THREE-PEAT Healdsburg Prune Packers celebrated their third CCL champtionship in a row in August, 2022. Coach Joey Gomes is flanked by the series' Most Outstanding Pitcher MIchael Rice (left) and Most Outstanding Player, Hunter Dorraugh (right). (Photo by Christina Thai)

The world of summer community baseball was hit by a screwball this week, as the Healdsburg Prune Packers—perhaps the most successful of such teams in Northern California—announced its divorce from the California Collegiate League (CCL) and the formation of a new confederation of teams, the Pacific Empire League (PEL).

The Dec. 15 announcement listed six summer collegiate baseball franchises on the West Coast that had “joined forces” to launch the new league—the Healdsburg Prune Packers, Humboldt Crabs, Lincoln Potters, Medford Rogues, Solano Mudcats and West Coast Kings.

Left out of the new league are CCL teams the Sonoma Stompers and Walnut Creek Crawdads. Both of those teams still appear in the CCL list of participating teams for 2024.

The announcement was significant because the Prune Packers had recently accomplished their third straight league championship in the CCL, again traveling to Southern California to defeat the CCL South pennant winner.

THREE-PEAT Moments after the third game of the CCL championship series ended on Aug. 6, the winning Healdsburg Prune Packers celebrated on the field their third consecutive CCL title. (Christina Thai)

It was unclear what caused the split, though team coach Joey Gomes said in the statement, “The Prune Packers outgrew the model provided by the CCL.” Gomes does double-duty as the team’s general manager and team field manager.

Gomes and others were frustrated by the CCL’s south-centric perspective, which forced all championship games to be played in the southland despite the Prune Packers’ clear record of dominance. “The adversity that we felt going down there was pretty apparent,” he said at the time.

“I can share the importance of this move to the Pacific Empire League from a baseball ops perspective,” Gomes told the Healdsburg Tribune. “One major factor for the Packers to help forge a new league was the Prune Packers’ popularity in Sonoma County and the rest of the country. A more competitive league with organizations tied to strong fan bases is the right fit.”

The new league includes two teams from far to the north, the Humboldt Crabs of Arcata and Oregon’s Medford Rogues. The Crabs meet Gomes’ criteria of a “historic team with devoted fan base,” having been formed in 1945. The Rogues were formed more recently, in 2012.

The president of the new league, who is also the Prune Packers’ executive director, is county resident Natalie Norman.

“Our mission is unequivocally clear: to elevate collegiate baseball, foster exceptional player development and deliver exhilarating, top-quality games to our fans every summer,” said Norman. “The Pacific Empire League is committed to cultivating top talent and embodying the true spirit of baseball, ensuring an engaging and memorable experience for both players and fans.” 

WINNING PITCHER Caden Bugarske warms up for his appearance during the CCL championship series. (Photo by Christina Thai)

The new league is also demonstrating a commitment to new baseball technology by offering a “high-tech partnership with Trackman Baseball and Synergy Sports.” The technology provides analytic data including exit velocities, spin rate and pitch speed. Six cameras will be linked to allow college coaches to track their players and give professional scouts an opportunity to better evaluate prospects.

“We care about our players and fans of the Prune Packers,” said Gomes. “We owed it to Healdsburg to provide the best possible experience for our players and community! Aligning ourselves with like-minded organizations based in our region just made sense.”

Schedules for play in 2024 are posted online at As in previous years, the Prune Packers will play teams not in their own league to fill in the summer schedule.

“We eagerly anticipate an exceptional inaugural season and a future filled with growth and enthusiasm in the league,” said Norman.

The Healdsburg Prune Packers were formed in 1921 and have played for most of their season at the baseball diamond at Rec Park, currently known as Art McCaffrey Field. The schedule generally runs from June through July, and includes the championship series in August.

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Christian Kallen has called Healdsburg home for over 30 years. A former travel writer and web producer, he has worked with Microsoft, Yahoo, MSNBC and other media companies, usually in an editorial capacity. He started reporting locally in 2008, moving from Patch to the Sonoma Index-Tribune to the Kenwood Press before joining the Healdsburg Tribune in 2022.


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