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