Leopard's Late Homer Gives Packers Win on Opening Night
Updated: Jun 8
Alex Leopard came up to bat in the bottom of the 8th inning against submariner Devin Costa who had locked down the Prune Packers since coming in in the 4th. The Pack had Kimble Shuessler, who had walked, on second and Cole Brodnansky, who was hit by a pitch, on first. The Packers were down 5-3 to the Game Prep Trojans, a team from San Francisco that hosts their home games at Skyline College and came into the game 0-1 after falling to the Menlo Park Legends on June 1st. The Trojans are made up of a ton of JUCO players, most from Skyline College in San Bruno, and others from Post Grad, Division 3 and Division 2 programs. They have Cam Grant who is their only D1 player, from Louisiana-Monroe. They are coached by Kyle Barret and are a part of the Bay Area Collegiate League. Both teams share common opponents like the Alameda Anchors, West Coast Kings and San Francisco Seals that are from the BACL.
The Prune Packers are coached by the legendary Joey Gomes who has coached for 10 years and has delivered 5 CCL North Championships in a row over the past 5 seasons and back to back CCL
State Championships in the past 2 seasons. Gomes has only once posted a win percentage below .700, all the way back in 2014 when the Pack posted a win percentage of .656, going 36-19. Gomes spent 5 seasons in the Minor Leagues after being drafted out of the University of Santa Clara in the 8th round of the 2002 MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays. He spent a season in Mexico playing for the Aguilas de Mexicali and 6 seasons in Independent Leagues. In his playing career in the minor leagues, Gomes batted .297, had a .362 OBP and a .454 slugging percentage in 1,767 at bats. Gomes had 524 hits in the minors, 50 homers and 267 RBI. In his overall career, Gomes had 1,003 hits, 101 homers, 526 RBIs, 279 walks and 40 stolen bases in 3338 at bats. Gomes decided to start coaching and went back to Northern California (he was born in Marin, California) to coach the Packers.
Gomes is the brother of Jonny Gomes, who had a great 13 year career in the MLB, playing for 7 organizations and being a critical part of the 2013 World Series winning Boston Red Sox. Both were drafted by the Rays but Jonny was drafted in 2001 out of Santa Rosa Junior College. Jonny, though, credits Joey with giving him his love, determination and passion for the game and paving his way to the MLB. In an interview with the NESN, Jonny said this about Joey: “He totally paved the way for me for everything this game has brought me, and everything that I didn’t know this game could bring me.” Joey created Party Out Front®, his coaching program that he and Max Shupe are the main coaches for. Through this program, Joey has coached and mentored fantastic MLB players such as Dylan Beavers who was the 33rd overall pick of the 2022 Draft, Andrew Vaughn who is a star player for the Chicago White Sox and has a long list of college and high school achievements like the Golden Spikes Award, Freshman of the Year and Perfect Game National Player. Another great player Joey Gomes has mentored is former 1st Overall Pick and D1 Homer Leader Spencer Torkelson who plays for the Detroit Tigers and is a rising star.
Between 2014 and 2022, the Packers have had 35 draft picks come through there system. They have produced notable MLB players like White Sox 1st Basemen Andrew Vaughn, Marlins Reliever Anthony Bender, Padres Reliever Ray Kerr, Brewers Starting Pitcher Jason Alexander, Padres Reliever Steven Wilson and Twins Starting Pitcher Joe Ryan. They have also produced top prospects like Dylan Beavers (#9 in Orioles System), Joe Lampe (#29 in Guardians system) and Cal Conley (#13 in Braves System). The Prune Packers are winners and produce fantastic players that go back to their college or to the MLB playing like a great baseball player. Gomes had this to say about the goal of each Summer and the development of each player:
"Winning a Championship First. What I mean by that is, when the goal is the top of the mountain, the peak prize; then what you do from there is you communicate to guys what it takes to win a championship, what it takes to work everyday, what it takes to get to a field and kind of understand those sentiments. Humbly, I tell guys, you know Healdsburg is a place where the expectation is to win and work hard and play hard, so through that process there will be mentoring. There will be conversations. Summer Baseball is every single day, so that's absolutely going to happen."
The words Coach Gomes said are words that echo around Healdsburg as in fact, Healdsburg expects nothing less than a great season and for the Pack to be in contention for a CCL Championship in August. Healdsburgians come out to games every Summer to support the Packers, a team of players from Colleges and JUCOs from around the country. The 2023 Packers have a roster of kids from 7 different states: California (26), Texas (8), Tennesse (3), Washington (2), Alabama (1), Nevada (1) and Mississippi (1). Coach Gomes said this about building team chemistry:
"One of the first things you do is you use the model that's already in place to build the chemistry which means everyday is at the field. This is our first day. We have 14 guys here. I think we have still 15 guys in a Super Regional, but we've already been together for 3 and a half hours. You multiply that by 2 months. That's how the synergy is fostered. Just the amount of the time that you're with these guys."
