Opening day for the Ventura County Gulls, appropriately, will include several firsts.
It will be the first professional baseball game in the county in 31 years.
It will be the first game ever west of Knoxville, Tenn., by a Toronto Blue Jays affiliate.
And it will be the first time right-handed pitcher Todd Stottlemyre has pitched for pay.
Stottlemyre, who was named to start today’s 1 p.m. opener by Gulls Manager Glenn Ezell, was the Blue Jays’ first pick in the secondary phase of the 1985 June draft. He played at Yakima College in Washington last season and was not assigned by the Blue Jays after the draft.
Todd’s father, Mel, was a three-time 20-game winner and posted 164 wins and a 2.96 earned-run average during an 11-year career with the New York Yankees in the 1960s and ‘70s. He currently is pitching coach for the New York Mets.
When Todd, 20, makes the first pitch against the Reno Padres at Ventura College, it will be his first step out from under the shadow of his father.
“This is something extra special for me,” Stottlemyre said. “Everything is on the line. I’ve thought about this day all my life.”
Certainly, Todd prepared well this spring. He reported a month early to the Blue Jays’ training complex in Dunedin, Fla., so he could work out with his father and brother, Mel Jr., a pitcher in the Astros organization, before they reported to their teams.
Although Stottlemyre will be without family support today, he won’t be taking the field alone.
“We should have one of the best Class-A clubs around,” Stottlemyre said. “Our defense should really be a plus.”
Ezell agreed with Stottlemyre after spending the better part of an hour smashing ground balls to his infielders at practice.
“We looked smooth,” Ezell said. “Of course, games will tell the story, but I like our quickness and aggressiveness on fielding grounders.”
Shortstop Eric Yelding is especially quick, Ezell said. A converted outfielder, Yelding also will be turned loose on the basepaths. He stole 62 bases last season at Kinston (N.C.), Toronto’s other Class-A team.
The rest of the opening day infield features Domingo Martinez at first, Sandy Guerrero at second and Omar Malave at third. Martinez and Guerrero are Dominicans, and Malave is from Venezuela. Yelding grew up in Montrose, Ala.
Center fielder Ken Kinnard “can really scoot,” according to Ezell. That will be helpful, considering the center-field fence is more than 500 feet from home plate. Darryl Landrum, who is expected to provide power, and Rob Ducey also will start in the outfield.
Tim Rypien will catch today, although Greg Myers, who is sidelined with a muscle pull, is expected to do the bulk of the work behind the plate.
Ezell said that left-hander Jeff Musselman will start Saturday, and right-hander Todd Provence draws the start in the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader against Reno. The manager hasn’t chosen a pitcher for Sunday’s second game but said right-hander Jose Mesa will start the team’s road opener Monday at Bakersfield.
Gulls Manager Glenn Ezell may want his players to stay as far from the Reno Padres as possible. Several Padre players have the chicken pox and two contracted scarlet fever earlier this week, according to Padre General Manager Harry Platt. . . . Gulls fans obviously haven’t heard of the presence of contagious diseases, because General Manager Jim Biby said the opener is nearly sold out. Biby added that nearly 400 season tickets have been sold. . . . Reno is led by third baseman Bob Grantstaff, who is in his third season with the club. He hit .283 with 12 home runs and 70 RBIs last season. . . . Reno first baseman Brad Pounders had 18 home runs and 86 RBIs at Class-A Charleston, S.C., last season. . . . Charleston and the Blue Jays farm team in Florence, S.C., are both in the South Atlantic League, so many of the Padres and Gulls already have faced each other. . . . While the Gulls were in the middle of Wednesday morning’s workout, advertising signs were attached to the outfield fence. Biby said the signs are a major source of revenue. Gulls players and coaches stayed at the Holiday Inn in Ventura the last two nights and will remain there until housing is secured. Biby said that several players are still in need of housing. Many players went house-hunting after practice. Ezell, however, went to the beach. . . . Today’s game is the first professional baseball game in Ventura County since the Channel Cities Oilers moved to Reno in 1956.