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by Rick Cabral

Capital City's "First" Travel Baseball Team:

The Sacramento Solons

Trying to determine which was the first travel baseball team in the Sacramento area is like trying to find the first kid on the block with a bicycle. We believe we have located the former.

It all started in spring 1990 when a group of dads were watching their sons play at a Jesuit freshman baseball game. Local attorney Russ Porter wondered aloud why there wasn't a baseball equivalent in Sacramento to select soccer or "travel teams" like those his son Aaron had played on over the years. Someone suggested they do something about it. Without contacts or background in travel baseball, the men decided to form a 15 and under (15U) select team.

In finding players the fathers sought the top talent they remembered from their experience in prior years with Pony League and/or Mickey Mantle All-Stars (both catering to the 13-14 age group) . Players from across the city were invited to participate, including invitees from Sacramento High, McClatchy, Del Campo, with a core contingent coming from the Jesuit players.

Roy Heitz volunteered to manage and was assisted by two other fathers with sons on the team. Porter took on the business manager role, booking games with teams throughout the north state. He and real estate developer Carl Panatoni shared in the fundraising. "Everything was paid for: tournament fees, equipment, travel, hotel," Porter says proudly. "Those kids didn't have to pay a dime."

Jesuit High allowed them to use their practice facilities and beautiful Carmichael ballpark for home games. The Solons competed against other travel teams from Fresno to all parts of Northern California. They even scheduled practice games against local American Legion teams and fared well against boys several years older. "This was a very good, talented group of players," Porter admits.

By mid-summer, the Solons had played 55 games and dominated. Porter entered them in the Continental Amateur Baseball Association (CABA) state tournament in southern California, and the local lads claimed the 15U CABA state title.

From there they drove to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to compete in the CABA 32-team national tournament. Next thing they knew, the Solons were hoisting a national championship banner in their whirlwind first season.

The Solons players and a growing cadre of fans journeyed to Detroit where the team entered the AAU 15U national tournament, despite never qualifying for any previous AAU tournament events. Like magic, the Solons claimed their second national crown in two weeks and returned home, pleased with this travel baseball idea.

In late August, Porter received a call from the AAU, informing him that a Japanese 15U team had just won the International Baseball Federation tournament in Monterey, Mexico. Would the Solons be interested in hosting a best-of-seven World Series in Sacramento?

Porter's response: "Love to play 'em."

The AAU agreed to foot the travel bill if Porter and company could house the Japanese players. He agreed and the Solons' families hosted Japanese players, some taking up to three players per home.

Collegiate head coaches John Smith of Sac State and Phil Swimley of UC Davis donated their home diamonds for four of the games, while Sacramento Park and Recreation donated Harry Renfree field for the remainder.

The Solons beat the Japanese in six games and won the unofficial AAU 15U World Series.

The following year the Solons added a couple more players to the roster and nearly duplicated the result, losing in the AAU 16U championship game.

In 1992, the team featuring all juniors, added seniors Chris Fahey of Jesuit and Geoff Jenkins of Cordova High, both 18, to the club. The Solons dominated tournament play once again, culminating with an appearance in the AAU 18U tournament in Daytona Beach. With a team comprised almost entirely of 17 year-old-players, they finished third in the tournament.

One week later, they entered the AAU 17U tournament (sans Fahey and Jenkins) in Norman, Oklahoma and won it all, claiming another national championship.

And that was it.

The following summer the Solons scattered as a number of players signed professional contracts or earned college scholarships.

Mike Lincoln, who was the team's fifth starting pitcher in 15U competition, was drafted in the 13th Round out of University of Tennessee in 1996, and went on to play nine seasons in the major leagues. He retired in 2010.

Despite playing for only three seasons, the experience provided a lifetime of thrills.

"It was a joy to work with those kids," remembers head coach, Heitz. "They all appreciated that time when they played really well," He also credits the parents for allowing him and his staff to coach the players without interference.  

Perhaps more importantly, Chris Fahey went on to replicate the experience by creating his own travel team, the Sacramento Capitols.

From there, travel baseball established roots and grew in popularity in Sacramento.


To return to the main feature story Travel Ball: Where the Elite Meet to Compete, go here.

To read about the local ballplayers who have played USA Baseball, go here.

Uploaded 07/25/11

All contents © Rick Cabral 2011

 

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