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Sonoma Stompers Give Baseball Writers A Chance To Run The Team


Most sports fans have had that moment when they become absolutely convinced they could do a better job than whoever is running or ruining their favorite team. Well, what if you actually got your chance? Baseball writers Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller just did.

BEN LINDBERGH: We are very happy to report that Sam and I will be serving as the Sonoma Stompers baseball operations department this summer.

GREENE: The Sonoma Stompers, they're an independent professional baseball team in California's wine country. Think grape stomping. Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller do a weekly podcast where they said they would love to run a team, and the owners of the Stompers heard this and decided to take them up on it. The two writers are passionate about sabermetrics, the kind of baseball number-crunching made famous in the movie "Moneyball."


JONAH HILL: (As Peter) Of the 20,000 notable players for us to consider, I believe that there is a championship team of 25 people that we could afford, like an island of misfit toys.

GREENE: That emotional moment from actor Jonah Hill in the movie "Moneyball," a character Lindbergh says he can really relate to.

LINDBERGH: We're looking for skills that are underappreciated. Really sabermetrics, it just means the search for objective knowledge about baseball.

GREENE: Knowledge that gets put to the test today in the Stompers' home opener. When we reached Lindbergh in Sonoma, we asked what in the world drove him to do this.

LINDBERGH: These days, everyone's an armchair general manager, right, 'cause we all have our fantasy teams and we sit at our keyboards and it's, you know, easy to do when you're not actually in that room, making that decision. And there's the human side of it, you know. There's interacting with players and what happens when you have to cut a player who's underperforming. You know, it's not as easy as pressing the drop button in your fantasy league. You have to sit a guy down and tell him he's out of a job because he wasn't good enough. And so, we're hoping to get a little bit of a culture shock by getting out from behind our computers and getting into the clubhouse and seeing how these things really work.

GREENE: And that brings us to the Sonoma Stompers. So tell me about them.

LINDBERGH: Well, the Sonoma Stompers are an independent league team. And for people who don't know what that means, there are many leagues across the country, professional players who are paid to play baseball, but they're not affiliated with a major league organization. And so, they have more freedom in terms of what they can do, and that's what appealed to us. Sonoma plays as part of the Pacific Association, which is a California league, relatively new, relatively small. So we're hoping it's the perfect place to kind of be a testing ground for some things that might not work as well in the majors.

GREENE: Just take me to the place, if you can. I mean, I've seen the logo for the Stompers. It looks like a vineyard. I mean, is the stadium set in, you know, idyllic wine country of Sonoma County?

LINDBERGH: It absolutely is. It is not a bad place to spend the summer, which is the upside. No matter how this project goes, we will have been in Sonoma for a few months. It's a small town, you know. It's 9,000, 10,000 people, and 2,000 of them will be at Stompers' opening day.

GREENE: Let me ask you this, Ben. I mean, is there one player who you've kind of decided to put on the roster and you can kind of point to him and explain for our listeners, you know, exactly, you know, what the science said about him that makes you confident that he's, you know, the right person to have on the team.

LINDBERGH: I guess I would mention Sean Conroy. He is from a Division III school and so he was not drafted. He doesn't throw particularly hard. He throws sidearm, and then he switches sometimes to throwing over the top so there's a bit of deception. But he is not a big guy. He doesn't have your typical athlete's body. But when you look at his stats and even after adjusting for the quality of competition and the ballparks and the weather and there's so many factors to take into account, after you apply those adjustments to his stats, he looks like one of the best college seniors. So that's kind of the prototype for the guy that we have gone after.

GREENE: So you come in as a baseball writer, you and your colleague, and you tell, you know, this group of baseball professionals who work for the Stompers, we know the science. Here's a pitcher who you might never have looked at, but trust us. Like, he's going to be a great pitcher. I mean, how have the other people involved in the organization reacted to things like that?

LINDBERGH: Thus far, it's worked out well. And, you know, we were as nervous and anxious as anyone when these guys showed up that we picked from a spreadsheet. But luckily, they've all showed up and actually looked like baseball players, which we were very relieved to see.

GREENE: All right. So opening day, Sonoma Stompers, where are you going to be and what are you most excited about?

LINDBERGH: Well, I'd probably be right behind home plate. You know, we're going to have technology tracking all the pitches, tracking all of the batted balls so that we know how hard guys are throwing and how hard they're hitting, and we'll be looking at those numbers throughout the games and after the games. But we'll also, I think, just take a moment to sit back and appreciate where we are and what we're doing. It's a beautiful ballpark. I'm sure it'll be a beautiful night. We'll just try to get the total opening day baseball experience.

GREENE: You promise me you'll take time to grab a beer or a sip of wine, I guess.

LINDBERGH: Yes, I will have some wine.

GREENE: Well, Ben, it's been really cool hearing about this, and I know we're going to follow your story and the story of the Sonoma Stompers as the season goes on. Thanks a lot.

LINDBERGH: Yes, I look forward to talking to you again.

GREENE: That's Grantland baseball writer Ben Lindbergh, who, this summer, is running the Sonoma Stompers with fellow writer, Sam Miller. And we will be checking back in with them as the season progresses. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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