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Central Valley

Baseball strikes out in Bakersfield after 75 years

DSC_0220.jpgBakersfield Blaze players in 2012. LA Observed photo.

Minor league baseball is giving up on Bakersfield, a city that once was home to Dodgers future Hall of Famers and that has had a team for 75 years. The California League is dropping Bakersfield and the team in Adelanto in the high desert. I wrote at length about the California League in 1989, and covered the debut of professional baseball in the desert when Adelanto got the High Desert Mavericks in 1991, but I enjoyed the vibe and community connection more at games in Bakersfield. Even though Sam Lynn Ballpark, where the Blaze played their final home game on Sunday, is "the weirdest ballpark in America," in part because it was built with the batters facing right into the setting sun.

LA Times baseball columnist Bill Shaikin went up to Bakersfield to help turn out the lights. The scoreboard doesn't always work well, the dugouts are a long ways from home plate, and the crowds are small. But baseball will be missed there by at least some.

“It’s different. That’s what’s cool about it,” said Bakersfield infielder Justin Seager, older brother of Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager. “There’s a lot of character in this place.”

This is minor league baseball at its foundation, a place for players to build careers and fans to build community. The seats are functional, not lavish. But where else can you see a professional baseball game and buy bottled water for $3, Cracker Jack for $2 and, on Mondays, tickets for $1?

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Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal played here five years ago. He became so close with team chaplain John Carter that he flew him to Florida two years later so he could officiate at Grandal’s wedding....

It is also sad to say that Bakersfield might not miss its baseball team all that much. The team has ranked last in the Class A California League in attendance in each of the last 10 years and has not averaged even 1,000 fans per game since 2007.

Major league teams want the finest facilities for their minor league players, and Bakersfield became something of a consolation prize for teams that could not find a more modern home elsewhere. The Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds, Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Devil Rays and San Francisco Giants all sent players here within the past two decades; none of those affiliations lasted more than six years.

Shaikin writes that the Blaze was close to securing a new ballpark a few years ago, but the deal fell through. This year, the California League essentially bought the Bakersfield and Adelanto franchises and sold them to owners who would move the teams to the Carolina League.

Bakersfield has a bigger population than Anaheim, more than enough people to support a Triple A team (the California League is a lower Single A league.) Minor league ice hockey does well there. But for baseball to return, someone would first have to build a new stadium with all the modern amenities.


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