The new team in town
Former Santa Maria Indians coaches form their own team: the Packers. Here's a first look at the new team's logo, roster, and schedule
BY SARAH E. THIEN
The Santa Maria Packers' colors are red, white, and blue, just like the American flag and just like the All-America city. Their name is a tribute to the Santa Maria Valley's agricultural history and also an homage to Allan Hancock College's fall baseball team from way back when, also called the Packers.
It's some instant history for a team looking to create its own legacy on the Central Coast. But first they'll have to step out of the shadow of the Indians, a team that's been in Santa Maria since 1943.
Get these four men together and all they want to do is goof around and play baseball. Front left to right Jim Allen and Scott Nickason. Bryn Smith is playing catcher, and that's Terry Newby posing as an ump.
|PHOTOS BY JOE PAYNE|
"Look, I've been an Indian all my life," said Scott Nickason, the head coach of the Packers and, until recently, the head coach of the Santa Maria Indians baseball team.
From ball boy to player and then eventually head coach, Nickason grew up with the Santa Maria Indians, but the team has changed over the years. Since long-time manager Scoop Nunes died in 2003, there's been a palpable difference in the essence of the team, Nickason said.
For the last three years the Indians have been run by owner Kevin Haughian. During that time differences arose between Haughian and the rest of the coaching staff, according to Nickason.
Nickason and his fellow coaches Bryn Smith, Terry Newby, and Jim Allen walked away from the Indians on Dec. 12.
"When the Indians changed hands, the new management wanted to go a different way," Smith said.
"Basically our intention is to use baseball as a way to educate the youth, not a way to make money," Smith said.
Nickason said the coaches left on decent terms, and he'd like to keep it that way. That's why he and the other coaches are being vague about the exact reasons for the split.
Nickason did say that he loves to coach and felt that he was giving so much of himself to the team that he could just as easily run his own team and do it his way.
"The Packers will be about giving, not about making money," Nickason said.
A news release issued by the coaches in December stated that the Indians had been losing money for the past three years.
"For some reason there's not too many people who came out to watch us last year," said former Indians player Jeff Farnham. "I don't know why that is."
Finances aren't going to be as big of a concern with the Packers, Nickason said, because the new team is going to be run as a nonprofit organization.
"If we get 50 people that's great, and if we get 300 people that's great, too," said Smith, who will be the Packers' pitching coach.
Indians owner Haughian couldn't be reached for comment by press time, but the Indians' website includes a statement about the team's plans for 2008.
"After a successful 2007 on and off the field, the Tribe has made some important changes in 2008 and beyond to restore the tradition of Scoop Nunes and the Big Red," the website states.
It wasn't easy leaving the Indians, Nickason said, who admitted to several sleepless nights. But now that the decision's been made, he's already moved on.
The Sun obtained the first preview of the new team logo, the team roster, and schedule.
The Packers have acquired a full roster, and a very full schedule. All of that, Nickason said, was because of his reputation and that of his fellow coaches.
Recruitment went the same way as it has for years, except this time he called players twice: first to ask them to play for the Indians, and then to let them know what happened. During those second calls, some of the coaches and players wanted to know Nickason's plans. That's how some of those same players ended up signing with the Packers.
"I was a little surprised," said Farnham, the former Indians player who now has signed on as a catcher for the Packers.
Farnham is a catcher during most of the year for New Mexico State University, and had signed on for his second year with the Indians until he heard that Nickason and Smith had left.
"I said, 'Hey, I wasn't going to play for the Indians, I was going to play for you,'" Farnham said he told Nickason. "That's where my commitment was."
Farnham will be the Packers' starting catcher, and the team is counting on him to lead, Nickason said. A junior, Farnham also played two years for Allan Hancock College before transferring to New Mexico State.
Farnham said that he had heard rumors that there were disagreements between the staff and owner of the Indians last year, but that it didn't affect the players.
"Nickason and the others did a good job of shielding us from any of that," he said. "We still had a great time."
The Packers' Smith said the thing about summer ball is that college coaches just want to know that their players are in good hands. A former major league pitcher with more than 20 years of experience, Smith is confident that he can help young players.
"I would hope that coaches would want to send me some of their pitchers for the summer," he said.
So far, Smith is right. The new team already has 14 pitchers on its roster this year, including ball players from Fresno State, San Jose State, Hancock, and as far away as Minnesota.
Former Indian and Hancock sophomore Mickey Jannis will be playing for the Packers this season, as will Cody Smith, another former Indian now with the San Diego Padres organization. First baseman Kevin Sandberg heard about the team from former player Cory Morales.
"Cory had good things to say. He said the coaching is really good, and they do a good job at making you a better player," Sandberg said.
A power hitter, Sandberg is also a flexible player who can play at first or third, Nickason said. Sandberg and Farnham are both examples of the level of players that the Packers will showcase in the team's first season.
Last season, the Indians' caliber of play was that of a Single A baseball team, Smith said. The Packers will have that same level of play in 2008, he said.
There will be some changes. The Packers will not be part of the California Collegiate League, instead opting to be an independent team.
This is the only thing that bothered Sandberg and Farnham about the change. Both players said they were a bit disappointed that the team wouldn't be able to go to the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan.
As an independent team, the Packers have scheduled three-day series against teams from across California and the West Coast. Their first series will be against the East LA Dodgers starting May 31. The location of that series, Nickason said, is to be announced.
Nickason said any money the Packers make will be put right back into youth programs such as local baseball clinics or donated directly to local youth leagues.
All of the coaches have day jobs, so they're good to go, Nickason said. Plus, they all love to coach.
"Because I played professional baseball and it gave me the opportunity to fulfill a dream, I don't feel right taking money to share my baseball experience," Smith said.
As for the players, many of them just want to have fun and play some baseball on the Central Coast. Farnham said he still talks to all of his team mates from last season. In May he'll become part of a new team.
"I'm just looking forward to getting back to the Central Coast and working with the coaches," he said.
INFOBOX: Take me out to the ballgame:
The location is still up in the air, although the Santa Maria Packers hope to be playing at Elks Field. Either way, the schedule is ready and teams are coming to town. Here's the first month of scheduled games for the Packers. Go to www.smvpackers.com for more information.
May 31 - East LA Dodgers (DH) - Home
June 1 - East LA Dodgers - Home
June 3 - San Luis Obispo Rattlers - Away
June 4 - San Luis Obispo Blues - Home
June 5 - San Luis Obispo Rattlers - Away
June 6 - San Diego Mavericks - Home
June 7 - San Diego Mavericks (DH) - Home
June 8 - San Diego Mavericks - Home
June 11 - San Luis Obispo Rattlers - Home
June 12 - San Luis Obispo Blues - Away
June 13 - Clovis Outlaws - Home
June 1 - Clovis Outlaws - Home
June 15 - Clovis Outlaws - Home
June 18 - San Luis Obispo Blues - Away
June 19 - San Luis Obispo Blues - Home
June - San Diego Stars - Home
June 21 - San Diego Stars (DH) - Home
June 2 - San Diego Stars - Home
June 24 - San Luis Obispo Rattlers - Away
June 25 - Clovis Outlaws - Away
June 26 - Yuba-Sutter Gold Sox - Away
June 27 - Yuba-Sutter Gold Sox - Away
June 28 - Yuba-Sutter Gold Sox - Away
June 29 - Yuba-Sutter Gold Sox - Away
Contact staff writer Sarah E. Thien at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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