Better showing on field for Gold Sox
On the field, the Gold Sox' 2004 record represented a marked improvement from a year ago.
The collegiate wood bat organization also featured a more competitive nonleague schedule, less fill-in bodies and more players taken in Major League Baseball's Amateur Draft in June.
So what gives?
Yuba-Sutter's attendance dropped a bit from a reported average of 1,029 in 2003 to 919 per game this season.
The final two games of the regular season helped that considerably. However, while Fourth of July and a handful of promotional nights were plentiful, the average homestand was far from par.
Co-owner Bob Bavasi said he and Don McCullough concentrated on a number of goals for the second season, but group sales will be a primary target for 2005.
“That just wasn't one of our focuses, honestly,” Bavasi said. “We advertised. We did all of the things you're supposed to do, but you cannot grow a ballclub without group sales.”
Bavasi said the primary goals for 2004 were solidifying concession operations and the office staff along with stadium naming rights as Bryant Field switched to All Seasons RV Stadium.
Brad Peek completed his second full season as manager of the club. The team expects him back in 2005, although Bavasi said they'll always deal with managers with a series of one-year contracts.
Peek was pleased with team performance.
“I think we're a better team than we were last year, more depth, especially pitching-wise,” he said. “I don't think we necessarily had a couple of individual stars that we did last year. When we voted on team awards, that was very apparent. A lot of people received votes for the various awards we had.”
Center fielder R.C. Dickerson from Western Michigan was named team MVP after hitting .364 with 50 runs scored, 79 total bases and 29 steals in 32 attempts.
Dickerson is one of 10 Gold Sox players who could potentially return in 2005.
“I think a lot of guys want to come back, and I think we want a lot of them back,” Peek said.
The Gold Sox finished second in the California Collegiate League with a 16-10 record. They were second to last a year ago.
Peek said pitching in the league might have dropped off from 2003 but also thought the San Francisco Seals weren't a guaranteed win like the previous year.
Peek and Bavasi would each like to upgrade the nonleague schedule, possibly bringing in more teams from Southern California and Oregon.
“I thought with the nonleague teams, we probably had nine weak sisters last year,” Peek said. “This year we maybe had four.”
First baseman A.J. Valentine, who will play at Chico State next year, was one of four returning players. Valentine spent more time in Marysville this year and less commuting from his home in Redding.
“We had a lot of guys leaving for school and a lot of injuries (last year),” Valentine said. “This team, everybody stayed here, nobody got hurt too bad and everyone was on the same page.”
While Bavasi said it's unlikely the Gold Sox will ever play in the National Baseball Congress World Series or in an out-of-town tournament like one at Stanford's Sunken Diamond, many of the players have a different perspective.
“Any tournament we can get into where we're playing a lot of good competition and there's a lot of other good teams around, would be great for this organization,” Valentine said. “We're all college guys looking to get drafted, so any situation where we're surrounded by pro scouts and great competition, we're going to play our best.”
Bavasi does not foresee the team traveling more than 10 games next year, although he is open to the idea of making a road trip to see the Santa Barbara Foresters. Santa Barbara manager Bill Pintard, who doubles as the league president, is in favor of the Gold Sox making that trip.
Salinas Packers owner Dave Holt announced he would not return next year, although Pintard said the Packers have a potential buyer and could be back in Salinas next season.
Bavasi said he's not worried with a team in the league dropping out and that he does foresee the Gold Sox being back in the CCL next year.
“If I were in minor league baseball that one of my clubs (might) go out of business, I would be very concerned,” he said. “Here, it's not an issue because we don't have to be in a league. It's not critical. This is not going to fold.”
Buddy Morales (.296 average) said he'll remember several of the scars he endured as the Gold Sox catcher this summer. Morales, who will be a senior at Sacramento State in the fall, said he got back to where he was before knee surgery.
“By far, this has been the most productive summer,” Morales said. “This was the most fun I've had, and I've been playing baseball for a while. As you get older, I guess you learn to appreciate things a little bit more.”
Peek listed pitchers Wes Porter and Gary Simmons as two of the bigger surprises.
Porter, who pitched at Yuba College the last two years, ended up leading the Gold Sox in appearances with 22 and became their most reliable reliever.
Stanford's Logan Ardis might have left as the biggest puzzle. Ardis was 2-2 with a 4.37 ERA while walking 20 batters in 22 2/3 innings.
Key wins included a 14-inning marathon win over San Luis Obispo on June 11. Dickerson and Morales each cracked dramatic two-run homers in extra innings.
On July 7, right-hander Nicolas Waechter no-hit the Packers on the road. The right-hander from Western Oregon retired 10 in a row to start the game and did not allow a runner to reach third.
The most disappointing defeat might have come June 30. The Gold Sox were a strike away from a 7-3 win but saw the Seals tie and eventually win on a bases loaded, hit batter in the 11th inning.
Peek agreed that this year's team had better chemistry. He thought that having more players from out of state helped in that regard.
“I just think they hung out with each other more,” Peek said. “We had more commuters last year. These guys were always playing cards together. It seemed like one, constant card game all year long.”
Appeal-Democrat assistant sports editor Matt O'Donnell can be reached at 749-4796. You may e-mail him at email@example.com.