The Stockton Ports' new centerfield scoreboard.
STOCKTON – Not even the threat of thundershowers could dampen the spirits of the Stockton Ports’ faithful on the Opening Night of their new home, Banner Island Ballpark. Dark clouds hung around the stadium throughout the night, but the rain held off and allowed the celebration to go off without a hitch. The Ports responded to the sellout crowd, pounding the San Jose Giants by a score of 7-4.
After a 19-game roadtrip, the road-weary Ports seemed to embrace being in their home park. Propelled by a stellar pitching performance from starter Jason Windsor, the Ports used a 10-hit attack to mount a 7-1 lead before hanging on to win the game by the final score of 7-4. Three players had multi-hit games for the Ports, including first baseman Vasili Spanos, who also drove in two runs. The Ports also received some nice defensive play in centerfield by Dustin Majewski to help them hold off the San Jose offensive.
The celebrations began early at Banner Island. The pre-game festivities included the ever-popular F16 flyover and the finish of the “longest first pitch” which began some weeks ago and ended when 10 guests fired first pitches to home plate. Once the game began, it didn’t take long for the fireworks to start.
Windsor was on his game early, striking out two of the first three batters, making him the first pitcher to record a strikeout at Banner Island Ballpark. He retired the first six batters he faced. The seventh place hitter, first baseman Travis Ishikawa, broke up Windsor’s run with a long solo homerun on the first pitch of the third inning. Ishikawa’s blast insured that his name would be entered in the record books as the first player to homer at Banner Island. The ball landed near the Jackson Rancheria Back Porch area in right-center field and was promptly thrown back onto the field by a Ports fan.
Windsor allowed an infield single to the next batter, third baseman Todd Jennings. However, it didn’t take long for Windsor to rediscover his groove. He picked Jennings off of first base and struck out catcher Guillermo Rodriguez and center fielder Clay Timpner to end the inning. Windsor would retire the next six batters in a row before allowing a lead-off single in the sixth. He finished the game with a line of seven innings pitched, with one run and three hits allowed. He struck out nine and walked only one.
Windsor had good command of his off-speed pitches and mixed in a tailing fastball to keep the San Jose hitters from making good contact all night. He was helped in the sixth inning when centerfielder Dustin Majewski made a leaping catch at the base of the wall with no outs and a man on first. What could have been a big inning turned into a quiet one after Majewski’s catch, as Windsor retired the next two batters with a strike out and a lazy flyball to center.
By the time Majewski made his catch, the Ports had already given themselves a nice cushion, thanks to some timely hitting and a few fortunate bounces. Down 1-0 going into the bottom of the third, the Ports quickly jumped on San Jose starter Ben Thurmond to erase that deficit. With one out, Eddie Cornejo collected the Ports’ first hit at Banner Island Ballpark, a flare over the third baseman. Cornejo advanced to second on a groundout by left-fielder Benjamin Winslow. The Ports’ bats came alive with two-outs. Lead-off man Luke Appert drew a walk, bringing up Majewski with two on and two out. Majewski came through, shooting a line drive over the head of Giants’ right-fielder Nate Schierholz. That double scored two runs and gave the Ports their first lead at their home park.
Vasili Spanos added to that lead when he followed Majewski’s double with a double of his own. Spanos’ hit was of the bloop variety, a towering flyball that Giants’ centerfielder Timpner lost in the dusk-filled sky, allowing Majewski to score to up the Ports’ lead to 3-1. They almost added another run on the next play, as designated hitter Daric Barton singled into right-field. However, Spanos was gunned down at the plate to end the inning.
The Ports added to their 3-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth inning. Right-fielder Danny Putnam walked with one-out and advanced to second when Giants’ second baseman Kevin Frandsen took a two-out Cornejo grounder off of his chin for an error. Winslow followed Cornejo with a two-run triple to straight-away center, giving the Ports a 5-1 lead. Stockton would add single runs in the fifth on a Barton RBI groundout and in the sixth when Gomez scored from third on a fielding error by the Giants’ Ishikawa.
The Ports held their 7-1 lead into the ninth inning, when Stockton reliever Jared Burton ran into some trouble closing out the game. He faced six batters and was only able to retire two of them, as he was victimized by two doubles, two wild pitches, a single and an error, all of which amount to three runs crossing the plate for San Jose. Alex Santos was summoned from the bullpen with two-outs and a man on second and he quickly ended any thoughts the Giants might have had about ruining the Ports perfect evening. Spanos struck out the final batter of the game and Stockton had its first win of the 2005 season in their home whites. The Ports evened their record to 10-10. They will take on the Lancaster JetHawks for the weekend series.
The game was sold out well in advance. The official attendance was 5,287 and the official capacity at Banner Island Ballpark was 5,200. One fan commented that “there were more fans in line at the concession stands then there were at most of the games last season at Billy Herbert Field”.
The outfield wall at Banner Island Ballpark is filled with a few unusual angles. There is a high-wall in left-field, dubbed the mini-monster. The home and visiting bullpens are behind the left-center field wall, but fans can watch the bullpens warm up through clear cut-outs in the left-center field fence. Behind the right-field fence sits Homerun Hill, which is a general seating area where fans can bring a picnic blanket and watch the game from a grass hill. Immediately behind Homerun Hill is the water where, like at SBC Park, hitters can aim to make a splash hit.
A new multi-purpose arena is being built just outside of the new ballpark. Throughout the game, construction crews were sitting in the unfinished arena, watching the action from their perch down the left-field line. The scene was somewhat reminiscent of the 1996 season when Mt. Davis was being built at the Oakland Coliseum and the construction crews would watch the game from their work areas in center.
The game was followed by a spirited fireworks display. The Ports will be hosting fireworks shows on Saturday nights throughout the season.
Thursday also marked the debut of the Ports’ new mascot, Splash. Splash is a 7’5’’ creature with brilliant blue hair and radioactive red fur.