Years down the road will determine whether or not it was a dubious occasion, but it was a festive one in Marysville Friday when the local baseball team began its new season in a new era. The Marysville Gold Sox now do what just about every other baseball team in America does—play in a league, meaning half of their games are on the road.
In 14 seasons of collegiate summer wood bat baseball, that wasn't true for the Gold Sox. Yeah, they played a handful of road games a year, and usually only two. The team was at home every Thursday through Sunday for eleven straight weekends, and would face teams from around the area and some from out of state. There were no playoffs, an admittedly mythical crown at stake called the Horizon Air Summer Series, but local fans didn't seem to care, and always knew when to come out to the ball park.
That's gone now, but organizers of the new Great West League, with four teams in northern California and two in Oregon, are confident that the quality of play will be better. And with a minor league-like schedule with essentially a week at home and then a week on the road, fans will see the team as professional, even though it isn't.
With new owners, new front office staff, and new coaches, a parade was thrown for the local Boys of Summer—albeit a rather fast-moving one down Marysville's historic D Street, across a state highway with a police escort, and out to the stadium. It was called a 'rejuvination', with a spiffied up yard—new banners, and a new paint job.
Opening Night saw an announced 1380 fans turn out on a night where there were over a dozen different graduations being held in the area, and they saw what the league hopes was the first game of a long rivalry. The Chico Heat were the opponent—a team just an hour up the road that once competed against the Gold Sox in a professional independent league.
If you want to start a rivalry, a good way to do it would be to take last year's Gold Sox Pitcher of the Year, put him on the other team, and start him Opening Night against his former club. That's what happened, but it didn't turn out so well for the pitcher involved. Stuart Bradley, a Yuba City native who now attends Chico State, was touched up for eight runs in the first inning and only got one out. The Gold Sox won the game 12-4.
In what was a smart move by the fledgling league, the series moved to Chico the following night. It was the first Chico Heat game in 14 years since the independent Western Baseball League folded, and the first summer game in over five years since Chico hosted various other professional teams. The town was ready, and close to three thousand turned out for the team's first game. They went home happy with the Heat blowing the game open late, and winning 10-1.
The two cities are close enough that the Gold Sox can go home after the game. They returned the next night with all of the first-game jitters out of the way for both teams, and the Gold Sox got the best of the Heat again. In a game similar to the Friday night Marysville opener, the Chico starting pitcher only got one out, Marysville scored five runs in the first inning, and hung on to win the game 9-6.
Now, though, things get interesting. With 54 games to go after fans were used to just over 40, the collegiate Gold Sox return home, and will do something they have never really done—play a weeknight series at home. After a Tuesday through Thursday series with the Lodi Crushers, the collegiate Gold Sox will do something they've never done—play a weekend series on the road. They'll be gone for a week, with a three-game series in Portland, followed by a three-game stop in Medord. It's baseball the way it's played everywhere else, but not in Marysville.
The new owners of the Gold Sox are also part owners of various other teams in the league, so this is all about the league and making it work. They're sacrificing what the Gold Sox had over the years, and time will tell if it will pay off. On the field, the players, who are spending their college summer vacations playing the game they love, don't much care. They just want to play and get better. They also wouldn't mind seeing another parade sometime in August, celebrating a league championship in their honor.
Waxing philosophical: Since the Gold Sox began playing as a collegiate summer team in 2003, I have been fortunate to have broadcast every single game they've ever played. Counting Friday night, that was 628 games (I also did 89 of the 90 games during the pro year of 2002, missing one due to a death in the family). That streak came to an end Saturday in Chico, because the station has decided to only carry home games this season. I attended the game that night, but stayed home Sunday, marking the first game I ever missed. I was too busy scoring the game while listening to the Chico broadcast online to think about it, but it was still a little strange. It will probably sink in this weekend while the team is in Oregon.
More radio: Saturday's non-broadcast of the Gold Sox game also marked the first time that a pro team, or Gold Sox collegiate game was not broadcast live on KUBA. The station carried all 90 Feather River Mudcats games in 2000, 90 more Gold Sox pro games in 2002 (there was no baseball in 2001), and then the 628 Gold Sox collegiate games. A Ripkenian 808 consecutive game streak has snapped. Sad.
Personal note: My 90 year-old mother was released from the hospital last week, after an infection in her legs was diagnosed as MRSA, otherwise known as a 'super bug' that is resistant to many antibiotics. After IVs, and tries with a couple of different antibiotics, the swelling went down and she could move enough to be released. She's back in her chair, and happy to hear the chirping of her parakeet, which she said she missed the most.