The Pack was short handed Tuesday with Gomes hitting grounders to first basemen who had been converted into 3rd and 2nd basemen in practice. The Pack had 14 of their 42 players, the other 28 had either just finished their season in playoffs or were competing in NCAA Super Regionals. Gomes and assistant coach Max Shupe had to convert players and the bullpen was made up of 3 pitchers. The dugout was quieter than usual with only 5 people on the bench cheering them on, but that usually will fix itself as more players arrive and join the team. The chemistry will grow stronger, like Coach Gomes said "everyday at the field." Players will build friendships with other players, coaches and their host families that they will remeber for the rest of their lives. For example, Long Beach State Pitcher Mason Dillow was on the team last year and made a great friendship with his host family, the Baumgardner's, and helped teach their young boys baseball. These great relationships create an unforgettable experience and a strong chemistry between players. A lot of these players know Gomes' great resume and the Pack's track record of MLB draftees and what the Packers can do to build their game. Here is what Gomes had to say about player development and the Prune Packers track record:
"You get them on the field. You get them on the field and you learn from them. Baseball players are transparent. We can see right through the silly stuff. We can see right through the real stuff. You learn a lot about yourself when you play baseball everyday. You learn what kind of guy you are. The game is going to expose you. I would like to think about the relationships that have been built by a lot of these prestigious programs is based on what I'm just talking about and that is, I care enough to coach the guys. I care enough to talk about winning. I care enough to put a little piece of myself into these guy's development for the greater good which is winning baseball games."
Gomes cares for his players and sits and talks about their game and the game of baseball with them in between pitches during the Packers defensive innings. Gomes had already started their development in the 5 hours leading up to the game, teaching 4 of the 9 starters how to play another position, going in depth and within 3 hours development of the fielding to transition work was already showing as Connor Charpiot fielded balls on a hop and made nice throws to 1st base. Gomes was prepared for the Opening Night and had this to say about his favorite aspect of coaching the Prune Packers:
"You know it's probably cliche, but the reason we have cliches is because like they're true and that's being on this field. Just today in my speech with the few guys we have here, I thanked them for choosing here and I thanked them for giving me and the staff and the interns and the board and the fans an opportunity to get to know these guys and for them to trust me enough to coach them."
The Healdsburg Fans get to see a great program, the Prune Packers, play baseball under the lights at Recreation Park, a 102 year old stadium that has been home to a lot of things, the FFA Fair, Football, Soccer, Livestock auctions, concerts and of course, baseball. Over 300 fans filed into the stands behind home plate and in the center field bleachers on Tuesday night to see the Packers open their season against the Game Prep Trojans. Healdsburg Mayor Ariel Kelley threw out the first pitch and has a background in sports, having been a cheerleader at the University of Oregon and having studied Business Administration with a concentration on sports marketing. She was also a part of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee at Oregon.
Marv Guarin started for the Prune Packers and his pitch was a swing and miss by Dillon McKee who he retired quickly as he grounded out to 2nd Base. The Trojans went down fast with only Justin Tapin reaching base on a walk and AJ Schrader and Derek Cafferriere striking out. The Pack were on the offensive and took an early lead against Game Prep starter Liam Thompson. Kyle Russell lead off
with a double and Joey Kramer reached 1st on an error which moved Russell over to third. The teammates from Washington State were on the corners as St. Mary's Catcher Blake McDonald came up. Blake hit a grounder to second that was fielded by McKee and thrown to the shortstop Jack Weissinger to get Kramer out and then thrown to first to try for the double play, but the throw was low as the 1st Baseman Cam Grant couldn't pick it and McDonald was safe. Connor Charpiot from Santa Rosa Junior College came up and lined a double that scored Blake McDonald and put the Pack up 2-0. Kimble Shuessler came up next and flew out to center as the Trojans finally got out of the inning.
Guarin picked up where he had left off, sitting Cam Grant on 3 pitches as he grounded out to 3rd. Matthew Lofberg singled, but it didn't effect him as he struck out the next batter, Gabe Malera, on
three pitches. After a long at bat with Ryan Choi, Choi hit a base hit that put runners on the corner with 2 outs. Weissinger came up next and Guarin struck him out on 3 pitches to end the inning. Cole Brodnansky led off the bottom of the 2nd and singled. Alex Leopard followed that up with a walk, and Hideki Prather hit a hard line drive that looked like it would get into centerfield, but it was caught by McKee. Russell then came up and Thompson needed a quick out to have a better chance of getting out of the inning. That's what he got, striking out Russell and bringing up Joey Kramer who walked to
load the bases. Peyton Schultz came up next and Thompson seemed out of sync as he walked Schultz to give the Pack a 3-0 lead. Blake McDonald then grounded into a fielder's choice that ended the inning.
