MARTINEZ, Calif. – As the final week of regular season play winds down, Martinez Clippers manager Dan Parker is pleased with his new team’s progress since he was brought on board July 10.
Fans are noticing, too. The brand-new team ranks third in attendance in the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs, its parent independent league. And that statistic may improve – more residents and visitors are packing the stands of Martinez Waterfront Park’s baseball field.
The team’s roster was set just three days before the inaugural home game May 31, which the Clippers lost 13-2 to the Sonoma Stompers.
The Clippers earned their first win June 5 in San Rafael, taking the game against the Pacifics 9-7. After beating the Napa Silverados and the Sonoma Stompers on road trips, the Clippers finally won at home June 27 against the Pittsburg Diamonds, another 9-7 victory.
The day after Parker succeeded Chris Decker as manager, the Clippers soundly defeated the defending champions Vallejo Admirals. The visitors failed for once to launch any of their famed home runs. In fact, they couldn’t score at all, falling 8-0 to Martinez.
During the second half of the season, the team has hovered in the .500 range of wins vs. losses, an improvement that doesn’t show on such websites as Pointstreak.com that focuses on season totals.
Some of the Clippers’ victories have been spectacular, such as the 19-3 trouncing Friday, Aug. 24, of the powerful San Rafael Pacifics who are challenging Sonoma Stompers for the top spot in the league.
“The second half is all I really know,” Parker said before the start of that home game.
But he’s watched his team come together under his guidance and as they gain experience. And fortunately, he said while rapping his knuckles on a piece of lumber within his reach, “They’ve stayed healthy.”
Two of his players have been recruited into the Frontier League. Pitcher Chris Powell left in July to join the Schaumburg Boomers, and infielder Shaine Hughes signed this with the Washington Wild Things.
That’s to be expected, Parker said earlier this year. But fortunately, those losses haven’t harmed the team.
“The cool thing is instead of replacing them with new players, the guys we had stepped up and did really well,” Parker said.
Minimizing the turnover has meant the Clippers have become competitive during the second half, putting themselves in the best possible position for wins, Parker said.
This is the team’s final regular-season week, and with the exception of Sunday’s loss in Vallejo, all games are against the Pittsburg Diamonds. Ironically, that’s the team that could have been awarded to Martinez a few years ago.
But in 2014, the city announced that lighting costs had sidelined its attempt to a secure a team, and the ballclub went to Pittsburg instead.
At the time of that announcement, Martinez officials said the city would continue its plans to convert one of its fields from softball to a “premiere” baseball field, in hopes Martinez would get a second chance at a team.
That chance came in 2017, when the Pacific league announced it wanted to add two teams. The Napa Silverados was the other expansion club.
City crews worked hard to get the new field finished by Opening Day, and loyal fans have noticed step-by-step improvements from week to week. More changes will come next year, including the unveiling of a mascot designed by a local artist as well as physical improvements designed to make games even more enjoyable.
But that’s next year. During this final week of play, Parker is focusing on the next three games and the action he hopes to see on the field. It’s the emphasis he’s had since he arrived.
“It’s just the same – putting together good games, playing competent baseball, getting the opportunities to win,” he said.
He’s been where these players are. Although at one time he was drafted by the Houston Astros, Parker spent time in Chico and Sonoma playing independent baseball. “I’m familiar with the independent leagues,” he said.
The team has been strengthening its field work, he said. “Our defense is good,” he said.
“We also have timely hitting,” he said. “The hitting has gotten a lot better the second half.” The players have a good approach at the plate and have improved their comprehension of the various situations they might face at bat.
Some of Parker’s players made the switch from college teams to pro ball when they joined the Clippers. With that change came adjustments to a new strike zone, affecting both his pitchers and his batters.
“You make a good pitch, they call it a ball,” he said his pitchers have discovered. And that’s not all. Even before the umpire makes the call, the pitcher has seen the batter hold his swing. “They had to get used to that.”
Another change from college ball is the schedule. The Clippers have been playing every day except Mondays since May 31. “That’s a lot for this group,” he said.
On the other hand, Pacific League players have an advantage. Those Mondays are true days off, rather than travel days such as those experienced in Major League Baseball.
Parker said he’s been enjoying the times the Clippers face Napa, where since 2016 he has been the Napa Valley College baseball coach. He has friends and family there. He gets to see players he knows and thoe other students from the college.
He’s glad to be working close to home, but Parker said he also likes that people are rooting for the Clippers at those away games.
He said he also appreciate times when the club faces challenging competition.
“When you face better pitchers and hitters, it gives players experience,” he said. Sometimes he will make changes specifically so his players face those challenges. The strategy may puzzle some at the beginning, he conceded. But the stats show it’s starting to pay off, and will do so in the future.
He said his ball club is in a good place. His players are upbeat. “The guys want to be here,” he said.
Parker said that among his goals are making owner Paulette Carpoff happy. But he also wants his ball club to put on a good show for the fans who are filling the bleachers as well as the “VIP” seats behind home plate.
Youngsters attending games with their families watch for fly balls and scamper from the stands to retrieve them. After games, fans line up for autographs. Among them are those kids with their treasured baseballs. A few have gone home with bats that have fractured during the game.
“The kids love baseball,” Parker said, adding that he’s pleased the children get to meet the players they’ve been watching.
The Martinez Clippers are developing a fan base outside the city, too. The stands have held people not only from the visiting teams’ cities, but also from Sunnyvale, Half Moon Bay and the Sacramento area. Writer Joey Mellows and artist Andy Brown visited from England. East Coast Major League scouts occasionally drop in, and one night, a woman originally from Kenya was watching the team play.
The ball players have noticed their fan base and appreciate that people were filling the bleachers regularly and cheering the Clippers when the team was struggling, Parker said.
“They know who they’re playing for – the fans and their families,” he said.
Tonight’s Clippers away game is at 6 p.m. at Winter Chevrolet Stadium, 60 Civic Ave., Pittsburg.
The Clippers regular season final two games will be played at home at Field Three of Martinez Waterfront Park, which the team calls “Joe DiMaggio Fields” in honor of Martinez’s native son and baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, known as “The Yankee Clipper.”
The games will start at 6:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday. Tickets are $12 for those 13 and older, $5 for children 3 to 12 and free to those 2 and younger. Tickets for military veterans and those 65 and older are $10, and tickets for groups of 10 tickets are more are $8 each. They can be bought in advance online at www.mtzclippers.com or at the gate.