Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Petaluma Little Leaguers Nation vs.Red Sox Nation

I belong to two nations: Red Sox Nation and Petaluma Nation.

One of them is filled with daily drama, a dysfunctional team that’s become disgusting.

The other is a community coming together to root for a Little League team that’s putting a big league team to shame.

As much as I am embarrassed to be a lifelong member of the reeling Red Sox Nation right now, I am equally proud to be a part of the growing Petaluma Nation that is faithfully following the Petaluma National team representing California in Williamsport, Pa.

In my 17 years as a Petaluma resident, I’ve never seen or sensed anything like this. This is a sprawling Sonoma County city of 58,000 people about a 40-minute drive north of the Golden Gate Bridge. It has a big city population by some standards, but it always has maintained a small town feel. It still has parades down main street. It still has its American Graffiti downtown. It’s where Peggy Sue got married.

But this Little League team comprised of junior high schoolers from the west side of Petaluma has spread its community spirit and good will thousands of miles to the east better than any Chamber of Commerce.

Local television stations and the cable TV giant ESPN have discovered what Petalumans already knew. This is a great place to live because there are great people here. And they care.

When the Petaluma Boulevard Theaters reserved one of its theaters to broadcast Petaluma Nationals’ first game in the Little League World Series, the response was so overwhelming they had to reserve a second theater. Never mind that Petalumans were willing to pay more than a first-run movie to watch a baseball game they could watch for free, the $15 admission fee went toward paying for traveling expenses for the team and their families who have been on the road for more than two weeks.

The end result: The community raised almost twice as much money as it intended and was even able to send the beloved sports reporter from the weekly Petaluma Argus Courier newspaper to the Little League World Series to cover it.

Jonny Gomes, the Oakland A’s outfielder/slugger who lived and played Little League baseball in Petaluma, has been rightfully receiving a lot of credit for spearheading fundraising efforts to support the Petaluma team. But there are dozens, if not hundreds, of Petaluma Little League fans who have been pitching in behind the scenes to help the team in so many ways.

Heck, I was ready to go down the street in my neighborhood to mow the front lawn of Austin Paretti’s family but someone beat me to the punch. Everyone in Petaluma seems to have a connection this team. My youngest son, Brock, played on the same Little League team as Paretti and Bradley Smith, the 6-foot-2 wunderkind of the team who was the biggest player on Brock’s team when he was 11.

This is the feel good story of the year in Petaluma and I found irony in that tonight when Petaluma defeated Connecticut in an elimination game. The game was again televised live on ESPN and the broadcast’s color commentator was former Red Sox manager Terry Francona.

He, like me, knows the difference between the Red Sox Nation and the Petaluma Nation. One is having a lot more family fun than the other right now and Francona knows it. He might even love it.

Go Pe-ta-lu-ma!


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