Guarin shut down the Trojans in the 3rd, striking out one and allowing only a single. The Pack made another strong push in the third with Kimble Schuessler reaching on a walk and Cole Brodnansky reaching on a single to put runners on 1st and 2nd. Alex Leopard grounded out and moved the runners over. Prather hit a deep drive to right field, but it was caught by Justin Tapin to end the inning. The Trojans finally broke through in the 4th inning and put together a great 2 out rally after Guarin struck out Cam Grant and Matthew Lofberg. Gabe Malera walked, Ryan Choi, singled and the rally started. Jack Weissinger singled, scoring Malera and Choi to cut the lead to one. McKee walked, Tapin was hit by a pitch and the bases were loaded. AJ Schrader walked and the Trojans had tied it up. Guarin got out of it as Caferriere grounded into a fielder's choice, but the Trojans had tied the game, 3-3.
Devin Costa came in and shut down the Packers in order in the 4th. His submarine style is a style that you don't see a lot in baseball and it takes seeing it a few times to get used to it. It is affective this
way and Costa pitched really well. Costa had just finished his Senior season at Half Moon Bay High
School and posted a sub 3 ERA. In the 5th, Guarin was back out to pitch and retired the first 2 batters, Cam Grant popped out to shortstop and Matthew Lofberg struck out swinging. Gabe Malera then hit a single and Ryan Choi reached on an error by Charpiot and Guarin was taken out. Guarin pitched really well, throwing 98 pitches, 64 strikes, 7 strikeouts and 4 walks in 4 and 2/3 innings. Caden Bugarske came in and faced Jack Weissinger. Ryan Choi stole second and it was a double steal, but Kramer noticed, cut off the throw and threw it home to McDonald to cut down Malera at home and end the top of the 5th. Costa was back and continued his domination, retiring the side in order, striking out one.
Bugarske pitched well in the 6th, getting Weissinger to ground out to third, but McKee singled to give the Trojans a base runner. McKee was caught stealing, but Tapin walked and Schrader singled to put runners on first and second. Derek Caferriere came up and popped out to first to end the inning. The Packers finally got a hit off Costa in the 6th as Hideki Prather hit a single with 2 outs, but Costa quickly retired Russell to end the inning. In the 7th, the Trojans took the lead with Lofberg starting it off, reaching on an error by Kramer with 1 out after Cam Grant struck out to start the inning. Malera
came up and doubled to put runners in scoring position for Game Prep. Choi came up and lined a single to left, scoring Lofberg to take the lead. Weissinger came up and struck out swinging which was a clutch strikeout for Bugarske, but Dillon McKee came up next and hit single to bring home run #5 for the Trojans and give them some insurance. Bugarske struck out Tapin then to get out of the inning, but the Trojans had taken the lead and to momentum for the Pack had been killed. Costa kept the momentum down for the Pack, retiring the side in order and the Pack sent Vaughn Mauterer out to stop the Trojans' momentum and he did, striking out one and retiring the side in order.
The Packers had the 5,6,7 coming up and Costa was back out for his 5th inning of work. Connor Charpiot grounded out to third and the Trojans look like they were going to have another great defensive inning. Kimble Shuessler battled and walked to give the Packers a base runner and Cole Brodnansky was hit by a pitch as the Packers were building momentum. Alex Leopard came up. After swinging through a strike and taking a ball, it was a 1-1 count to Leopard and Costa recieved the sign.
He went through the stretch and fired one. Leopard swung and CRACK. The ball sailed over the bleachers in left for a three run homer. Just like that, the Packers had taken the lead. Costa got out of the inning as Prather grounded out and Russell struck out.
Mauterer stayed in for the ninth and faced the 6,7,8 hitters in the Trojan order. He walked Lofberg to start the inning and Malera came up. He grounded to Russell who threw to Kramer to get Lofberg out, but Kramer tried to turn two and Schuessler wasn't ready for the ball and thought the play
had ended so the ball got passed him. Malera, however didn't try for two, bringing up Ryan Choi who was 4 for 4 with an RBI. In an 0-2 count, Choi grounded to Russell who threw the ball to Kramer at 2nd to get the first out and Kramer made a nice throw to 1st to end the game. Shuessler showed his flexibility by nearly doing the splitz on his stretch to catch the ball. The Pack had won 6-5 to start the year off with a win and the local kid, the SRJC kid Alex Leopard had been the hero. Mauterer had taken the win with a great 2 inning outing and Costa had taken the loss despite having a great 5 inning outing. The Trojans had put up a great fight, but the Packers knew the expectations and Leopard, fresh off a deep playoff run with the Bearcubs, came through with the homer to win the game. A great game on a great opening night. Fantastic job by Joey Gomes, Max Shupe and the Packers to get the win. The Pack are back and they aren't going away anytime soon.