All good things must come to an end, and sadly that is as true to baseball franchises as it is to baseball careers. Brandon Magee gives a proper sendoff to baseball in Bakersfield and Adelanto as they prepare for their last stretch run after 75 and 28 years, respectively.
On Monday, August 22, Minor League Baseball announced a High-A realignment, shifting two franchises from the West-Coast California League across the long expanse of middle America and placing them into the Carolina League. Though there is often movement in team franchise locations from season to season, realignments between leagues are a rarity, last happening in 2010 as two teams left the South Atlantic League to become a part of the Midwest League. While that realignment had no true losers and was, essentially, a geographic fix as teams did not move to new cities, two California cities will be bidding adieu to teams they have called their own for decades. In today’s report, we look at the long history of minor league baseball in Bakersfield and Adelanto.
The Historic Loss of Bakersfield
When the California League started operations in 1941, Bakersfield was one of eight teams to begin play. With World War II raging, they were one of only four teams to compete in the 1942 season before the league shut down for the next three years. When the league renewed operations in 1946, Bakersfield was back in the fold. And despite multiple name changes – from the alliterative Badgers, Bears, Boosters, and the current nickname, the Blaze; to the affiliate-identifying Mariners, Dodgers, and Indians; and the one-off Outlaws of 1978-1979, Bakersfield has been a near-constant presence in the ever-changing landscape of the California League.
But when the 2017 season arrives, Bakersfield will no longer have a California League affiliate and historic Sam Lynn Ballpark – which has housed the team since the start in 1941 – will lie empty, likely never to host an affiliated team again in its current condition. Bakersfield is the only stadium currently in use for minor league baseball in which the batters face west – into the setting sun. As such, Bakersfield was the home of in-game sun delays, the last of which took place in 1996. Since then, night games have been started after the sun has set, sometimes as late as 8:00 pm, an hour later than most games begin.
However, while the orientation is unusual, it is the configuration of the outfield that makes it unlikely for baseball in Bakersfield to return to Sam Lynn Ballpark. Although the dimensions of the outfield are technically acceptable per the MLB rule book – which states that “the distance from home base to the nearest fence, stand or other obstruction on fair territory shall be 250 feet or more. A distance of 320 feet or more along the foul lines, and 400 feet or more to center field is preferable” – with a distance of 328’ down the line and only 358’ to straight-away centerfield, the stadium has the smallest outfield footprint in professional baseball.
Bakersfield is best known for a couple of Hall of Fame hurlers who passed through the city. Don Drysdale began his professional career as a member of the Class C Indians in 1954, throwing 11 complete games in 14 starts. Pedro Martinez spent the first part of 1991 as a member of the Bakersfield Dodgers, winning eight of his ten starts while recording a 2.05 ERA. Both established themselves in the major leagues two years after their stay at Sam Lynn.
Joining Pedro in Bakersfield in 1991 was another future Hall of Famer, Mike Piazza. In his second season at the High-A level, Piazza showed his true potential for the first time, batting .277/.344/.540 with 29 bombs, 15 more than he had hit in his first two seasons combined. Like Drysdale and Martinez, Mike established himself as a major leaguer two seasons after his stint in Bakersfield.
In their final season, Bakersfield will likely have a chance to win their third California League Championship. Currently, the Seattle Mariners affiliate leads the North Division second half by three games over Visalia, who is already in the playoffs by virtue of winning the first-half title. Barring an unlikely run by the Modesto Nuts or the Stockton Ports, the Blaze will face the San Jose Giants in a three-game series to determine who will face the Rawhide in the Divisional Finals. However, whether the end comes in the first week of September with a loss to the Giants or with a California League Championship on September 19, it will be bittersweet. After 69 seasons and affiliations with 11 major league teams, baseball in Bakersfield will be over.
A Quarter Century in Adelanto
Formed as the Riverside Red Wings in 1988, the team was moved after three years to Adelanto and became the High Desert Mavericks in 1991, entering into the newly built Mavericks Stadium – now known as Heritage Field at Maverick Stadium. The Mavs were immediately successful, winning the California League Championship in their first season, led by future Colorado Rockies cup-of-coffee drinker Jay Gainer, who hit 32 jacks for the San Diego Padres affiliate.
Two years later, the Mavericks – now affiliated with the Florida Marlins – won their second championship in their first three seasons. While the offense boasted future big leaguers Carl Everett, Kerwin Moore, and Jesus Tavarez, it was two players who failed to take the ultimate step who led the team in 1993. Tim Clark put up a crazy season with a line of .363/.420/.584 with 42 doubles, 10 triples, 17 homers, 109 runs scored, and 126 runs batted in. Meanwhile, Bryn Kosco batted .307/.390/.556 with 25 doubles, 27 bombs, and 121 runs driven in.
In 1997, during their fourth affiliation in their seven season history, the Mavs won their third Championship, this time with the prospects of the Arizona Diamondbacks. While the team boasted future MLB players Travis Lee, Jason Conti, Rod Barajas, Junior Spivey, and Todd Steverson, it was Mike Stoner and Stanton Cameron who led the offense. Stoner, en route to the California League MVP, scored 115 runs and drove in 142 while hitting .358/.392/.628 and leading the team with 44 doubles, five triples, and 33 home runs. Cameron wasn’t too far behind Stoner in his offensive exploits, putting up a line of .300/.408/.564 with 31 doubles, 33 dingers, 113 runs driven in and 103 runs scored.
The high-flying offense of those years was typical of the High Desert franchise throughout its 25-year history. Despite constantly changing affiliations – the Mavericks have partnered with eight MLB teams in its history – the team led the California League in OPS a dozen times, home runs 13 times, and runs scored 11 times. This year has been no exception, with the team leading the circuit with an .807 OPS and powering 167 home runs.
The Mavericks will also have a chance to end their California League era with a fourth championship, this time with the prospects of the Texas Rangers. The Mavericks won the first half title in the South division with a 43-27 record and will earn a bye into the Southern Division Championship Series. A California Championship would be a perfect bookend to their 25 seasons in Adelanto.
Could baseball return to these California havens? With baseball teams constantly on the move, it would be no surprise to see baseball return to Bakersfield and Adelanto, although in both cases, the cities will likely need to pony up for a new stadium. For now, High Desert is moving to Kinston, North Carolina, which had a team in the Carolina League between 1987 and 2011. And Bakersfield is likely to ultimately land in Fayetteville, North Carolina, which played host to a South Atlantic League team until 2000.