Opening Night at Banner Island 2005.
With the first season of play as an Oakland A’s affiliate in their rearview mirror, the front office of the Stockton Ports is busy getting ready for the 2006 season. If the 2006 season is anything like the 2005 campaign, it will be a resounding success. After a year that saw the Ports make the playoffs and open a new ballpark, we check in with Ports Assistant General Manager of Sales and Marketing Michael Swope to get his thoughts on the 2005 season and to find out what to expect in 2006.
The 2005 Stockton Ports season was filled with highlights, none bigger then the Opening Night of their new stadium, Banner Island Ballpark. The Ports christened the new stadium with a win over the San Jose Giants on April 28th before a sellout crowd. Opening Night would be the first of many crowded evenings at Banner Island, as the Ports drew a record crowd of 205,719 on the season. That total was up more than 100,000 fans from the 98,035 that the Ports drew at Billy Herbert Field in 2004 when they were the Texas Rangers’ AAA affiliate. The 205,719 was also a franchise record for the Ports, shattering the 1948 mark of 154,547.
“It was a great year for the Ports. The first year of Banner Island Ballpark and the first year with the Oakland A's affiliate. The fans and our staff couldn't have asked for any more,” Michael Swope said. “It was a busy time getting into the ballpark by the April 28th home opener, but once we got by that great day, the season went very smoothly, with a great team on the field, that was loaded with Oakland A's prospects.”
2005 wasn’t just about big numbers at the turnstile, however. The Ports also saw some tremendous performances on the field. In the franchise’s first season as an A’s affiliate, and the Ports enjoyed the benefits of being associated with a major league team located only an hour drive away.
“[Switching affiliates was] quite a change. Not so much from working with one team compared to another, but from the level of support that our fans have for the Oakland A's. It was great working with the Rangers and they had a lot of big time prospects come through Stockton, but what we didn't have was many fans walking around our ballpark with Texas Rangers hats or t-shirts on,” Swope said.
“Now it is all green and yellow. If a fan didn't have a Ports cap on, there was a 90% chance it was an A's cap. Just being so close to Oakland also helped us do more interactive events and promotions with our fans. It's great to offer fans two seats to an A's game during one of our promotions, because we know they will use the tickets, can get there easily and will really appreciate winning them.”
Stockton had a sluggish start to the season on the field, perhaps in part because of a grueling 19-game road trip to start the season while they waited for the construction of the new ballpark to be completed. The Ports recovered to push their record over .500 by the end of the first half, going 36-34. They picked up their play in the second half, winning the second half division title with a 42-28 record. The Ports were remarkably consistent in the second half, winning 21 games both at home and on the road. They would fall to the Modesto Nuts in the first round of the California League playoffs, but it was a successful season, nonetheless.
There were a number of individuals who had outstanding performances for the Ports in 2005. Dallas Braden won six games in only five weeks of work with Stockton. Danny Putnam drove in 100 runs in a full season with the Ports, making him the only A’s minor leaguer to reach the century mark in RBIs. Dustin Majewski and Richie Robnett each hit 20 homeruns. Daric Barton lived up to his potential as a top-flight prospect by posting a 900 OPS before being promoted mid-season to AA. Catcher Kurt Suzuki walked more than he struck out and drove in 65 runs while playing nearly every day behind the plate. Jared Burton and Jeff Muessig anchored the bullpen by saving 24 and 15 games respectively.
“Daric Barton definitely has the look of a future big league ballplayer. Our team was very streaky this year, as were the players. We had so many guys who just went on these month-long stretches that were just unbelievable. Early in the year it was Dustin Majewski, Dallas Braden, Jason Windsor and Alex Santos who were all just lights-out. In the middle of the season, Vasili Spanos, Danny Putnam, Richie
Robnett and Jeff Muessig went on hot streaks,” Swope said.
“Then late in the year, Kurt Suzuki really started putting it together, Jared Burton was closing out every game and we were blessed for two weeks to have Kevin Melillo stop by and hit everything that came his way. Even though this team didn't win a championship, it was really loaded with a lot of talent and talent that is still developing with a big upside for the Oakland organization.”
So are there any changes in-store for the Ports in 2006?
“As a staff, we all sat down and reviewed the entire season and every single promotion we did. Although it was a great year, there is definitely room for improvement and we have some things in mind for 2006 that we think fans will love. From little changes around the ballpark to bigger and better give-aways. We definitely want to take each year and improve on the past season,” Swope said.
“Our main focus is going to be on building even more relationships in the community. From sponsors to season ticket holders, there will be much more interaction with our staff on what went right or wrong last season and what we can do to improve our customer service levels in 2006. We plan to be in the community at different events and functions as much as possible as well. Anything we can do to build more relationships and partnerships, we are willing to do.”