It was a sad end of an era for a lot of local baseball fans when the Bakersfield Blaze decided to permanently close shop at the end of last season.
The city of Bakersfield and Sam Lynn Ballpark had been Cal League fixtures for most of the past 75 years.
Despite numerous name and Major League Baseball team affiliate changes over the years, Bakersfield’s Cal League franchise was a relied upon and convenient summer entertainment option for Kern County residents.
Luckily for local baseball fans, the void left by the departure of the Blaze has already been filled by another professional baseball franchise.
The Bakersfield Train Robbers, a newly established Pecos League franchise, will take to the field at Sam Lynn Ballpark this summer, playing 45 home games, beginning with their season opener on May 25.
The team will play 64 games in 66 days, with its final regular season game slated for July 29.
“We’re real excited to move to Bakersfield because we like it there,” Pecos League CEO Andrew Dunn said. “There are going to be certain people that are going to want to go to Bakersfield Train Robbers games just because it’s baseball, it’s entertainment and it’s in Bakersfield. They don’t want to drive a long way to go to a game.”
The Pecos League, a 12-team independent league on par with rookie league baseball in the minors, was founded in 2010 and features mostly former college players and ex-minor league players who were cut by their MLB organizations.
All the players in the league must be 25 years old or younger when the calendar year starts, with one exception per team. Players are paid $50 to $200 per week and live with host families during the season.
The Pecos League, which doesn’t utilize the designated hitter and is known for developing pitchers, has had two of its former players (Jon Edwards, Texas Rangers) and (Chris Smith, Toronto Blue Jays) go on and make a Major League team’s roster.
The Train Robbers have already began establishing their presence in town and on the internet.
The large Bakersfield Blaze sign that hung at the entrance of Sam Lynn Ballpark on Chester Avenue has been removed and replaced with a big and colorful Bakersfield Train Robbers banner.
The Train Robbers also have a website, bakersfieldtrainrobbers.com, where people can get information about the team, including its schedule and purchase season or individual game tickets.
While the Train Robbers are a completely new and separate entity from the Blaze, the new franchise will utilize the services of several of familiar faces.
Long-time Blaze official scorer Tim Wheeler will continue to sit in the Sam Lynn press box and make all the difficult hit/error -like decisions and Dennis “Froggy” Gallion, a Blaze game day staffer, has been hired by the Train Robbers to do specialty sales.
Wheeler had a streak of working 1,439 straight games as the Blaze’s official scorer snapped in 2015 due to medical reasons.
Wheeler has been involved in baseball in some capacity since he was 8 years old.
“I’ve always said that baseball is my heroin,” Wheeler said. “So, when the news came that the Blaze were going to be history, I felt like a junkie whose supply had run out. Now I get that next hit. I still get to stay involved in baseball.”
The Train Robbers will be guided on the field by 71-year old manager Bill Moore.
The veteran with 45 years of coaching experience, who led the Santa Fe Fuego to a Pecos League championship in 2014, is happy to be coming to Bakersfield.
“I have more fun than anybody at the ballpark – players, fans, anybody.” Moore said. “I have a good time every night when I go. I get a little intense but that’s part of it.”
Moore, who was the Pecos League Manager of the Year in 2014, believes that fans that come to the Train Robbers’ games will have as much fun at the ballpark as he does.
“We’ll put an entertaining product on the field,” Moore said. “Fans should come out and watch us play. If they do, they’ll enjoy themselves.”