Summer tradition returns: Healdsburg Prune Packers open 2023 season

One of Sonoma County’s most storied pastimes returned to Recreation Park in Healdsburg on Tuesday.|

Summer baseball is finally here.

One of Sonoma County’s most storied pastimes returned to Recreation Park in Healdsburg on Tuesday with opening day of the California Collegiate League and the Prune Packers’ first game.

The gates were open, with the smell of burgers and hot dogs wafting through the air courtesy of The Wurst, set up right in front of the main gates.

To top it all off, the Healdsburg Prune Packers got their 2023 campaign underway with a win, beating the Game Day Prep Trojans 6-5 in thrilling fashion.

Down 5-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning with two on and two out, Santa Rosa Junior College’s own Alex Leopard was at the plate. He swung at the first pitch and missed, then took the second for a ball. With the count 1-1, Leopard pounced on a hanging change-up that sailed over the left field fence for a go-ahead, three-run home run.

“Well we were down, and we needed that,” Leopard said. “It was a hanging change-up, and I did what I was supposed to do. I hit it.”

In the top of the ninth inning, University of San Diego’s Vaughn Mauterer shut the door on the mound, inducing a game-ending double play.

It was the end of a dramatic opening day for the Prune Packers, the two-time defending California Collegiate League champions. They went up 3-0 early on before the Trojans scored five unanswered.

The “Pack” wasted no time in the bottom of the first. Washington State duo Kyle Russell and Joey Kramer, also the starting middle infield pairing for Healdsburg, both got on from the one and two spots. A couple of batters later, Blake McDonald hit a grounder that scored Russell. SRJC’s Connor Charpiot followed that up with a double to score another.

The hosts would tack on another in the third, as Kramer ripped an RBI double. The Packers loaded the bases after that but couldn’t cash in.

The Trojans tied it up in the top of the fourth. With two outs, Jack Weissinger hit a two-run single. Weissinger scored three batters later when AJ Schrader walked with the bases loaded.

Another two runs lit up on the scoreboard for the Trojans in the top of the seventh inning.

Mauterer then entered the eighth inning and did the rest, not allowing a hit and striking out one.

“Isn’t this why we love the game?” Prune Packers manager Joey Gomes said. “Opening night, great crowd, the Packers are down after being up, what a game to come to. Alex (Leopard) with the three-run shot, Vaughn comes in and shuts it down, this is why we love the game.”

University of the Pacific’s Marv Guarin got the start on the mound for the Prune Packers. The senior went 4⅔ innings, striking out six and allowing three earned runs on seven hits.

Concordia University’s Caden Bugarske then took over, lasting 2⅓ while allowing two runs on five hits.

The win is the start of a 47-game season for the Prune Packers. They are going for their third CCL championship in a row and also the third under Gomes, now in his 10th year at the helm.

This year’s squad is a mix of both newcomers and veterans, 12 of whom are still playing collegiate baseball in the NCAA tournament. Russell and Kramer will man the middle infield, while Guarin was a no-doubt starter for opening day.

Leopard, in his first season as a Prune Packer, is from Sebastopol.

Charpiot, McDonald, Kramer, Cole Santander, Sam Brown, Tyler Stasiowski, Gary Hall and Dylan Day are from Sonoma County as well.

The Packers also boast two draftees: Texas Tech’s Travis Sanders (drafted in the 14th round of the 2022 draft by the Red Sox), and Arizona State’s Austin Ehrlicher (Petaluma native who was drafted in the 18th round by Boston in the 2022 draft). Ehrlicher is currently on the disabled list.

You can reach Staff Writer Kienan O’Doherty at 415-887-8650 or On Twitter @kodoherty22.

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