Former Oakland A's second baseman Mack Neal "Shooty" Babitt threw out the ceremonial first pitch Saturday in Healdsburg to summer league.
"This is outstanding," Babitt said of the new semi-pro league, which includes 12 teams ranging from high school seniors to mid-to-late 20s collegiate or post-collegiate players.
"It's a great part of California to play baseball," Babitt said. "This way, high school and college baseball players don't have to go across the country to play in the summer."
Saturday's double header featured the Santa Rosa Gnats v. Oakville Aces, and the . Several dozen fans showed up for the first game, enjoying prime seats in
"It's a nice turnout," said Riley Sullivan, general manager of Wine Country Baseball, "Hopefully we're building enthusiasm and it will snowball."
Sullivan said he was excited for the launch at Healdsburg's Rec Park.
"We're getting the season going," he said. "I'm looking forward to a summer of baseball and to bringing baseball back to Wine Country."
A collegiate league is also being formed in conjunction with Sonoma State University. Wine Country Collegiate Baseball League is scheduled to debut in June 2012, said Carlos Pena of Sonoma State's Athletic Department and a Rohnert Park resident.
"This is awesome," said Pena's 10-year-old son Max, who plays second base for the Cal Ripkin Little League in Rohnert Park. On Saturday, Max scored a baseball autographed by Babitt during the game.
Primary sponsor of the new league is Harold Leonhardt of Leonhardt Vineyards on Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg, Sullivan said.
Babitt, 52, of Richmond, a scout for the past 17 years for the New York Mets and a pre- and post-game analyst for Comcast Sports in the Bay Area, said he is friends with some of the new league organizers and is helping launch the venture.
"I love this game," said Babitt, who was born and raised in Berkeley. "I'm so fortunate and blessed to have been able to spend my lifetime and my livelihood with baseball."