DIAMOND NOTES: Cal League cut down the Mavericks, Blaze … Vasgersian, Drysdale, Martinez, Piazza, Hamilton part of the history … High Desert won titles in first, final years … One title 75 seasons for Bakersfield … Cal League left with eight teams.
Does anyone miss the High Desert Mavericks?
How about the Bakersfield Blaze?
Did anyone know those two California League teams had disappeared as of this past off-season?
The league did not replace the two teams when their annual player development (affiliation) contracts concluded following the 2016 season.
Though the teams were founded 50 years apart – Bakersfield in 1941, High Desert (Adelanto) in 1991 – the two cities were part the California League baseball lore for a variety of reasons.
It was the Seattle Mariners, once housed in San Bernardino, that signed out of Bakersfield. The Texas Rangers, who signed San Gorgonio High ace Adam Quintana (released this past spring), ended its Class A connections to Adelanto.
While attendance was a problem for the High Desert Mavericks, consider that franchise produced a bevy of eventual major league players.
Major League Baseball Network studio host Matt Vasgersian once handled the High Desert radio play-by-play duties back in its first season (1991). His accounts appeared on radio station KAPL.
That same season, former major league catcher Bruce Bochy turned up as manager of the Mavericks. By 1998, Bochy was skipper for the World Series-bound San Diego Padres. He later surfaced in San Francisco where he has led the Giants to World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014.
The Mavericks first turned up as the Riverside Red Wave in 1988, later moving into the high desert area.
Future major leaguers like J.J. Hardy, Junior Spivey, Carl Everett, Corey Hart, Javier Lopez, Brad Penny and Billy Butler turned up in Mavericks’ colors while playing in the city-owned 3,808-seat Stater Bros. Stadium built in 1990.
Ironically, the Mavericks won last year’s Cal League title, beating the Visalia Rawhide, 7-4. Coincidentally, High Desert won the Cal League title in its first year of existence, 1991.
At one time or another, High Desert was affiliated with eight MLB teams – Arizona, Seattle, Kansas City, Texas, Milwaukee, Florida, San Diego and Baltimore.
BAKERSFIELD HAD GLORY DAYS
As for Bakersfield, the onetime prized minor league of the Dodgers – minor league home for no less than 14 MLB franchises – that began back in their days in Brooklyn.
Hall of Famers Don Drysdale, Mike Piazza, Pedro Martinez, plus future MVP Josh Hamilton, plus dozens of well-known baseball lifers drifted through that franchise en route to the major leagues.
The Dodgers aligned with Bakersfield on and off between the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s until its final affiliation from 1984-94.
Played in traditional Sam Lynn Ballpark, there had been plans for a $30 million, newly-constructed stadium. Those plans fell through, however, leading to the league reducing the number of Cal League teams from 10 to eight.
Bakersfield teams, known through the years as Dodgers, Blaze, Mariners, Outlaws, Bears, Boosters, Indians and Badgers – its center field fence distance once measuring 354 feet.
Curiously, only once in the lengthy history of Bakersfield has the team claimed a title – 1970 under former major leaguer Don Le John. With a 93-46 record that season, Bakersfield claimed the championship.
There were no playoffs.
CURRENT LEAGUE STATUS
Dropping Bakersfield and High Desert has landed the California League into a pair of four-team divisions.
Modesto (Mariners), Stockton (A’s), Visalia (Diamondbacks) and San Jose (Giants) hold down the North Division.
Rancho Cucamonga (Dodgers), Lake Elsinore (Padres), Lancaster (Rockies) and San Bernardino-based Inland Empire (Angels) form the South Division teams.