun, which keeps us winning.”

Baseball runs thick through the veins of its fans and Nate and Dave are no different.  When asked why they chose not to join the Rohnert Park Dragons, the logical choice since they both graduated from Rancho Cotate High School, Nate proclaims, “…because I’m not a Dodgers fan.”  He is referring to the Rohnert Park’s uniform, which is quite similar to the locally loathed L.A. Dodgers.  In true baseball fashion, Nate proclaims his allegiance to his beloved S.F. Giants with a simple yet solid statement; “…I bleed orange.”

Wine County Baseball League tickets cost $5 for adults and $2 for kids.  Fans can purchase season tickets, team merchandise, and local sponsorship opportunities online.   A portion of the proceeds from each game will be donated to local charities.  While Leonhardt and the coaches are still working out rosters, schedules, and playing fields, check the WCBL website for the most current information.  www.winecoutrybaseball.com

With colorful old timey uniforms, affordable pricing, and teams spread throughout the wine country, the Wine Country Baseball League promises to take us back to the bygone era when Saturday afternoons were spent with family and friends, at the local ball park, with a hotdog in one hand a soda pop in the other, doing our part to root our home team on to victory.