Banner Days Ahead for the Stockton Ports

The 2005 season will be a banner year for the Stockton Ports, the Oakland A's newest minor league affiliate. The Ports, an original California League franchise, signed a four-year affiliation agreement with the A's in September. In addition to the new affiliation, the Ports will also be making team history in 2005 with the opening of their new stadium, Banner Island Ballpark. recently chatted with Stockton Ports GM Mike McCarroll about the Ports' upcoming changes.

For the second time in five years, the Oakland A's have joined forces with a Northern California minor league affiliate on the verge of moving into a new ballpark. In 2000, the A's partnered with the Sacramento RiverCats in the RiverCats' inaugural season at Raley Field. Over the past five seasons, the A's have reaped the benefits of having the RiverCats on board to the tune of three Pacific Coast League championships and increased interest in the major league ballclub among the Sacramento fanbase.

The A's hope to have a similar relationship with the Stockton Ports and Banner Island Ballpark, which sits roughly 40 miles east of the Network Associates Coliseum. The Ports are already benefiting from the new alliance. Season ticket sales increased dramatically during the two weeks after the announcement of the A's new affiliation with Stockton was announced.

"(Being affiliated with the A's) is a tremendous shot in the arm. We are very grateful that the A's selected Banner Island Ballpark to be their new home and signed a four-year agreement. It adds a tremendous boost. We are grateful to be part of an Oakland A's triangle. It is a real plus for the serious baseball fans out here who really do enjoy watching players develop from Stockton up to Sacramento and then someday watching them on TV or at the Net in the major leagues," McCarroll said.

Opening Night at Banner Island Ballpark will be on April 21 at 7:05 p.m. versus Visalia. Getting to that moment is a full-time job, however.

"A new ballpark is just a great thing to be part of, but you literally wake up thinking about it, you stand in the shower thinking about it, you spend all day thinking about it and then you fall asleep thinking about it," McCarroll said. "We have a long way to go, but we are happy with where we are at right now."

McCarroll was hired by the Ports in April to handle the sales and marketing push for the new ballpark, after completing his undergraduate degree at M.I.T. and spending four years with the San Jose Giants. In December, McCarroll was promoted to the Ports' general manager position. He is now responsible for the day-to-day operations of the team. Right now, the construction and promotion of the new ballpark dominates McCarroll's daily agenda. McCarroll generally arrives at work before 7:00 A.M. and spends the day working on getting sponsors on board.

According to McCarroll, his typical day can contain a sales meeting, a face-to-face meeting with a sponsor, putting together sponsorship information packages, visiting the construction site, calling 15-20 prospective sponsors, drafting agreements for sponsors, etc.

"It's non-stop, you live and breath it," McCarroll said.

Construction of the new stadium has been non-stop, as well. There was a stall around Christmas and, consequently, the construction crew has been on an accelerated schedule to get the stadium done by April 21.

"Not having the ballpark ready for Opening Day is not an option. There is a tremendous source of pride [in getting the construction project done well and on-time] for everyone on the construction crew," McCarroll said. "It is nice to hear that from the gentlemen and ladies who are building the ballpark and to know that they have the same pride in the ballpark that we do is great."

Once the season does begin, the Ports are looking forward to a strong season on the field. The team will be made up primarily of players from two 2004 division championship teams: Vancouver and Kane County. Stockton fans are used to high quality play – the Ports have the highest winning percentage of any of the original California League franchises.

"A lot of people in baseball tell you that winning doesn't matter in the minor leagues, that it is the experience that matters. I think that might be different in Stockton. People are really used to winning in Stockton and I don't think they will stand for anything less," McCarroll said. "I think our manager already knows that and he is looking to win. We are looking forward to having that A's product on the field that was so successful last season."

Highly-rated prospects such as Landon Powell, Javier Herrera, Jason Windsor, Kurt Suzuki, and Daric Barton are all candidates to land on the Ports' roster this season, although rosters won't be announced until the end of spring training. When those players do arrive, the Ports' front office will work to ensure that the players get acclimated quickly to Stockton and to life in the California League. The Ports arrange for host families to help the players feel comfortable in their new surroundings.

"We certainly do everything we can to make the transition to being in Stockton easy. We know that our players are our ambassadors to the community and we also know that the happier they are at home, the better they will play on the field," McCarroll said.

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