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Take me out to the ball game, Ports style

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Minor League baseball

Left to right, Bill Kaska, Sam and Mary Kaska gathered by their front-row seats at Stockton’s Banner Island Ballpark before Wednesday night’s game between the Stockton Ports and Lake Elsinore Storm.

Take me out to the ballgame, I told Bill and Mary Kaska Wednesday night. And they did.

They drove me over to the Stockton Ports more-or-less new playing home, Banner Island Ballpark. It’s a great minor-league facility, and we saw what turned out to be a great game.

Bill and Mary have three season tickets for Wednesday night games, and Bill asked me if I wanted to use the third ticket to see the Ports play the Lake Elsinore Storm. It didn’t take me long to say “Yes.”

Once we arrived at the ballpark by way of Bill’s special route through Stockton’s back roads, we saw what turned out to be some quality baseball played by younger players just getting a start in professional baseball careers they hope won’t be too brief.

At the same time, we had a close-up look at the future of the Oakland A’s. His name is Kyle Soderstrom, a tall, rangy (6-2, 200 pounds) catcher who hales from Turlock. He is rated No. 1 among the A’s 30 top prospects, and he didn’t disappoint us Wednesday night. With the Ports trailing, 4-1 going into the eighth inning, Soderstrom drilled a line-drive over the fence in right-center field for a two-run homer to bring the Ports within a run of tying the game, 4-3. Later in the inning, the Ports loaded the bases and scored two more runs to take the lead, 5-4, and win the game.

Although Soderstrom turned out to be one the Ports’ heroes, he wasn’t billed as the center of attention before the game. The focus was placed on Zack Mathis, a Stockton native and former Delta College baseball standout. He was returning to his hometown as starting third baseman with the visiting Lake Elsinore team. That prospect was featured in Page 1 story in Wednesday’s Stockton Record, er sorry, now The Record.

That evening, Mathis got off to a good start, getting a base hit and scoring the game’s first run to launch a third-inning rally for the Storm resulting in a 3-0 (later 3-1) lead that held for most, but not all, of the game.

Soderstrom’s two-run homer and two more Ports eighth-inning runs stole the show and won the game.

Before the game had started while munching on a hot dog and French fries, I told Bill and Mary that I recalled witnessing my first and only other Ports game 73 years ago, in 1948 at the original Ports ballpark in Oak Park.

I remembered that my dad had taken me and my brother Tom to the game after securing several Ports tickets. And I specifically recalled my dad pointing to the Ports dugout and saying, “That’s the Ports manager, Vince DiMaggio. He’s Joe DiMaggio’s brother.”

And of course nearly everybody in 1948 knew who Joe DiMaggio of the New York Yankees (and his 1941 hitting streak of 56 consecutive games) was.

Before heading to Stockton, I looked up Vince DiMaggio baseball career on line to check his biography. He was far-less successful as player than younger brothers Joe and Dom (Boston Red Sox). I was surprised to see him listed as a player, and not as the manager, with the Stockton Ports in 1948. I decided to search further and found another, more complete biography at another site. It cleared away any confusion by reporting that Vince DiMaggio was a playing-manager with the Ports in 1948.

There’s absolutely no possibility that it won’t be another 73 years before I see my next Ports game. It’s much more likely, though, that in a year or two, Tyler Soderstrom will be playing with the Oakland A’s. And who knows, by then Zack Mathis might have made to the parent team of the Storm, the Diego Padres. The Ports and Storm are where many of the future stars of the parent teams get their start, and I can say, “I saw them when.”

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at shm@tracpress.com.

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