The Healdsburg Prune Packers, one of the oldest and most venerated community baseball teams in the state, got its season underway with a ceremonial first pitch by Mayor Ariel Kelley at 6pm on Tuesday, June 6.
Clarence Ruonavaara Grandstands at Art McCaffrey Field began filling up long before the first pitch as excited baseball fans converged on Rec Park for the 2023 season of the Packers, in hopes that the team would once again win the championship as they have for the past two years.
The first game pitted the Prune Packers against the Bay Area’s GameDay Prep Tigers, a non-conference team, but one which proved a tough opponent. After taking an early lead, the Packers—composed of college athletes and some “local talent” recruited to fill out the roster, as the NCAA baseball playoffs are still underway—saw their 3-0 lead evaporate as the game progressed, and entered the bottom of the eighth behind 5-3.
With one out, Kimble Schuessler took a walk, advanced to second when Cole Brodnansky was hit by a pitch, then everyone came home as Alex Leopard slammed a three-run home run—the season’s first—to put the Packers ahead for the 6-5 win.
Games this season will be broadcast live on an audio stream at prune-packers-baseball.mixlr.com—there’s a link on the team’s home page at prunepackers.org—called by Aaron Arnstein, a sports journalism senior at the University of Maryland. When possible, video coverage is also available for home games at youtube.com/@PrunePackers/streams.
The game was played at Rec Park, a facility built for the Prune Packers that first saw use 100 years ago, in 1923, as team president Richard Bugarske announced over the loudspeakers as the teams took the field. Bugarske will continue announcing home games from the grandstands through the season.
Other uses of Rec Park, including the FFA Fair and Auction, began only much later, in 1950. The high school team, the Healdsburg Hounds, play their spring season games on the field as well.
The Prune Packers have always been a popular team in Healdsburg, though there have been years where the franchise slumbered. But when Joey Gomes signed on as general manager and team coach 11 years ago, a sea-change took place in the fortunes of the Prune Packers, which culminated in the last two seasons, 2021 and 2023.
Both years, the Prune Packers—with their whimsical name but talent-loaded roster—won the state title in the California Collegiate League, an 11-team, two-division league first formed 30 years ago. If the past two years are any indication, the Prune Packers will enter tournament play following their final regular season game on July 30, a postseason that could last until the championship series on Aug. 4-6.
Later this month, on June 23, the team will hold their second annual golf tournament, a fundraiser at Windsor Golf Club. It’s a good opportunity to meet this year’s crop of college kids who hope Healdsburg becomes their launching pad for a professional career with Major League Baseball.