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Season Opens for Wine Country Baseball

12-team Wine County Baseball league -- including teams from cities in Sonoma and Napa counties -- debuts Saturday at Rec Park in Healdsburg.

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."

Bob Jacey June 19, 2011 at 06:35 PM
This can't be semi-pro or the high school players would lose their collegiate eligibility. This is an amateur men's league and cannot compare with the player level or facilities of the old Sonoma County Crushers who were the last pro team we had in wine country.
Keri Brenner June 19, 2011 at 06:55 PM
@Bob Jacey: Thanks for your note. It is semi-pro, according to Riley Sullivan. The high school-aged players are recently graduated seniors -- that's my understanding. It is not a pro (i.e. paid) team, you are correct. Thanks again.
Petalumasaurus June 20, 2011 at 12:28 PM
Fun! Looks like the first Petaluma game is at PHS on Saturday at 4pm.
greg zamora June 21, 2011 at 12:47 AM
The wine country league has the ability to be something special. I am a first year player for the GNATS. The team displays exelent skills. Semi-pro or not I'm proud to play for this franchise and league. Thanks Howard opening day was a blast!

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