ALBERT PARK HISTORY
Pacifics Team History
Professional baseball was once played in Marin County. During the 1910 season of the Class D Central California League, the “Cubs” shared their home games between San Rafael and Hayward in the short-lived league, finishing its one-year of existence with a 7-17 record (see photo at right).
In the early part of the century, semipro baseball teams filled ballparks from Sausalito to Point Reyes. Indeed, as legend has it, even the world’s most legendary and celebrated sports figure – Babe Ruth – rode the ferry to Sausalito and graced Marin in search of a game. Babe showed up unannounced one day in 1926 during a semipro baseball game in Point Reyes that featured the late great Vernon “Lefty” Gomez who lived in Marin. The local team was playing a semipro team from San Francisco, and Babe knew some of the players. Less than four years later, Lefty became Babe’s teammate and buddy with the Yankees. They eventually wound up in baseball’s Hall of Fame together.
During the 1950’s and 1960’s the semi-pro San Rafael Braves, sponsored by hotelier Irving “Whitey” Litchfield, hosted traveling All Star exhibition teams at newly built Albert Field including many major league players like Satchel Paige, Billy Martin, Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson.
But since that brief time in 1910 a professional team hadn’t called Marin County home until local, long time major league baseball executive Mike Shapiro and investor Brian Clark partnered up to create the Pacifics in 2011. The genesis of the idea began with Clark’s acquisition of the Bay Area territorial rights from the then-existent North American League, a successor independent league in California from the Golden League (2004-2010) and the Western League (1996-2002).
With co-owners Eugene Lupario and Steve Allen, they proposed to the City of San Rafael that venerable Albert Field could be transformed into a minor league ballpark and that San Rafael and the entire Marin County community would recognize significant benefits from having a minor league baseball team as a part of its social fabric. The proposal was unanimously approved by San Rafael’s Parks and Recreation department and then twice approved by the City Council.
On June 4, 2012 before a sold-out crowd at Albert Park, the first pitch was thrown and the San Rafael Pacifics were launched. On that historic night, San Rafael’s own Steve Detwiler hit two massive home runs to support a 3-1 victory for the Pacifics over the Sonoma County Grapes.
The team went on to win the 2012 North American League championship in its inaugural season with the team’s right fielder, Maikel Jova, named as the league’s Most Valuable Player. Jova posted a league record 37-game hitting streak between June 5th and July 26th 2012. The Na Koa Ikaika Maui knuckleballer, Eri Yoshida became the first female professional pitcher to take the mound at Albert Park, and on one magical night summer, August 23, 65-year-old and San Rafael native Bill “Spaceman” Lee became the oldest person in history to ever win a professional baseball game with a complete game victory over Maui, breaking his own record set in 2010. His hat and the game lineup card now reside in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The winning tradition continued in 2013 with another outstanding team. The Pacifics posted a league-best regular season record of 54-21 (.720) and won the newly formed Pacific Association’s Division Championship. This led to a second consecutive berth in the League Championship game where the Pacifics fell to Na Koa Ikaika Maui 6-1. The Pacifics were paced by ace Logan Odom (9-3, 2.32 ERA, 100 K) and Colin Allen (1.62 ERA, 15 saves) coming out of the bullpen, while second baseman Price Kendall had an outstanding season and was honored as the 2013 league MVP after batting .339 with 25 doubles, 24 stolen bases, and 65 RBI.
In 2014, the Pacifics captured the second championship in franchise history, claiming the first and second half titles in the Pacific Association’s first season of the two-half playoff format. Down by two games to Sonoma for the final series at the end of the first half, the Pacifics pulled off a three-game sweep of the Stompers at Albert Park to win the first half. The Pacifics saw the second half nearly mirror the conclusion of the first, with San Rafael holding a three-game lead over the Vallejo Admirals prior to the final three games of the season, all to be played in Vallejo. After falling in the first two, the Pacifics used a comeback effort spearheaded by a clutch RBI double by catcher Eric Bainer to take the lead. Closer Colin Allen pitched the final nine outs of the contest to secure the second half, and overall, championships.
Despite the success of the club in its first three seasons, 2015 was arguably the most exciting campaign yet. With a cast of 11 players returning from the 2014 championship team, San Rafael appeared geared up to defend its title out of the gates. But a slow start plagued the team, and without a solidified back end of the bullpen, the Pacifics limped to a .500 record at the end of the first half. Meanwhile, Sonoma caught fire from the get-go, winning nine of their first ten contests and took the first-half championship by 7.5 games, earning their place in the Pacific Association championship game. But after a slow start to the second half, the Pacifics caught fire, winning their final nine series, 22 out of their last 27 contests, and their final eight games, to take the second-half championship to force a winner-take-all championship game, overcoming the Stompers in the overall standings in the process to clinch home field advantage in the championship game.
With the score knotted at two heading into the bottom of the ninth, the Pacifics kick-started a rally against the league’s Reliever of the Year Sean Conroy with a pair of walks and a sacrifice bunt. With the winning run on second base, Daniel Gonzalez lined a first-pitch slider into center to win the game and secure San Rafael’s third championship in franchise history, making the team the first back-to-back champions in Pacific Association history. San Rafael was paced all year by the remarkable play of Matt Chavez (.383 avg., 31 HR, 85 RBI), who was one batting average point shy of winning the Triple Crown and was named the league’s first unanimous MVP after setting single season records for home runs and RBIs, Max Beatty (8-2, 3.18 ERA, 89 K), who went on to win Pitcher of the Year, Nick DeBarr (5-5, 3.68 ERA, 115 K), whose strikeout total set a new single-season record, and rookies Jake Taylor (.361 avg, 12 HR, 34 RBI) and Guadalupe Barrera (1.00 ERA, 8 saves, .890 WHIP). Zack Pace and Gonzalez were honored as the Defensive Players of the Year at center field and shortstop respectively.
The Pacifics, beginning their 7th year in operation in 2018, were the league’s most successful team, having won three championships in the league’s first six years and each year supported by the league’s highest attendance. In 2017, the Pacifics drew over 18,000 fans over their 39-game schedule, averaging over 450 fans per game played at historic Albert Park in downtown San Rafael.
In addition, the Pacifics established themselves in the local community for their engaging and unique family-oriented fan experience at their games and for their commitment to community service. That service brought the team recognition as San Rafael’s 2015 “Business of the Year,” the 2015 “Spirit of Marin” award winner, and the 2017 Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s “Business Diversity Award” winner. Among the many community outreach services sponsored by the team are school senior and hospital appearances; nonprofit and community organization fundraisers and awareness campaigns; and baseball clinic and equipment programs for economically disadvantaged kids.
In 2019, the team was sold to Gabriel Suarez. A former professional ballplayer with the Expos, Nationals, Rockies, Phillies, Astros, and Dodgers organizations, Suarez began owning and operating minor league franchises after he retired in 2013.
The San Rafael Pacifics discovered a winning formula in 2019 – finishing second in the regular season, seven games behind Sonoma, then marching through the playoffs and defeating the Stompers in the finals to capture the Pacific Association championship. They’ve now done it twice in a row.
This title may have seemed a bit improbable midway through the season when San Rafael was above .500 but not standing out from the crowd. But then, after what could have been a dispiriting 13-2 loss at Sonoma on August 14, the Pacifics won eight of their last night regular-season games and three of four in the playoffs. The Pacifics’ season earned-run average was 5.27, but that improved to 3.60 in the last nine regular-season games and 4.25 in four playoff games.