Martinez is home to the best Contra Costa baseball team few people know about

MARTINEZ, CA – There’s a former World Championship pitcher on a hill in Martinez.

Between pitches, Mane Corpus barks for directions to his attackers, often in quick Spanish. He laughs. refers to the mixture. He grabs his head when a fastball is hit deep in the field at Joe Dimaggio Field.

Corpus, 39, is the manager of Martinez Sturgeon’s semi-professional team. He spent eight years in the major tournaments, mostly with the Colorado Rockies, with whom he faced the Boston Red Sox in the 2007 World Championships. That was the same year he scored the 19 best saves of his career and an impressive 2.08 ERA in 78 games.

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Now he performs in Martinez, Joe Dimaggio’s hometown and a place he hadn’t heard of two years ago. He’s only throwing because he’s short on arms and doesn’t want to put more pressure on his team.

Pitcher Manny Corpas (50) during play against Santa Cruz Seaweed at Joe DiMaggio Field in Martinez, California on July 7, 2022. Corpas is also the coach. (Ray Saint-Germain/Bay City News)

“I’m not supposed to play now,” said Corpus, “but… I’m a clown on the hill.” “People say I’m crazy, but I’m having fun. But when I’m off the lines, I’m a different person. I try to have fun and teach some things.”

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Named after the occasional giant bottom fish that calls the home of nearby Carquinez Strait, Sturgeon was established in 2019. They play 52 games in the Pecos Independent League against teams from places like Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Rafael, Monterey, and Bakersfield.

The league extends all the way to Kansas and Texas. Teams do not belong to major league teams but can – and sometimes do – sign with major league organizations.

Corpus has already seen the signing of three players away this year – two with MLS minor league teams and one with MLS – helping him in his quest to become a coach somewhere where the lights are even brighter.

“That’s my goal – maybe send players every month somewhere,” said Corpus. “That’s good for guys; it’s not good for me, because I miss these guys. But it helps spread my name out there.”

The park looks like a mini baseball game, with tankers and the Benicia-Martinez Bridge behind an outside fence covered in local ads, and frequent train whistles around a downtown train depot vying with the music of the ’80s and ’90s through the PA system. There aren’t a lot of people players can’t hear (and respond) to the local roots in the stands.

“Attendance varies, tonight should be a good gateway,” said Eric Halverson, general manager of Sturgeon. “Sunday night it was crowded. We have games with less than 100 people, but in general there are about 200 people.”

Kids scramble for the spoiled balls, because turning them into the snack bar gives them free candy.

“Balls are very expensive these days,” Halverson said. “It’s cheaper to give them a free piece of candy.”

Profits from the snack bar, merchandise and the gate go to the league, while players receive half of the winnings per game 50-50 lotteries and when the team “feeds the fish” by passing a fish-shaped bag across the stands when sturgeon hits a track on their land or hits a side.
They sometimes auction broken bats because players have to buy their own bats.

Mia Lloyd of Martinez “feeds fish” held by Martinez’s Chris Corby during the game between Martinez Sturgeon and Santa Cruz Seaweed at Joe Dimaggio Field in Martinez, California on July 7, 2022. If a sturgeon hits his home, the fish is fed with proceeds going to the hitter. (Ray Saint-Germain/Bay City News)

“We’re trying to get a little extra money from the boosters so we can save more for these guys,” Halverson said, right before being asked if he’d want someone to get extra oil for the popcorn machine at Sam’s Club.

The fish earned $76 tonight.

“These guys are very appreciative,” Halverson said. “They don’t expect it and they are very nice about it.”

Former city councilman Nuralia Geppner is usually credited with bringing sturgeon to Martinez. Gipner is the president and CEO of the nonprofit Homeless Action Alliance and the driving force behind Camp Hope, a waterfront campground in the nearby John Muir Amphitheater.

Gibner also served as the team’s de facto general manager until Halvorson took over this year.

“The reason I worked so hard to bring the Martinez Sturgeon Baseball to the Martinez is to be able to unite all of the Martinez for the same common love: baseball,” Gibner said. “I think he did a great job doing that, we have all kinds of people there, from all walks of life supporting our local team, which makes me very happy.”

(Center LR) Game announcer, Paula McEvoy and Maya dance during a halftime break for the Martinez Sturgeon and Santa Cruz Seaweed game at Joe DiMaggio Field in Martinez, California on July 7, 2022. Far left is a live broadcast of the play by stage announcer, Tony Schultz broadcaster Game and general manager of Sturgeon fish, Eric Halverson at right. (Ray Saint-Germain/Bay City News)

Halverson – general contractor and husband of Martinez councilman Lara DeLaney – was promoted from scoreboard and music player to general manager prior to this season. Although his salary is the same as last year: nothing.

“The team is kind of supporting the same—we get volunteers to run the snack bar, run the gate…myself,” said Halverson, sitting at a laptop behind the house board from which he still runs the scoreboard and music. The team is about to play Santa Cruz Seaweed.

“I represent the league, the city and the team and I try to deliver a good product. The people who come in regularly are having a lot of fun.”

Halverson—who also works as an assistant football coach at Alhambra High School in Martinez—hosts DeLaney, an 18-year-old Venezuelan player who speaks little English. Many players live with host families during the summer season.

“Scouts come in sometimes and we just don’t know it,” Halverson said.

Karen Steele’s son, Alex Daley, is a 24-year-old sturgeon defensive player. His story is like many at this level of professional baseball: he isn’t crafted but he loves the game so much that he just can’t let go. After graduating and working on a job that many would consider a career, he decided he wanted to get back in the game.

“He just wants to play and eventually train or manage,” said Steele, who grew up in San Ramon and drives from Roseville to watch him play. “He wants to go as far as he can. He’ll stay in the baseball industry for the rest of his life. Finally smiling all the time and finally having fun.”

PA announcer, Paula McEvoy went to Alhambra High and played in the Women’s College World Championships in San Francisco State. She missed the announcement of the start of the third half because she was too busy hugging someone sitting nearby.

“People keep track of things; the downtown community seems to be on the lookout,” said McEvoy, who watched his father, Joe Dimaggio, play for the San Francisco Seals in the 1930s. “We do what we can to promote it. People are like ‘Oh, you have a baseball team?'” “We have a good team and things are happening.”

To learn more about Martinez Sturgeon, go to Martinezsturgeon.com/.


Written by Tony Hicks, Bay City News Foundation. Copyright © 2022 Bay City News, Inc. all rights are save. Reproduction, rebroadcasting, or redistribution is prohibited without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. Bay City News is a 24/7 news service covering the Greater Bay Area.

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