Wednesday, August 4, 2010


So we had to wait until the last vestiges of baseball season were over in Placerville, but Satch managed to write up the winning game at San Quentin for his hometown newspaper and they have printed it, August 1st, to be exact. Hooray!

Now a few words of warning. Paternal favor shines through in a few spots, I was trying to minimize my role in favor of the story, and definitely did not come up with the byline. I was also against listing my real name or anything having to do with me being "an stand out player in [high school], but that's the business apparently, and I think the old man likes to say that I used to be somebody....If I messed up the game flow I also apologize, the score card didn't read quite as clearly as I hoped, so I may have fudged a inning or a RBI, let me know if there is anything glaring.

Thanks again to the Mountain Democrat, the MBC, the San Quentin Giants, this one is dedicated one last time to Chris "Stretch" Rich:

It's baseball in the Big House. Daley's 3-run double keys MBC victory/
Leroy Spaige/ August 01, 2010/ 15:02

Special to the Democrat

The Mission Baseball Club (MBC) has played every Sunday for 17 years in San Francisco. As an independent club, MBC has a core group of 24 players and counts nearly 100 members who get the weekly field updates. Playing on San Francisco Parks and Recreation Fields throughout the city, the MBC provides its own officials and operates on a few simple rules: Love baseball, don't be a jerk, and the catcher has the final say. Playing games, not winning or losing them, is the most important thing.

Four times a year, the MBC travels north across the Golden Gate Bridge to San Quentin State Prison to play the all-inmate team - the San Quentin Giants. This is Baseball in the Big House! The waves lapping gently at the broken concrete sea walls in the foggy morning give the impression of a Mediterranean coastal village rather than the western gate of California's most notorious prison. The MBC players, told to be in the visitors parking lot by 8 a.m., are stretching and cracking the same jokes they share each time they come to San Quentin. There are 14 players going in today, three who have never played inside. Rules on bringing in food, water and other equipment have gotten stricter with each passing year, and the players empty their bags onto the blacktop to make sure nothing will keep them from passing security inspection. Wooden bats used to be the only bats allowed. This year only metal bats are permitted. No explanation was given; none required.

The team marches up the hill from the bay side parking lot to the West Gate to meet Kent Philpott, the current coach of the San Quentin team and MBC's escort into the facility. As they sign in on the visitor clipboard, a guard collects drivers licenses for the clearance check. All players must submit information to the Department of Justice several months in advance, and no one is allowed without this pre-screened check. Once security is completed, the team moves to the next guard station at the gothic doorway that looms over a space that truly separates the world of freedom from the world of prison. Another sign-in is required, all bags are searched, each player is wanded with a metal detector and given an ultra-violet stamp to mark them as a visitor. The cleared players gather in the sally port, a barred cage where one door opens only when the other has been securely closed.

In the prison, the players are greeted by concrete pathways, manicured lawns and mission-style hacienda buildings, which are the meeting spaces for Catholic, Muslim and Christian services. In many ways, San Quentin no longer lives up to its brutal and sinister reputation. Educational and social interaction programs offer education and vocational credits and foster ways to be a positive member of their communities upon release. While it does house California's death row, the prison is now considered a medium security facility. With the development of the Supermax prison with its controversial use of complete isolation as a sure way of deterring conflict, San Quentin's physical layout is almost quaint by comparison.

Prisoners still congregate in large numbers in the yard, running laps, doing calisthenics and pushups (free weights were banned several years ago), and socializing at concrete tables that ring the outer edge of the yard. In the middle of the yard, between the north block gate and the new multi-million dollar hospital wing is the San Quentin Field of Dreams. Baseball has been a part of San Quentin for over 100 years, interest and capacity waxing and waning with every decade, subject to new policies and a continual change of wardens. The latest baseball program has been around since 1994 when the Rev. Earl Smith, the prison's chaplain, noticed an inmate with a catchers glove and asked if he was interested in playing. The inmate agreed but said there was no team or gear. That was all it took to spur the reverend to action. With permission from the warden, Smith began soliciting the community for donations to help supply the team, unofficially dubbed the Pirates.

Outside interest lagged for a few years, but the team's supporters kept at it. And eventually, people started to notice that something as simple as baseball was making a positive difference at the prison. Mike Murphy, legendary equipment manager for the San Francisco Giants, heard about the program and got his team to donate its uniforms and spring training equipment to the prison in 2000. The inmates gratefully accepted and proudly renamed themselves the San Quentin Giants. Metallica, the heavy metal band whose members live in Marin County and have played free shows at the Q, gave $10,000 to repair the dilapidated field. Prisoners spent countless hours restoring the baseball diamond and its meandering outfield, raking, digging, shaping and re-sodding, and legend has it, uncovering more than one home-made weapon.

