It’s not a traditional opening day, and it’s not a traditional league, but it is professional baseball, and it returns to Bakersfield tonight.
The Bakersfield Train Robbers, the city’s new franchise in the independent Pecos League, open their inaugural season at 7:45 tonight against the Monterey AmberJacks.
“Any time you’re new anywhere, the first impression is a good thing to do,” said manager Bill Moore, a veteran of several Pecos League stops. “We haven’t made an impression on anybody yet, but the few exhibitions we’ve had, I think they enjoyed what they saw.”
Moore also thanked locals for their support in finding host families for all the Train Robbers families.
“Bakersfield the community has really opened up to us,” he said.
“We promised all these guys a place to live, and we didn’t have that. But we’ve been working closely with Northwest Baseball ... and Fairfax Baseball (youth leagues), and they sent out an email blast for us, and 24 hours later, we had every one of our guys housed. It was awesome.”
That seat-of-your-pants housing arrangement is the first sign this is no longer life in the California League, in which teams are affiliated with Major League clubs who stock the minors with top prospects and arrange for many of the players’ amenities.
Another sign is the opening day. Instead of the early April start that full-season clubs in the affiliated minors use, the Pecos League runs from late May to late July, a 65-game schedule that for the Train Robbers will consist entirely of games against other California teams, Monterey, High Desert in Adelanto, California City and Hollywood – a team that was to play in Griffith Park but doesn’t yet have a roster listed on its website – plus Tucson, Ariz.
There are a couple of other changes (no designated hitter, for instance) and the level of play doesn’t figure to match the California League, but it is pro baseball.
“I think we’re gonna be fun to watch,” Moore said.
“We’re crazy on the bases; we’ve got pretty good speed. Guys have bought into my attack, attack, attack mode, and that’ll be fun for the fans to see.”
Scot Hoffman, a player drafted and later released by the Philadelphia Phillies, will get the opening day nod as starting pitcher. The team’s only local player, Garces and Cal State Bakersfield graduate Nick Vehlewald, figures to hit third.
“He’s a good ballplayer,” Moore said. “The guy can hit. If he’s not one of the top 10 hitters in the league, I’ll be astonished.”