The Night League took center stage among Sacramento's premier semipro leagues in its first season in 1968 at newly constructed Harry Renfree Field.
Nine representatives attended the selection meeting at the recreation department to determine which eight teams would pay $300 to play a 14-game schedule. In attendance were Culjis Chapel, Gold Nugget, Johnny's Time Out, La Fiesta, L&L Liquors, Nicolaus Opticians, Rainbo Bread, Sacramento Argonauts and Sierra Floor Covering. Sacramento Argonauts was the odd team out.
Rainbo Bread played L&L Liquor in the Night League opener May 14, two days after Renfree Field was christened with a three-inning Mother's Day exhibition game between an all-star team of former area minor- and major-leaguers against a team of former Sacramento Solons.
Glen Gilmore (Encina) pitched for L&L Liquor and Pat Fall (McClatchy) for Rainbo Bread, but neither was around at the end. L&L Liquor won 9-8 behind Terry Ray (Rio Linda), who had two hits. Jim Fox (Bishop Armstrong) had a triple for Rainbo Bread.
Here are other Night League highlights from that first year:
Dusty Baker (Del Campo), who became a 19-year major-leaguer with two All-Star appearances, two Silver Slugger awards and a Gold Glove, played three games in the first half for La Fiesta before departing for Greenwood, the Atlanta Braves' Class-A club in the Western Carolinas League, where he hit .342. A teammate on that team was outfielder Andy Finlay (Burbank). Baker, who replaced an injured Kent Smith (McClatchy), went 11 for 16 with La Fiesta.
Right-handed-hitting Pete Mikacich (Bishop Armstrong), the sponsor of Gold Nugget and a Night League pioneer, was the first player to hit a home run at Renfree that first week of Night League play. The Nugget also sported pitchers Bob Forsch (Johnson, Sacramento City) and Don Paxton (Mira Loma), infielder Mark Loper (La Sierra), outfielder Don Semon (Bishop Armstrong) and catcher Emery Mitchell (Encina, American River).
La Fiesta was heavy with left-handed batters, including outfielders Dave Torgerson (Johnson, Sac City) and Larry Kelley (McClatchy, Sac City, Sacramento State), first baseman Don Saner (Elk Grove, Sac City) and infielder Jim Johnson (Del Campo). Torgerson was the first left-hander to homer in league play at Renfree.
Culjis had the team's youngest players, sporting two 17-year-olds shortstop Joe Muto (San Juan) and first baseman Gary Szakacs (Mira Loma) 16-year-old catcher Gary Rios (Burbank) and 18-year-old outfielder Oscar Broyer (Burbank).
In the best-of-three Night League championship series, Nicolaus Opticians beat La Fiesta behind left-handed pitcher Mike Baldwin (Johnson, Sac City), who won all eight of his starts during the regular season and had both wins in the playoffs.
Former major-league pitcher Gordon Jones (Sacramento) managed the Opticians club and had to rebuild his roster for the second half of league play because of injuries and defections. He signed outfielders Jimmy Graf (Sacramento), who returned from military service, and Joe Gill (Bishop Armstrong), who was released by the New York Yankees. At first base, he added Derek Shelton, a left-handed semipro quarterback who displayed lots of power by hitting five home runs in a tryout. Third baseman Harold Houx joined the team after being released by Rainbo Bread.
The Opticians' middle of the infield was set with second baseman Andy LoForte and shortstop Joe Soto (Clarksburg, Sac City, Sac State). Catcher Tim Margetich came back from knee surgery, and catcher Mike Edmonds (James Marshall) was plucked from the East Yolo American Legion team after starter Dennis Beiderman (Sacramento) left the team.
Vince Stanisch, whose "Behold the Bushers" Sunday column in the Sacramento Union was a must-read about local baseball, said of the Night League and Renfree Field midway through the season: "Harry Renfree Field is a complete complex and the fans seem to enjoy the circuit clouts which sail out of the ballpark. There also have been a record number of triples (21 at the time). This type of extra-base hit is the most thrilling for the spectators."
In the second season of the Night League, the Carmichael Merchants replaced defending champion Nicolaus Opticians. By 1973, the league expanded to 10 teams with a two-division format. In the Eastern Division were Wismer & Becker, Buggy Whip, Country Maid, Klumps and Bestline. In the Western Division were Culjis, Cal Loan, Golden Tee, Johnny's Time Out and B&W Plumbing.
The Night League ended after the 1995 season.
Mark McDermott is a freelance writer specializing in Sacramento-area baseball. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.