Sixteen years later, the San Quentin Giants are still playing and winning, although Reverend Smith has retired from the program. By 9:30, the teams have warmed up, taken infield and are eager to begin. The sun is bright and warm; the rays bounce off the chipped and faded concrete walls painted in the same drab adobe color. "Homers" line the backstop and alternately cheer for the Giants or rib them for any mistakes. The four umpires are also inmates, and they incur the playful wrath of the spectators. The mood is light, the flow of play interrupted occasionally by loudspeaker announcements for inmates who have visitors. Inmates wander past the visitor bench and ask where the MBC comes from. And they all get involved offering advice and tips on how each Giant hitter should be handled. The visiting pitchers are more than a little skeptical, considering the source of the information. Although the MBC has played inside many times, the score has remained Giants - many wins, MBC - none.

In the top of the first, MBC's starting center-fielder Mitch Burnham takes an errant fastball to the shoulder and is awarded first base. He steals second and comes home on a hit by shortstop Chris Powell. Powell scores as well, and the MBC goes into the Giants' half of the inning having drawn first blood. Sean Presley, a southpaw playing in his first prison game, takes the hill for the MBC and sets the Giants down in order. Greg Snyder, catcher and unofficial coach of the MBC, settles in behind the dish and quickly learns where the umpire is calling strikes. Neither team does much over the next few innings as rallies are snuffed out almost before they get started. The Giants pitcher struggles with his location and hits outfielder Matt Stone in the neck. Several tense minutes go by while the Giant's staff checks to make sure Stone is all right. The look of remorse on the pitcher's face is tangible and fades into relief when his "victim" is able to sit up and walk to the bench.

Presley continues to throw stellar ball, and going into the sixth inning, the score remains 2-0. A new reliever for the Giants is suddenly caught up in a tough spot as the MBC loads the bases. Aaron Daley, MBC's journeyman player and relief pitcher, falls behind in the count when he fouls off the first two pitches. He is not fooled by a shifty curve and drives the next pitch all the way to the wall in right center. The blast clears the bases and puts the MBC up 5-0.

Daley's sheen as a batter isn't matched on the mound as he struggles to throw strikes throughout the bottom of the sixth and allows the home team to pick up two quick runs. The first comes on a monster ground-rule double when Giants first baseman "Red" slams a rocket that careens all the way into a fenced off area in deep center field. The second is the result of a sharp line drive that gets by the second baseman and squirts into the turf in shallow right.

Daley finally settles down in the seventh, helping his own cause with four strikeouts over four innings backed up by some fine defensive work from MBC's third baseman Johnny Bartlett. As the game winds down, the tension in the Giants dugout becomes almost palpable. They are not used to being behind in games and a lot of frustration is heard from the 18 guys wearing the home colors. The fans never waver in their support of the Giants however, and they keep the talk alive to spur on their heroes. As armchair coaches, they holler out the need for base runners, not home runs. Philpott sends in three pinch hitters to try to get something started, but in each case MBC is able to fend off their efforts. With two out in the bottom of the ninth, Presley, now playing left field, tracks down a long pop foul, and the game is over. MBC 5, San Quentin Giants 2.

The players line up at home plate, shake hands and are invited to the pitcher's mound for a short prayer. The Giants relief pitcher is also the team chaplain, and he praises God's goodness and grace that sustain his team, even to its very existence. He gives thanks for a good, clean game and asks for safe passage home for the MBC. After a few minutes of small talk, the Giants head to the outfield for a team meeting, and the MBC packs up its gear and follows its escort back to the gate. Inmates thank the players as they leave the main yard and express congratulations for a well-fought game. One inmate remarks, "It's always good to see you guys. You are the only team that comes in here that seems to have fun whether you win or lose." The MBC players nod in agreement and playfully remind the inmate of their overall losing record. Once again through the sally port and security check, San Francisco Bay welcomes the MBC as the players leave the grounds.

Players chatter about the novelty of the win and talk about how the next game, less than a month away, will be. They take a few pictures in the parking lot to remember the occasion, knowing that regardless of the score, the game brought a few hours of freedom to everyone in San Quentin.

Editor's note: Aaron Daley is a native of El Dorado County. He was a standout baseball player at Ponderosa High School and was selected for the Optimist All Star Team after graduation in 1995. In addition to playing, he manages the official Website ( as Leroy Spaige.


Lefty Phelps said...

I never read this. Great write up.

richie said...

Same here. Nice job, Satch.

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