Prune Packers baseball a summer tradition in Healdsburg
As the honey-colored sun disappears behind the left field fence and after the sixth-grader sings the national anthem, an umpire orders “Play ball!” and summer baseball begins, stoking small-town dreams and big-league ambitions.
“This has the community of Little League with the quality of major league,” said longtime fan Jack Chalmers, keeping score in the Recreation Park stands at a recent Healdsburg Prune Packers game. “The talent of these kids is amazing.”
On summer evenings for the past eight years, the Prune Packers have provided solid entertainment for baseball aficionados and casual fans alike — while also helping college baseball stars develop into potential pros.
A member of the MBL-sanctioned California Collegiate League, the Packers are among a handful of West Coast developmental-style teams on which rising stars can continue improving their skills during the off-season.
These aren’t washouts or mid-level talents who couldn’t make it beyond high school. It’s good baseball.
Dozens of former Healdsburg players have played in the pros. Five were drafted last month in the MLB amateur draft, including No. 3 overall pick Andrew Vaughn, who signed a $7.2 million deal and is rapidly rising through the White Sox organization.
Nine current players were just named as top MLB prospects, coach Joey Gomes said, and played in a televised showcase game last week that will re-air throughout the summer on Fox Sports.
Two, Cole Stillwell of Texas Tech and Ian Villers of Cal, were drafted in 2018 but chose to play in college instead.
The Packers, 28-4 as a team, are ranked as high as sixth in the nation (by the Collegiate Summer Baseball Register), just behind four Cape Cod League teams, considered the gold standard for summer ball.
“People keep saying the baseball is really good. I know,” said Gomes, “but get to know them. As amazing as their skill sets are, they are phenomenal people.”
Summer Sebastiani knows that. She and her husband, Todd Fernandez, took over the concession contract this year, which means preparing hot dogs, hamburgers and caesar wraps for fans, but also team dinners for the players.
Owners of Summer’s Market in Healdsburg, the couple has provided a soft landing spot for some of the three dozen young men on the roster — all but seven of whom are from out of town, one from as far as Ohio.
Summer serves as a surrogate mom to some: “They hit her up for a ride or when they’re hungry,” her husband said.
“They’re all very appreciative,” she added.
Along with the kids, young couples, families, middle-agers and old folks, a group of 10 co-workers from Healdsburg’s Barrels, Brews and Bites took advantage of the balmy summer evening for a group field trip.
“We wanted to stay local and do something fun in the community, to support our community,” said owner Saunda Kitchen. “It’s awesome.”
Employee Jamie Corder was clearly the most prepared for the evening — donning her maroon Packers ball cap.
“They’re all kinda my age, so I’m doing a little husband hunting — kidding!” she said. “But why not come? This is fun, it’s affordable and a great way to support our community.”
The players, many of whom get a little homesick in unfamiliar environs, feel the love.