[caption id="attachment_55359" align="alignleft" width="360" caption="Manager Mike Marshall address his 40-man spring training roster on May 24, 2012, the first day of Pacifics spring training camp."][/caption]

SAN RAFAEL – The San Rafael Pacifics, an independent professional minor league baseball team, will play its first game at the city’s 900-seat Albert Park today with the city's business and community leaders holding high hopes for the success of the team and the broader economic impact.

The team is expected to draw a number of visitors to the central city district -- some for the first time -- and bring new business to local companies while raising the profile of the area near the newly renovated field at the edge of San Rafael’s downtown.

“We think we’re going to add a lot to the economic mix,” said Pacifics President and General Manager, Micahel Shapiro.

Tickets for the inaugural game against the Sonoma County Grapes, currently a traveling team with no home field, have been sold out for several weeks, Mr. Shapiro said. That support, including sponsorships, will be important to the survival of the team in the future.

“The expenses in the first year are so extraordinary that we really have to be successful,” Mr. Shapiro said. “That’s how we live – sponsorship and tickets.”

[caption id="attachment_55361" align="alignright" width="315" caption="Jamie Arneson, warms up during day one of Pacifics spring training camp"][/caption]

Current sponsors include local Bank of Marin, Santa Rosa’s Eagle Distributing, and San Francisco’s Dignity Health, as well as national entities like the Coca-Cola Company and AAA, Mr. Shapiro said.

Sponsorship is key to the team’s business model, as the 1950s-era field is of relatively small capacity and cannot generate the kind of ticket revenue that substantially funds a typical professional team, he said.

Support for the team has been strong within the business community. In a poll of San Rafael Chamber of Commerce members, 96 percent responded that they supported establishing the locally based team, said board chairwoman-elect and San Rafael Pacifics Advisory Board chairwoman Laura Bertolli.

“They can see there’s a benefit of people going downtown and supporting local businesses,” she said.

City planners also anticipate benefits from the operation of the field, as it feeds into the broader development vision for the surrounding area, said Stephanie Lovette, San Rafael’s economic development manager.

Two pedestrian pathways – Mahon Path and Palm Promenade – were constructed along with a number of general traffic and pedestrian improvements in the past few years to help link the area that includes Albert Park field to other parts of the city, she said. The area also includes the San Rafael Corporate Center, whose tenants have traditionally felt isolated from downtown merchants and the interest in the Pacifics could encourage more interaction between the two areas.

“I think people are now realizing that these areas are close,” she said.

[caption id="attachment_55360" align="alignleft" width="360" caption="First baseman, Johnny Woodard works out during spring training infield drills at Pacifics spring training camp."][/caption]

The field is also close to the city’s transit hub, as well as the future home of a commuter rail station when the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit system becomes operational. Parking is provided for free at the corporate center.

While the downtown district already enjoys a robust cultural and business climate, Ms. Lovette said that commercial occupancy has still not returned to the levels seen before the recession. The district is approaching 6 percent vacancy on Fourth Street, which rose to between 9 and 10 percent during the recession.

Future businesses could see the Pacifics as part of the area’s appeal, she said.

Some businesses could lose certain customers with the team’s arrival, as patrons move from those venues to pursue entertainment at the park instead, said Dr. Robert Eyler, interim CEO and chief economist of the Marin Economic Forum.

However, Dr. Eyler said that the economic impacts will likely benefit local merchants, along with sales tax revenue from games, additional hotel stays and retail and restaurant sales.

Plans to establish a team based in Sonoma County, the Sonoma County Grapes, were accelerated after the West League’s affiliate in Hawaii created a second traveling team based in Hilo, the Hawaii Stars. While the Grapes will now play in the league, a home field will not be established until at least next year, Mr. Shapiro said.

Four teams now make up the West League, including Maui Na Koa Ikaika, based in Kahului, Hawaii. The teams will compete over the course of the season along with the six Texas-based teams that compose the East League between June 4 and August 26. The Pacifics will play 42 home games during the season.

“Our idea was to create a long-term, viable business,” said Mr. Shapiro of the newly-formed team. “I think the rest of the games are going to get even more popular as people realize this is great, low-cost entertainment.”