It was like the clouds parted and the sun shone through as baseball returned to the San Quentin Lower Yard after more than a year of lockdown.
The streak of 25 consecutive seasons played at the “Field of Dreams” was interrupted by the COVID pandemic. Subsequently, the San Quentin A’s, who finished 38-2 in 2019, had play suspended from March 12, 2020, to this first day of try-outs, June 9, 2021.
Players remaining from the winningest team in SQ sports history eagerly awaited this June day, which in actuality should have been near mid-year of a regular season. During the first day of practice, Manager Richard “Coach Will” Williams thanked the 28 people who embarked on joining the current team. Coach Will made sure everyone knew that most of the teams the organization plays against have not been cleared to come into SQ as of yet.
“I was pleasantly surprised with the turnout. We did not expect much of a turnout,” said the manager.
The history of the team goes back to 1902 when they were able to travel outside the walls to compete. San Quentin baseball has gone through an array of changes in name and philosophy before their record-setting season of 2019.
This year, a core of veterans returns from the historic 2019 team and includes last year’s Most Inspirational, Carrington “The Natural” Russelle, and the team’s two captains. The June open tryouts allowed 28 incarcerated people a chance to compete for 18 coveted spots. In all of Major League Baseball, there are approximately 900 spots to fill by the most talented players.
The nation’s incarcerated population, estimated at approximately 2,300,000, there are only 18 positions available to compete with outside organizations — all at San Quentin.
This uniqueness and competitive spirit are not overlooked nor underappreciated by the participants.
“A willingness to improve as a person and a player is all the coaches say we need,” said rookie Kolby Southwood, a recent transfer from Old Folsom.
“San Quentin is awesome — there is more opportunity here than anywhere. All you’ve got to do is want to get better,” he added.
Senior Equipment Manager Michael “The Body” Pulido said, “For some, the diversity here is a shock and, like it or not, San Quentin embellishes a slice of the outside world. Everyone who wears the uniform should know how rare it happens in any prison.”
Besides new players, the team includes premiere athletes like co-captain and Bay Area legend Anthony “T-Tone” Denard. He was picked in the 27th round of the 1987 amateur baseball draft by the Toronto Blue Jays.
The coaches repeatedly challenge the team, with comments such as: “You could be as good as the record-setting team we had. We want the best team we can have. This year’s team is learning how to respond to situations, techniques, and conditioning. They are moving at a competent pace and are not afraid to take instructions. I am honored to help the team in any way I can.”
The most important leader of the A’s is Manager Richard Williams. Staff coach K. Bhatt said, “We are blessed to have Richard Williams as the leader of SQ baseball. His professionalism, passion, and dedication are second to none.”
Williams responded, “It is an honor and privilege to lead these men into competition daily as they transform into returning members of our communities. We provide discipline and all tools necessary to go home to their families…that is our #1 goal.”
“How Ms. Raphaele coordinates the entry of outside players, the 25-plus teams, who enter through her approval and coordination, never goes underappreciated. Without her and Lt. Robinson, we have no program,” concluded Williams.
The 2019 Manager of the Year for all of San Quentin sports reviewed the team’s chances. “We lost a lot of talent but picked up some great arms, which is important as our run production should decrease.”
In a 2020 speech, Gov. Gavin Newsom said, “At a time of healing, I know how important sports is. I know what baseball did for me. I would not be here without sports.”