San Bernardino Spirit
- Location: San Bernardino, CA
- League: California League 1987-1995
- Affiliation: Co-op 1987; Seattle Mariners 1988-1992; Co-op 1993-1994; Los Angeles Dodgers 1995
- Ballpark: Fiscalini Field
The San Bernardino Spirit became the first professional baseball team in San Bernardino, CA, in 37 years when they joined the California League in 1987 as the Ventura County Gulls moved to the city after being sold to a group that included actor Mark Harmon. Without ties to any major league team, the club set a new California League attendance record by selling 900 season tickets before the beginning of the season. Overall, they drew 158,896 fans, also a Cal League attendance record. They drew almost 50,000 more fans than any other team in the league. The unaffiliated team was surprisingly competitive, going 70-72 under manager Rich Dauer and coach Stan Sanchez. Former big leaguers Rudy Law (.312/~.427/.430) and Terry Whitfield (.305/~.397/.441) briefly were on the roster.
The high attendance level convinced the Seattle Mariners to affiliate with the Spirit, who drew nearly as many patrons in 1988 (154,653). Ralph Dick managed the team to a 74-68 record. They had one All-Star, a player who was voted the top prospect in the league by managers - Ken Griffey Jr. (.338/~.431/.575, 32 steals in 58 games). Dave Burba (5-7, 2.68) was fourth in the league in ERA and OF Ted Williams (.248/~.303/.320) led the league with 71 stolen bases.
However, Harmon was probably the most famous person to appear in a Spirit uniform that year. He and Jodie Foster soon starred in Stealing Home (1988), and some of the scenes were staged at 53-year-old Perris Hill Park - later called Fiscalini Field - with the team playing itself on the diamond and Harmon's role including scenes as a player.
In 1989, Dick's San Bernardino team went 37-34 in the first half but captured the second-half southern division title with a 46-25 record. Overall, they had the second-best record in the league that year. They shattered their old attendance record by bringing in 184,791 fans. Attractions included All-Star pitcher Jim Blueberg (11-6, 2.12, second in the league in ERA), All-Star catcher Jim Campanis (.255/~.330/.385) and especially 1B Ruben Gonzalez, who won the first Triple Crown in the league in 26 years with a .308/~.377/.535 season with 27 homers and 101 RBI.
1990 was a record-breaking year in (what else?) attendance with 190,890. Keith Bodie managed the team, which finished 77-65. Kerry Woodson (8-6, 3.10) and Roger Salkeld (11-5, 3.40) ranked in the top 10 in ERA and Dave Fleming (7-3, 2.60) also was effective. Salkeld was voted as the #3 prospect in the league and third baseman Frank Bolick was picked as the #10 prospect. Bolick, the team's only All-Star, was the league's MVP. Acquired in a trade from Stockton, he hit .324/~.444/.544 with 91 walks, 100 runs and 102 RBI and led the circuit in RBI. He was second in average. OF Tow Maynard (.236/~.340/.304) led the Cal League with 80 steals (though he was also caught 32 times, the most).
In 1991 the Seattle farm club fell into last (54-82) under Tommy Jones. They still drew well (187,895) but fell into second in attendance behind the new High Desert Mavericks. Jim Mecir was just 3-5 with a 4.22 ERA, while Mike Hampton was bombed (1-7, 5.25). The bright spot was All-Star OF Marc Newfield, picked as the second-best prospect in the circuit behind Pedro Martinez. Newfield hit .300/~.383/.439.
Things were no better with a new manager in 1992 as Ivan DeJesus took the helm and the team went 52-84, last in the south in both halves. Attendance fell drastically to 106,481 (5th of 10 teams). While the team had no All-Stars, Hampton improved drastically and finished fourth in ERA (13-8, 3.12) and was voted the #5 prospect in the league. Mecir (4-5, 4.67) still was struggling.
After the 1992 season the owners moved the team to Rancho Cucamonga, CA where they became the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. San Bernardino did not sit out the '93 year, though, as the Salinas Spurs moved into town as a co-op team and took on the Spirit name. Managed by Greg Mahlberg, the team only drew 88,468 fans (9th in the league) The New York Yankees supplied 13 players, the Oakland A's gave 6, the Montreal Expos provided 3 and also lending help were the Cleveland Indians (1), California Angels (2), Baltimore Orioles (1) and Colorado Rockies (3). The team also had five players not part of any farm system, included top-10 league prospect Mac Suzuki (4-4, 3.68, 12 Sv, 87 K and 59 H in 81 IP). Expos players Rodney Pedrazza (9-7, 3.18), Rick DeHart (4-3, 3.04) and Carlos Perez (8-7, 3.44) provided most of the pitching strength on the 62-74 team, while the offense came from Oakland OF Manny Martinez (.322/~.378/.464, 28 SB, 88 R) and Yankees 1B Brian Turner (.325/~.398/.552). Dean Wilkins tried to prolong his career, but was 1-2 7.50 ERA in 20 relief appearances (24IP).
After a 30-38 first-half start for Mahlberg's 1994 club, the bottom fell out and the team went 18-50 in the second half. Attendance remained 8th (101,710). Six teams provided players that year, led by 12 from the Yankees. Montreal farmhand SS Edgar Tovar (.318/.373/.456) was second in the circuit in hitting, ex-big-leaguer Cecil Espy (.187/.261/.263) was unimpressive in 43 games and the staff included retreads Ken Howell (1-4, 5.55) and Tim Layana (1-3, 3 Sv, 2.35) as well as journeyman Joe Strong (2-3, 6.71).
After the San Bernardino city council committed funds for a new stadium, the Los Angeles Dodgers developed a working agreement with the Spirit. Ron Roenicke's club drew in 119,434 fans (7th) despite taking the first-half southern division title (44-25), posting the best overall record (84-54) and then winning all three rounds of the postseason to take the title. Roenicke was named Manager of the Year in the league, 2B Adam Riggs was MVP and picked as the #10 prospect. Riggs hit .362/~.424/.585 and led the Cal League in average (by 30 points), runs (111), hits (196), total bases (317) and doubles (39). Tom Price (10-5, 2.20) led the league in ERA. Catcher Paul Konerko (.277/~.361/.455) hit 4 homers in the 3-game championship series and also had a key bunt to set up two runs in the finale.
|1989||83-59||2nd||Ralph Dickenson||Lost in 1st round|
|1995||84-54||1st||Ron Roenicke||League Champs|