Welcome to Banished to the Pen’s preview of the 2015 season for The Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs. Yesterday, we posted the preview for the Sonoma Stompers.
Now entering its third season of play, the Pacific Association appears to have moved its way into the middle tier of the independent ball hierarchy, with one front office member commenting to BttP that the league may now rival the Frontier League for talent. While the league started with 5 teams, including 2 Hawaiian teams in 2013, the league now features 4 teams exclusively in Northern California: the San Rafael Pacifics, the Vallejo Admirals, the Sonoma Stompers and the Pittsburg Diamonds. You can find standings and statistics for the league on PointStreak.com as well as Baseball-Reference.com.
The Pacific Association season runs from June 1 to August 30, and uses a first half winner vs. second half winner format to determine the competing teams for a winner-take-all championship game at the end of the season. If one team wins both halves then no championship game occurs. Last season, the first half victor Pacifics were able to barely hold off the Admirals, defeating them in the final game of the season to clinch the second half and league championship.
The league favored hitters last season, with an average slash line of .280/.367/.400, but that can change quickly in a league with significant player turnover from one season to the next. We’re huge fans of two things here at Banished to the Pen: the Effectively Wild podcast, and baseball that is a little different from what you see on ESPN every Sunday night, so the Pacific Association is the perfect intersection of those two forces.
The Pittsburg Diamonds
The Pittsburg Mettle, a team who joined the Pacific Association at its inception in 2013, were recently rebranded as the “Diamonds” after the 1940’s and ’50’s professional baseball team that played in Pittsburg and was managed by Vince DiMaggio, the eldest of the legendary DiMaggio brothers. Tom Macari, general manager of the Diamonds, provided commentary about the team’s focus on 2015 and his comments on the team were critical in building this preview. Speaking with BttP, Macari stressed the focus on connecting with the Pittsburg community in 2015: “We want this to feel like the community’s team. We have local owners who have a lot of local pride and love the city of Pittsburg and want more than anything else for the community to embrace this as their own. We can honestly say this is our dream, to own a baseball team in our own town, especially for [principal owner Khurram] Shahh and [Pitsburgh resident and former MLB player] Aaron [Miles]. We’re just thrilled this has happened.”
Team in a Box
Principal Owner: Khurram Shah. Shah is a Pittsburg resident and was reportedly a big fan of the Mettle before purchasing the team. For the past 6 years, Shah ran a local Sunday baseball league, the Contra Costa Baseball League. One of the goals Macari identified for courting community support for the Diamonds included reaching out to the Contra Costa League thanks to Shah’s connections.
GM: Tom Macari. Macari is a former owner of the Pittsburg Mettle. After stepping away from his role as an owner, Macari was asked to serve as the general manager for 2015. Macari also ran the Bay Cal Lumberjacks in the NABL 2 years ago.
Home Field: City Park Field #1, City Park, Pittsburg. Like other Pacific Association fields, the Diamonds play on a field surrounded by city playgrounds and other soccer and baseball fields. Unlike most fields in the league, the field is maintained by the individuals that maintain the turf at the O.co Colliseum following renovations of the park field during the past off-season. Macari described the field as, “…Pristine and manicured. The city really wants to have a high quality field and a high quality team.” The park runs 320 feet down the lines and 385 to center field.
Broadcast Info: Audio broadcasts of Diamonds games can be streamed on mixlr.com/pittsburgdiamonds beginning Friday, June 5th.
Player/Manager and Part-Owner: Aaron Miles. Originally drafted by the Astros in 1995, Miles made his MLB debut at the age of 26 and spent 9 seasons in the major leagues with 5 different teams. A versatile player, Miles played every position except first base and catcher in 2008 with the Cardinals in one of his best major league seasons. Miles was born in Pittsburg and was described by Macari as a “local baseball hero.” Macari described Miles’ managerial presence as: “…very humble, very approchable. [He’s a] player’s manager who’s very experienced and very good to work with. He’ll be great for our hitters and great for the team in general. I could not think of anyone more perfect.” It appears Matthew Pouliot, of Hardball Talk, was correct when he commented about Miles: “…he probably has a future in coaching if he wants one.”
