SONOMA — The assumption has moved up the ladder from cliché to hard fact: People who buy professional sports teams purchase them to be around the athletes they never were. They live out their fantasies, their dreams, through others, the illusion of intimacy created because they pay the salaries.
So, Eric Gullotta, you just purchased the Sonoma Stompers, the independent pro baseball team playing in the city of the same name. Did you want to be a Buster Posey or a Mike Trout when you were growing up?
“No,” said the Sonoma attorney. “I wanted to be Eddie DeBartolo (Jr.).”
DeBartolo was the former 49ers owner who hired Bill Walsh and then was smart enough to let Walsh make the football decisions, content to be viewed as everyone’s favorite uncle, of good cheer and as well as pocketbook. While this might be slightly odd to read, Gullotta knows his place. And that would be alongside Theo Fightmaster, who has been retained as the club’s general manager and chief operating officer.
“There are two types of owners,” Fightmaster said. “Owners who don’t know anything about their sport and those who realize it.”
A first baseman for Cardinal Newman in the late ’90s, a bench rider for those SRJC championship teams that featured Rob Garibaldi and Tony Arnerich, a guy who helped run Dusty Baker camps for eight years, Fightmaster in 2014 had a very successful first year as a general manager. The expansion Stompers were 42-36, finished third in the Pacific Association of Baseball Clubs and fielded the league’s MVP, Jayce Ray. Ray and ex-Stompers pitcher Scott Garner will have a tryout with the Arizona Diamondbacks on Feb. 28.
Enter Gullotta, the 39-year-old tax attorney, with energy that gives off sparks and ideas that, if gain traction, will lift the Stompers to heights never before realized by pro baseball in Sonoma County. The past, and this is a charitable assessment, has been checkered in the area.
There have been teams whose players showed up in tank tops (Wine Country Baseball), teams that passed through here so quickly they took on the image of rumor (Sonoma County Grapes), teams that played in frigid conditions (the Redwood Pioneers and the Sonoma County Crushers in Rohnert Park). The most professional outfit was the Crushers, who had a strong fan base but were done in by a substandard league.
On the surface, Gullotta sounds like every other baseball owner who has come and gone. We’ll give the community affordable entertainment. We care. We’re involved. We’ll be creative. You’ll like us. Watch.
That’s all to the good but that’s just the surface. Do a little scratching, peel back a layer or two, and it’s like uncovering an underground city. Gullotta’s mind works like all points on a compass, going everywhere, imagining everything, always pointing to the next destination.
Like the vacant office next to his law practice in Sonoma. Gullotta has purchased the property and has workmen going floor to ceiling to turn it into the Stompers’ equivalent of a Giants Dugout Store. Buy tickets. Buy souvenirs. Meeting rooms for clients who want to hammer out a group activity. Discuss their packages with downtown businesses, only blocks away.
“Have an arrangement that fans can walk to a downtown restaurant after a game for a meal at a discounted price,” said Gullotta, whose baseball career ended after Little League.