The San Rafael Pacifics began play at Albert Park in 2012 as a member of the North American League’s Northern Division. The division is comprised of two North Bay Area teams (Pacifics and sister-club, Sonoma County Grapes) and two teams from the Hawaiian islands (Na Koa Ikaika Maui and Hawaii Stars). The Pacifics’ sister-club, Sonoma County Grapes, played the 2012 season as a traveling team as they look for a permanent home for the 2013 season.
The Pacifics represent the first ever professional baseball club in Marin County, just north of San Francisco. It was a Northern California region previously underserved when it came to professional baseball as most of the minor league teams are concentrated farther inland, away from the MLB clubs in Oakland and San Francisco .
One of the more unique things about independent professional baseball is their ability to bring in talent on a game-by-game basis. This was particularly fun (and effective) when they brought in Bill “Spaceman” Lee to pitch on August 23rd . At 65, Lee became the oldest pitcher to win a professional baseball game, breaking his old record of 63. Lee threw a complete game on 94 pitches and also singled in a run.
One of the stranger things about independent professional baseball is the rule-making seemingly on the fly. In 2012, the Pacifics won the Northern Division even though they played 6 less games than the second-place team. I’m not sure how teams from the same league don’t play the same amount of games.
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The food choices at Albert Park were much better than I anticipated. The main options were the Pacifics Dog ($4), Louisiana hot link ($5), tri-tip sandwich ($6) and Pinky's Pizza ($3). "Around the Horn Chili" presented 3 options (1st, 2nd, and 3rd base) and snacks such as peanuts, chips, and popcorn could be had for $1-$2. The daily specials were corned beef and pastrami sandwiches from Miller's East Coast Deli.
Frozen lemonade was one of the more popular drinks on the hot afternoon but other items included fountain soda, bottled water, coffee (all $2), and Powerade ($3.50).
Budweiser and Bud Light were available for $5 and Shocktop was $6. The Speakeasy "Big Daddy" IPA (San Francisco) was $6 and is one of the better craft beer values in pro ball. Wine by the glass was $6.
Albert Park has an old-school feel with the entire grandstand covered by a wooden roof. It reminded me of stadiums in old baseball films. The view of the mountainside in right field is a perfect backdrop during a beautiful August day in the Bay Area.
In one of the strangest setups I've seen, spectators sit in an area that would normally be the dugout and the players sit in circular cutouts between home plate and the would-be dugout. The teams sit behind this half circle fence, very close to the action, and some fans get to sit quite close, at ground level.
The 1,200 seat stadium was filled to capacity on this particular Sunday afternoon and the weather was perfect. The rooftop grandstand was nice to keep the sun off but you could wander toward the concession areas to work on your tan.
There are two detractions I have here; one is the netting that covers the entire seating area and one for the state of the field. The playing surface was torn up pretty good and centerfield butted into the infield of another field with its backstop being part of the batter's-eye. The centerfielder was often standing around 2nd base.
Albert Park is located near downtown San Rafael and Dominican University. There are plenty of shops and restaurants, mostly concentrated on 4th Street, all within walking distance to the ballpark.
Pizza Orgasmica is a brewpub/pizzeria that serves award-winning pizza and beer. They also have 3 locations in San Francisco in The Marina, The Richmond and Embarcadero Center. They have daily beer and pizza specials worth checking out prior to ordering. Popular beers include the IPA, Golden Ale, and Peach Pale Ale and they always have games playing on their many flat screens.
Other options along 4th Street include Double Rainbow (ice cream), Crepevine (café), El Farolito (Mexican), Vin Antico (high-end Italian).
If you're a wine connoisseur, you're only 25 and 35 miles away from Sonoma and Napa Valleys respectively. Another wine oasis is in the nearby Russian River area, 45 miles away.
Whatever your imbibe fancy, you can find it as the North Bay Area is home to some of the finest breweries in the nation. Lagunitas, Russian River, and Bear Republic are just a few of the many breweries in the area.
There isn't a lot to complain about as the Pacifics sold out the game I attended. The types of patrons included children getting an up-close look at professional baseball players, friends and family of the local players, casual fans from San Rafael, and diehards. Regardless of the fan, the energy level was high throughout.
It will be interesting to see how the fanbase develops in the coming years but the locals are certainly excited about the first year of Pacifics baseball.
Albert Park is located right off 101 accessible via both the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge. Getting around town is easy and parking is free in the parking lot across the street.
Unfortunately access within the ballpark is far more challenging. There are about 6 portable toilets outside of the ballpark. To access these restrooms you must leave the ballpark, exiting from behind home plate. You can access the food concession stand from the 1st base side of the grandstand and the beer and merchandise on the 3rd base side. That means if you need to use the restroom and want to get something to eat and drink you'll need to exit behind home plate, reenter and cross in front of the spectators to the first base side, again reenter and cross in front of the spectators to the 3rd base side, and again reenter to your seat. In the future, I'd like to see them open up the area behind the grandstand so you don't have to walk in front of everyone to get to and from the concession areas. As it stands right now there are partitions preventing you from getting from one end to the other.
Tickets start at $10 for general admission and come with a bleacher style seat behind home plate. With decent food and beer pricing as well as free parking, this is a great deal. Combined with the fact that the Pacifics were the best team in their division this year, it's a great value and particularly good for people with children.
The Pacifics have yet to develop any sort of history in Northern California but the people in the front office are working hard to make them relevant in the area. They often do specials for those wanting to attend games as well as bringing in MLB legend Bill Lee. They also highlight the work of their mascot, Drake.
For the game I attended, the Pacifics hosted a celebrity softball game prior to the Pacifics/Grapes game where fans got to see former major-leaguers Jesse Foppert, Bip Roberts, and Shooty Babbitt, among other local celebs.
I, for one, am excited for next year's NAL season. I'd like to see them make fundamental changes to scheduling and would like to see the division winners square off in a championship series. It seems that they have tapped into a market where there is plenty of money to support a team and where interest level is at its highest. The Petaluma Little League surely helped the cause by finishing third in the 2012 Little League World Series.
So I'm grading on a curve ... but hell this is small town, independent baseball.
Are the port-a-pots limited and disgusting? Yes. Are the food lines long? Yes.
But it's a great value, whether you have kids or not, the food and beverage selections are good. And it's a great atmosphere.
Can't ask for anything more a a welcome reprieve from attending an MLB game.
812 4th Street
San Rafael, CA 94901
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