2014 in Review
The Mettle struggled to keep up with the rest of the PA last season, finishing in last place (22-56), scoring the least amount of runs (386) while allowing the most runs in the league (549). Part of their offensive woes were due to the team losing its star outfielder, former 3rd round Yankees pick and potential 2015 MVP Tim Battle, 24 games into the season when the York Revolution of the Atlantic League came calling. The team has reloaded for 2015, however, and talent abounds for the the new-look Diamonds.
Notable returning players
Tim Battle (OF), Aaron Miles (2B/All positions?)
Pacific Association pitchers probably breathed a sigh of relief last season when the York Revolution came calling to pull Tim Battle away from the Mettle. Battle sunk Pacific pitchers to the tune of a .323/.396/.566 line with 6 home runs in only 24 games last season. His 18.5 home runs per plate appearance were second only to the Stompers’ Joel Carranza, who set the league’s new single-season home run record. Battle’s 21 steals in the one-third of the season he spent in the league allowed him to finished tied for 2nd in stolen bases with league MVP Jayce Ray. Battle will again play for Pittsburg this season, and is somewhat of a veteran of the Pacific Association, having played 2010 and 2012 in its predecessors, the North American League and the Golden League.
Aaron Miles will play as well as manage in 2015. In 2014, Miles showed he can still play at a high level, hitting 358/.416/.432 in 19 games after joining the Mettle. He also stole 3 bases in all 3 attempts.
Joe Lewis (OF/RHP), Dennis Neal (LHP), Barrett Phillips (LHP), Mike DeLong (RHP)
Last season, Joe Lewis was part of a formidable Vallejo Admirals outfield, batting .328/.413/.511 in an outfield where 3 players finished with an OPS above .900. Lewis also pitched his way to a 3.20 ERA in 19.1 innings of relief work. He won’t be the only member of the Diamonds’ lineup with experience on the mound, though. Aaron Miles made 5 appearances as a pitcher in his major league career as a go-to position player mop-up pitcher. Lewis returns home to Pittsburg for the 2015 season and should be part of a core of Pittsburg natives to anchor the team.
Dennis Neal represents another Admiral who will decamp for the Diamonds in 2015. Last season, Neal posted a 2.76 ERA, best among all starters in the Pacific Association who started at least 7 games. Neal played at Laney Community College in nearby Oakland before making the jump to NAIA baseball at William Penn University in Iowa. As an incoming player at William Penn, Neal’s coach described the pitcher as having “great size and a strong arm.”
Barrett Phillips is a former Pirates farmhand who signed with the Bucs as an undrafted free agent out of Spartanburg Methodist College. Macari described Phillips’ arsenal as a “good fastball, effective change and curveball”. Macari was reported to throw a fastball in the low-90’s out of community college so he could be a force to be reckoned with in the Pacific Association.
A former two-way player at West Texas A&M University, Mike DeLong throws a fastball in the low-90’s and pitched 32 innings in relief with White Sands in the Pecos league last season before getting a call from the Evansville Otters of the Fronteir League. DeLong finished his White Sands stint with a 2.48 ERA and struck out over 11 batters per 9 innings but wasn’t able to stick with Evansville, who cut him after pitching 1 ⅓ innings.
The Season Ahead
The focus for Pittsburg this season clearly lies in creating high quality professional baseball that the community can get behind. When Macari spoke with BttP, his passion for the community and for being part of an organization seeking community ownership was clear. “We want to reach out to [the community]. Do whatever we can to help people get to the ballgame.” The Diamonds finished pretty far out of the championship picture last season but a return from Miles and Battle and the recent signings of some of the best talent in the league from 2014 should go a long way to help the team stay competitive in 2015.
Disclaimer: In the interest of fair disclosure, BanishedtothePen.com advertises with the Sonoma Stompers.
Stats in this article are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and PointStreak.com.Next post: BttP Podcast: Ep 22 – Nick Strangis & Tyler Baber
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