Subscribe

Historical Grand Slam with baseball exhibit at Sonoma's Depot Mark Museum

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Subscribe

The Sonoma Valley Historical Society hit a home run with its latest exhibition at Depot Park Museum, discovering enough memorabilia, newspaper clips and statistics to warrant a two-part installation of “Baseball in Sonoma Valley.”

With at least a dozen local kids who went on to sign as minor league or Major League Baseball players; a World Series umpire; and a boy who played at the yard in Sonoma before becoming a major league general manager, Sonoma Valley has an impressive share of baseball success stories.

Don’t forget that hometown fans show up to cheer for the Sonoma Stompers, an independent minor league baseball team whose roster has included three female players and reportedly the first openly gay player to appear in a professional game.

The real story, however, may be found in the faded newspaper clips chronicling decades of recreational leagues, youth leagues and high school baseball teams — some that earned championship titles, others that taught good sportsmanship despite losing seasons.

“We had no idea how huge

it was going to be,” said curator

Kate Schertz, one of several volunteers who pored through records and donations from local families. “It kept getting bigger and bigger, so much that we had to break it up.”

The first installation, running through Dec. 1, features girls and women’s softball and youth teams, including Little League and high school teams, plus a few panels dedicated to noted Sonoma Valley baseball families.

The exhibit opening was planned to coincide with the World Series. The second installation, focusing on men’s leagues and pro and semi-pro baseball connections to Sonoma Valley, opens in January, ahead of spring training.

Visitors can find details about local baseball and softball history, and Sonoma Valley’s passion for the sport. Old-time photos include a Kenwood boys team, circa 1930, players posing with bats and gloves — as kids have done for generations since then.

The exhibit is designed to appeal to everyone who has stepped up to bat or settled into a bleacher to cheer for the home team. The valley’s love for baseball — and softball — was especially evident before technology landed kids in front of computer screens and at the controls of video games.

“It was Slow-noma,” Schertz said. “There wasn’t much else to do. That’s what everyone did.” While doing research for the exhibit, she was surprised to find how many locals pursued the all-American pastime. “There had to be more than 50 teams playing ball in the valley in 1970.”

Newspaper clips showcase hometown successes: Sonoma Valley Women’s Softball League teammates Mary Lou Wilson, Myrna Charles, Theresa Ritz and Linda Briggs, each batting over .750 during their 1969 season; the 1975 Sonoma Valley Girls Softball League champions, the Ding-A-Lings; the Sonoma Valley Little League all-stars team that won the District 35 title in 1994.

Team photos show generations of players, including the 1960 Babe Ruth all-stars with John Curatto, Bob Kruljac, Bill Lynch and Duane Kobza among them. Several Kobza family mementos are on display, including a baseball sent flying as a grand-slam hit for Ryan Kobza (Duane’s son) during a Valley of the Moon Little League all-stars game in 1984.

Visitors can spot several generations of local baseball families, including the Alvas. Bennito Alva, his daughter Leah, son Benny and granddaughter Elaina all have swung the bat for local teams.

Panels highlight the talents of players like Jessica Parker, a former Little League and Babe Ruth player who went on to pitch for the Sonoma Valley High School Dragons before making the roster for the UC Berkeley women’s softball team.

There are the first girls who played on Little League teams in 1975, a year after the Supreme Court allowed girls on the field: Julie Miller, Kimberly Becerra and Ginger Albini.

There are trophies, photo buttons of smiling young ballplayers, baseball caps and the National Association of Professional Baseball League uniform player contract signed by Bruce Griewe in 1961. Griewe played for the Dodgers a few years, until a rotator cuff injury ended his pro career.

When Sonoma Valley Historical Society President Patricia Cullinan invited the community to share baseball memories and memorabilia, she and fellow docents were caught off guard by the response.

Dusted off ephemera and well-preserved keepsakes are now part of the “Baseball in Sonoma Valley” exhibit. “What I think is so wonderful,” Schertz said, “is that people kept it. It’s meant so much that people kept it.”

The second installment includes the volunteers and high school coaches who helped mentor the boys of summer — including several who made it to the big leagues. Among those from Sonoma Valley who played for MLB teams: Dan Briggs, John Henry Johnson, Doug Nickle, Brett Wallace and Tommy Everidge. Several others have played or coached in the minors and with college teams.

Kevin Towers, the late MLB general manager for the San Diego Padres and the Arizona Diamondbacks, lived in Sonoma during his youth — before his family moved from the area when he was a teen. Towers died last year of cancer at age 56.

The late Babe Pinelli also had hometown roots and big-league action, making his major-league debut for the Chicago White Sox in 1918, and later becoming a National League umpire. He officiated in six World Series from 1939 to 1956.

Their stories, like those of countless kids who played on local fields like Paul’s, Teeter, Katie’s, Hughes, Arnold, Field of Dreams and Larson and Maxwell parks are a rich part of Sonoma Valley history.

“It’s an important aspect of Sonoma that probably a lot of people don’t know so much about,” Schertz said. She hopes the exhibit provides some insight about the community “long before we were about wine and food.”

Show Comment

Our Network

Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine