The San Rafael City Council unanimously agreed to extend minor league baseball team the Pacifics' contract to play at Albert Field for three more years.
The agreement's new terms extend the team's lease for three years. In response to concerns raised by neighbors during their inaugural season, the contract includes earlier game starts, new improvements to the field, a traffic plan to reduce jaywalking on Andersen Drive and the use of a new PA system that will reduce the amount of noise for neighbors. The city expects to net around $46,000 in revenue for the next three years from the deal.
"I thought it brought a wonderful experience to our city," Mayor Gary Phillips said at their Monday night meeting.
The 2012 season ended with the Pacifics taking home the division title. Along the way, the team had several memorable events. Bill "Spaceman" Lee, the 65-year-old former Boston Red Sox great, broke his own record for the oldest pitcher to win a professional baseball game. The team also featured a start by Maui knuckleball pitcher Eri Yoshida, the baseball Hall-of-Fame honoree known internationally as the Knuckle Princess.
Approximately 32,000 tickets were sold throughout the season, and the arrangement netted the city a little over $10,000, according to the staff report.
The team's owners also repaired the bandstand and took care of other maintenance that had been deferred for years due to budget constraints. “There was over $20,000 worth of improvements before the team even arrived on the field," Community Services Director Carlene McCart said at the meeting.
The new contract will maintain a 42-game schedule. Sandlot LLC., the team's new company headed by its general manager Mike Shapiro, has also promised to work with the city's traffic engineer to reduce jaywalking from people jaywalking across Andersen Drive around game time. The PA system will be replaced with permanent or temporary equipment to improve sound quality and reduce the broadcast impact outside the park. The game start times will also be earlier to prevent late-night noise.
Another issue raised during the meeting was the danger of fly balls that clear the fence or safety netting and could hit pedestrians and cars near the ballpark.
Maggie Rufo has been volunteering at WildCare on Albert Park Lane, located near the ballpark, for 15 years. Rufo was showing a hawk to visitors when a fly ball crashed into the WildCare building near where she stood. "The ball came screaming over the fence, across the street and smashed into the back of WildCare," she said.
Shapiro said the team plans to reach out to WildCare to find a solution. The city spent close to $9,000 on installing grandstand netting for the 2012 season. They also extended the fences so the balls won't end up in the nearby tennis courts. Signs were put up warning drivers of the risk of parking their cars in the area. During the season, two cars were damaged from fly balls, and the team paid for the repairs.
"I can’t think of a private venture that has come in to San Rafael since I’ve been here that has had a more positive impact on our community, especially our families," said Ken Conroy. "The organization has been very responsive."
Although the Pacifics ended the season as division champions, they had a rocky start. Neighbors raised concerns about the impacts of traffic, noise, lighting, the sale of alcohol and parking on the surrounding community when the plan was first proposed to the city. After the city approved the agreement for the first year in September 2011, the Albert Park Neighborhood Association filed a lawsuit, saying that it violated the park’s deed of restrictions that bar commercial use of the property for more than one week and that the proposal should be subject to environmental studies.
A Marin judge did not agree. M. Lynn Duryee ruled in favor of Centerfield and the city in February 2012, but the APNA has since appealed the decision. The appeal is waiting to be assigned a hearing date.
"We gave the city and it citizens and its businesses something that they wouldn’t have otherwise had, and we brought kids a lot of joy," Shapiro said.
For many supporters, the baseball games are more than just family-friendly entertainment. They are a means to revive downtown by bringing tourists and shoppers to restaurants and stores before games.
“It’s a little picture, big picture thing," said Bret Goldman, who enjoyed the Pacifics games with his son. "Little picture it’s a baseball team. Big picture it’s going to help rebuild San Rafael."
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