A Conversation With Napa Silverados Owner Bruce Johnston
In late February, Napa resident Bruce Johnston announced his exploratory effort to bring professional baseball to the Napa Valley. The team, which will be called the Napa Silverados, is on track to join the Pacific Association for the 2018 season. We sat down with Bruce to find out a little bit more about him, his vision, and how he hopes professional baseball will affect the Napa Valley.
Q: How did you end up settling in the Napa Valley?
A: I was born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and am a third generation Tar Heel. I got into the shopping center business and worked for one of the largest mall developers in the United States for over 20 years. In 2006, I started my own consulting company and worked for shopping center owners, developers, and retailers. In 2007 my wife and I moved up to Napa because she has family here and wanted to be closer to them. It’s just the most pleasant place to live.
Q: What gave you the initial idea to try and own a baseball team?
A: There was a group of businessmen here in Napa that saw what was going on with the Sonoma Stompers and the San Rafael Pacifics and said that we should have professional baseball here in Napa. They started a Napa baseball exploratory committee (led by Mel Engle), put everything together and decided it was finally time to find someone to operate the team. I went to a luncheon and Mel said that the exploratory committee was looking for an owner for a professional baseball team in Napa. I was thinking to myself that I could sell tickets or something like that and I asked for his card. I followed up with him and got an email back the next day saying that they were delighted that I wanted to own the baseball team. So I went from selling tickets to owning a professional baseball team. The more I talked about it with my family they gave me an understanding that there was no affordable family entertainment in Napa. There’s really nothing for kids to do especially when they are off school in the summertime.
Q: How much do you think this changes the dynamic of the Napa community?
A: First of all I think it gives the community something to rally around and I think it’s going to be fun because we have a built in rivalry with Sonoma since they think they make better wine and beer than we do and we think that we make better wine and beer than they do. The community can rally around both supporting the team by coming to games and through sponsorships, advertising, and trade agreements. Once we can get the word out and local businesses understand that this is a source of civic pride for the Napa Valley, I think there’s going to be a lot of support from the business community here.
Q: What has the early response from the community been like?
A: I think it’s been very positive but its also very early on in the process. The outreach to community groups, businesses, and sponsors has just started this past week.
Q: How did you come up with the Silverados name?
A: I wanted to make sure that all of Napa could support the team. We’ve got the city of Napa but it’s more than just that. It’s Yountville, St. Helena, Calistoga, etc. The one thing that runs through all of those communities is the Silverado Trail. I wanted to make sure that everyone in Napa knew they were included in this team and felt like the name was a great way to do that. The Silverado Trail is a 30 mile road that connects our county and our community. We’re not just the city of Napa we’re all of Napa.
Q: Can you make this a tourist attraction?
A: I do think so, especially for the tourists that come here that bring their kids. You can go to about two to three vineyards a day and go out for nice meals but are the kids going to be included in that? Probably not. In terms of what we can offer tourists, we have a small ballpark with a beautiful view that’s right on the river. I plan on partnering with the local hotels and making sure that they’ve got tickets and schedules to give to their guests when they come in. I don’t think its going to drive tourism but its going to give the tourists and their kids something to do that’s a little bit different
Q: How exciting is it for you when that first game is finally here?
A: It’s exciting for me from the perspective that the Napa Valley is an incredible community and an incredibly giving community. It’s humbling for me to be able to have something of my own that I can give back to this wonderful place where I live.