SONOMA — You have to be in love, really in love, to understand what you are about to read. Love not a person, but an activity, like doing math, building a house, teaching school or, in this case, playing baseball. It has to be an all-encompassing love, the kind of love that leaves no escape, otherwise what Will Scott did last winter will make no sense to you, no sense whatsoever.
Living in Atlanta, Scott, a right-handed pitcher, would wake up in the morning and go for a run. Then he would go to the gym. “I’d make sure I’d take my protein,” he said. Scott would eat right, get his sleep, keep his weight down and not do stupid stuff a 23-year old young man might be tempted to do. Scott spent all winter in training.
“I didn’t have a reason to do any of that,” Scott said. “I wasn’t under contract with any team.”
Scott couldn’t let go of the game or maybe it was the game that couldn’t let Scott go. Scott was released last year by the San Diego Padres, having spent 31/2 years with the organization, most of it in Class A with a couple of cups of coffee in Class AAA.
“People just got bigger and smarter,” said Scott of his minor league experience.
But Scott couldn’t leave the game any more than he could leave in the closet his right arm that produces an 88-91 mph fastball.
Welcome, folks, to the 2014 Sonoma Stompers, a team full of Will Scotts, 22 players who can’t let go, don’t want to let go, many who probably don’t know how to let go. They leave the game only when every door in front of them slams shut. They need to be worn down, worn out. Like Gabriel Garcia, a right-handed pitcher who was scheduled to start the game Saturday against San Rafael – and then retire.
This is independent baseball, professional baseball without a Major League affiliation. Being independent is more than a word that defines the lack of connection with the big leagues. Independent is also a word that describes the very nature of the players who toil here at Arnold Park and also in parks in San Rafael, Pittsburg and Vallejo, the four sites of the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs.
A player in independent baseball needs a strong sense of self. Why else, for example, would Scott come here when initially he didn’t even know where Sonoma was? And for a paycheck something less than winning the lottery? Each team has a monthly salary cap of $15,000 which includes paying two coaches as well as the 22 players.
An independent player always has something to prove. Pitcher Ramon Martinez was released after seven years in the Seattle Mariners’ minor league system, given an explanation that didn’t satisfy him.
“They told me: ‘Don’t give up. You still have a chance,’ ” said Martinez, 29. “If that was the case, why did they release me?”
Each player knows good performance is necessary and must be immediate. The Stompers play just 76 games in a three-month period. Stompers manager Ray Serrano released three players after each accumulated 40 lackluster at-bats.
All players dream of the big leagues but some will be happy with modest achievements. Infielder Charlie Mirabal hasn’t seen his 5-month-old son, Ignacio, in three months, his family in Venezuela.