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Independent North American League could be home to local squad

Professional baseball would return to Sonoma County if the owners of a new Marin team can establish a second squad with opening day a month away.

The Sonoma County Grapes would play in the North American League, a remnant of three independent leagues. But lacking a home field for now, the Grapes likely will play on the road much of the season with the closest games at Albert Park, home of the San Rafael Pacifics.

Ownership for the Pacifics and operators of the Maui team need to replace a pair of teams -- Yuma and Orange County -- that dropped out of the league. Four teams are needed in the league's north division for the 84 game schedule set to open June 4. The league also has a south division with six teams, all in Texas.

Sonoma County was in the league's plans, but for 2013.

"Sonoma County is a great market for independent league baseball," said Michael Shapiro, the Pacifics president and general manager.

"We decided that we would accelerate our plans. It has to happen."

Not since the Sonoma County Crushers folded a decade ago with the demise of the independent Western Baseball League has a professional team called Sonoma County home.

Yet the Grapes can't get a home game until the county's lighted stadiums have open dates later this summer. The most likely fields are Recreation Park (Healdsburg), Doyle Park (Santa Rosa) and Arnold Field (Sonoma).

The process of putting a team together has already started.

The Grapes will be formed out of a two-week training camp beginning May 24, in San Rafael, where the Pacifics roster also will be completed.


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