(BCN) — There’s a former World Series pitcher on the mound in Martinez. Between pitches, Manny Corpas barks directions to his infielders, frequently in rapid-fire Spanish. He smiles. He points at the batter. He grabs his head when a fastball gets whacked to the deep part of the outfield at Joe DiMaggio Field.
Corpas, 39, is the manager of the semi-pro Martinez Sturgeon. He spent eight years in the big leagues, most of them with the Colorado Rockies, with whom he faced the Boston Red Sox in the 2007 World Series. That was the same year he had a career-best 19 saves and an impressive 2.08 ERA in 78 games out of the bullpen.
Now he’s pitching in Martinez, the hometown of Joe DiMaggio and a place of which he never heard a couple years ago. He’s only pitching because he’s short of healthy arms and doesn’t want to put more strain on his staff.
“I’m not supposed to play now, but … I’m a clown on the mound,” Corpas said. “People say I’m crazy, but I’m having fun. But when I’m outside the lines, I’m a different person. I’m trying to have fun and teach some things.”
Named for the sometimes-giant bottom-dwelling fish that call the nearby Carquinez Strait home, the Sturgeon were founded in 2019. They play 52 games in the independent Pecos league against teams from place like Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Rafael, Monterey, and Bakersfield.
The league stretches all the way to Kansas and Texas. Teams aren’t affiliated with Major League teams but can — and sometimes do — sign with Major League organizations.
Corpas has already seen three players signed away this year — two with U.S. minor league teams and one with a Mexican league — helping his quest to become a pitching coach somewhere where the lights are a little brighter.
“That’s my goal — maybe every month send a couple players somewhere,” Corpas said. “It’s good for the guys; it’s not good for me, because I miss those guys. But it helps get my name out there.”
The park feels like minor league baseball, with oil tankers and the Benicia-Martinez Bridge beyond the local ad-covered outfield fence, and frequent train whistles around the downtown train depot competing with the 80s and 90s music blaring through the PA system. There’s not so many people that players can’t hear (and respond) to local rooters in the stands.
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“Attendance varies, tonight should be a pretty good gate,” said Eric Halverson, the Sturgeon’s general manager. “Sunday night was packed. We’ve had games with less than 100 people, but generally there’s around 200.”
Kids scramble for foul balls, because turning them in at the snack bar gets them free candy. “Balls are expensive these days,” Halverson said. “It’s cheaper to give them a free piece of candy.”
Proceeds from the snack bar, merchandise and gate go to the league, while the players get paid with half of each game’s 50-50 raffle proceeds and when the team “feeds the fish” by passing a fish-shaped bag through the stands when Sturgeon players hit a home run or strike out the side. They occasionally auction off broken bats because players must buy their own.
“We try to raise a little extra money from the boosters so we can provide these guys a little more,” Halverson said, just before being asked if he wants someone to pick up extra oil for the popcorn machine at Sam’s Club.
The fish garnered $76 this night.
“These guys are so appreciative,” Halverson said. “They don’t expect it and they’re so nice about it.” Former City Councilmember Noralea Gipner is usually credited with bringing the Sturgeon to Martinez. Gipner is the president and CEO of the non-profit Homeless Action Coalition and the driving force behind Camp Hope, the waterfront encampment at the nearby John Muir Amphitheater. Gipner also served as the team’s de facto general manager until Halverson took over this year.
“The reason I worked so hard to bring Martinez Sturgeon baseball to Martinez is to be able to unite all of Martinez for the same common love: baseball,” Gipner said. “I think it’s done a great job of doing just that, we have all kinds of people there, from all walks of life supporting our local team, which makes me so happy.”
Halverson — a general contractor and the husband of Martinez Councilmember Lara DeLaney — got promoted from scoreboard and music operator to general manager before this season. Though his salary is the same as last year: none.
“The team kind of supports itself — we get volunteers to run the snack bar, to run the gate … myself,” said Halverson, sitting at a laptop behind home plate from which he still runs the scoreboard and music. The team is about to play the Santa Cruz Seaweed.
“I represent the league and the city and the team and I’m trying to put out a good product. The people that come on a regular basis have a lot of fun.”
Halverson — who’s also an assistant football coach at Martinez’s Alhambra High School — and DeLaney host an 18-year-old player from Venezuela who speaks very little English. Many of the players live with host families during the summer season.
“Scouts do come through sometimes and we don’t know it,” Halverson said.
Karen Steele’s son Alex Dailey is a 24-year-old Sturgeon outfielder. His story is like many at this level of professional baseball: he wasn’t drafted but loves the game too much to quit. After graduating and working a job many would consider a career, he decided he wanted back in the game.
“He just wants to play and eventually coach or manage,” said Steele, who grew up in San Ramon and drives from Roseville to see him play. “He wants to go as far as he can. He’s going to stay in the baseball industry for the rest of his life. He’s finally smiling all the time and finally having fun.”
PA announcer Paula McEvoy went to Alhambra High and played in the Women’s College World Series for San Francisco State. She missed announcing the beginning of the third inning because she was busy hugging someone seated nearby.
“People are catching on; the downtown community seems to be aware,” said McEvoy, whose father watched Joe DiMaggio play for the San Francisco Seals in the 1930s. “We’re doing what we can to promote it. People are like ‘Oh, you have a baseball team?’ We’ve got a good team and things get happening.”
To find out more about the Martinez Sturgeon, go to http://www.martinezsturgeon.com/.
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