By Mike Panella
A common love for the game of baseball brings teams from all over to play on San Quentin’s Field of Dreams, and they leave moved by the experience.
“Coming into San Quentin is a good opportunity for both sides, as we are all passionate about baseball. It gives us a different perspective of San Quentin and is a good social interaction for all involved,” said Blake Burgard of the Santa Barbara Riptides.
“It’s exciting. Not everybody can say they played baseball in Cuba and San Quentin — it’s like the forbidden fruit,” said John Walker of the Los Angeles Dodger Town baseball team.
“I love baseball. It’s an interesting experience and a righteous experience to provide some joy for people who aren’t as fortunate as we are,” said Dodger Town player Stewart Sallo. “I left here last year wondering, ‘If I had been born into the life circumstances of some of you, would I be in here?’”
Burgard is the commissioner of the Santa Barbara Men’s Adult League. He learned about the San Quentin Field of Dreams experience from the manager of the Santa Monica Suns. The Suns’ manager has been bringing teams into the prison’s Lower Yard baseball diamond for years and raves about the experience.
He assembled a team called the Riptides from position players from some of the 12 teams that play in the Santa Barbara Men’s Adult Baseball League. It is part of the Men’s Senior Baseball League out of New York.
Similarly, Dodger Town comes up to play from Los Angeles. Some of its players flew in from Denver, Indiana and New York. Two of them have pro experience, which made the games very competitive.
The Riptides played their first game at The Q on July 26. It was a double-header against both the S.Q. Giants and Athletics. They beat the Giants, 5-0, and lost to the A’s, 8-7.
After losing both games against the S.Q. teams last year, Dodger Town came in with two former professional pitchers. Leon Fingold, 41, played two years in the minors for the Cleveland Indians, and he played in the Israel Baseball League. Fingold said he has thrown pitches clocked at 96 in his prime. He flew in from New York for the game. Pete C. played pro in Australia. The 24-year-old was throwing heat that made audible slaps as they hit the catcher’s glove. His pitches broke two bats. In the Aug. 9 game, he pitched six innings and shut out the Giants, 6-0. Fingold got the save.
San Quentin’s Aaron Taylor’s comical play-by-play announcing enhanced the Dodger Town vs. Giants game. “Thank you; come again,” he said after each strikeout.
Giants’ pitchers Jeff “Dewey” Dumont gave him a run for his money in the pitchers’ duel. Dumont broke up the no-hitter with a bunt. Trevor Bird also got a base hit.
“I wasn’t expecting you guys to be this good. Your pitcher could play on a college level. You guys are blowing my mind,” said Pete C.
Dumont threw 154 pitches, struck out 11 batters and did not give up any earned runs; however, seven Giants errors led to a 6-0 loss. In the second game of the double-header, Dodger Town shut out the A’s, 2-0.
“Our team will walk out of here with a greater appreciation for what we have in our everyday lives,” said Burgard.
By Mike Panella