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Fans Flock to the Gulls for Opener

Dottie Pas had never been to a professional baseball game.

Yet she started the Ventura Gulls season opener on the mound. Her first pitch wasn’t much. She bounced a curve, the ball bounding at least seven or eight times before it found its way to the plate.

But then Dottie wasn’t there for her prowess with a baseball. It’s what she can do with a pen in her hand that caused the Gulls to ask her to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the team’s debut in Ventura County.

Dottie made a large contribution to the Ventura College Foundation with the stipulation that the money go to improve facilities at the school’s baseball field. Those improvements helped allow the Gulls, a Class-A club operating out of the California League, to make Ventura College their home, for at least this year.

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“I think the last game I went to was a Little League one about 30 years ago,” said Dottie, a widow who lives no more than a long home run from the field. “I think it’s just great for the community that the Gulls are here. I’ve bought eight season tickets.”

At $150 for each ticket, that figures to $1,200 for the right to view 72 Gulls home games.

Free of charge, she received a copy of “The Rules of Baseball” with an inscription from Jim Biby, one of the team’s owners, that reads, “Thanks for making the Gulls fly.”

Biby stood nearby as Friday’s game against the Reno Padres got under way and shook his head at the full house of 1,465.

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“After all those months and all that effort to think that I’m actually standing here, watching them play is something,” he said. “There were some days I didn’t believe we were going to make it, and some days I was sure we would play. But overall, I knew we could not be defeated because we had the attitude that we were going to do this.

“We are going to get people’s comments as they leave today so that the next time they come, the things that are bothering them will be out of the way. We will meet with the ushers, the concessionaires and everybody else who works here.

“There are some problems. Without lights, we are going to get basically the retired people and those who have a day off, or are out of work, on the weekdays. And we can’t sell beer because we’re on a college campus. But I think once the dust settles, we are going to be a viable team.”

At that moment, Biby interrupted his conversation with a reporter to watch a drive hit by the Padres’ Scott Parsons.

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“Get that!” he yelled at his left fielder as the ball headed for the screen above the left-field wall. An instant later, the ball landed softly in the screen, the first home run of the season.

“Damn!” Biby muttered.

The other problems could wait for another day. Right now, his team was behind.

Up in the stands, brothers Mark and Ron Bellamy of Ventura had become instant Gulls rooters. They know all about the low minors, having played for the Class-D Elmira, N.Y., team in the 1930s.

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“This is a pretty good little team,” said Mark, keeping his eye on the game as he spoke. “It’s going to bring a lot of people out. There are some big opportunities for young players now to move up to the majors. Not like when we were playing.”

A Padre lofted a soft fly ball to center. “Can of corn! Can of corn!” Mark shouted.

With two out in the ninth and the Gulls on top, 3-2, Ventura County’s Omar Malave fielded a grounder to third and fired to first.

“Take your time. Take your time,” Mark cautioned.

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First baseman Domingo Martinez held on for the final out.

“We’re going to win the pennant!” Mark screamed.

Over on the nearby college campus, the enthusiasm was a bit more muted.

Are you enthusiastic about the Gulls being here, a reporter asked a couple of young women.

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“Who’s that?” one asked.

Informed it was a minor league team, she smiled. “Yeah, we might go see them,” she said. “We like football.”

No, they are a baseball team, she was told.

“Hey look,” her companion said, “if it’s not on the Bill Cosby Show, we don’t know anything about it.”

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