"This is terrible to say, but I don't know anything about the Gulls."
--Chris Bradley, San Bernardino Spirit administrative assistant
Truth is, hardly anyone knows much about the Ventura County Gulls. Not even the people of Ventura County.
That's one of the reasons why the Gulls drew only 38,962 paying fans to 71 home games last year. That's why actor Mark Harmon gained part ownership of a baseball team. That's why Chris Bradley gained a job. And that's why Ventura lost the Gulls.
Sold for $250,000 in September to a group of investors headed by Harmon, moved to San Bernardino and renamed the Spirit, the Gulls, late of Toronto Blue Jays affiliation and the Class-A California League, are dead and gone after only one season in Ventura.
Or are they? Could it be that a Gulls' spirit--distinct from San Bernardino--lives on?
"I hate like hell to have to drive down to Dodger Stadium and Anaheim and fight the parking in and fight the parking out every time I want to see a professional baseball game now," said Ventura resident Mark "Binky" Bellamy, 68, a self-described "pretty rabid" Gulls' fan who estimates that he attended 15 to 20 of their home games. "The effects on me of the Gulls being gone are great.
"But in all probability, I don't think most people gave a damn about the Gulls. They wanted to see big-league teams."
With the Gulls nowhere in sight, Curtis Jenkins, 69, of Ventura, feels like he lost a good buddy.
"It's kind of lonesome without the team," he said. "We miss it. We really do miss it. I missed only two games all year."
Ventura's Dottie Pas, the ceremonial first-ball thrower for the Gulls' home opener in 1986, missed more than a couple games, but that didn't keep her from making her mark with the team--monetary contributions.
Pas, who says she's "a poor little widow who will be 52 my whole life," earned the first-pitch honor by donating a large sum of money, $10,000 by some accounts, to be used to improve the facilities at the baseball field at Ventura College, the Gulls' erstwhile roost. She also bought eight season tickets for $1,200, a hefty figure and an incredibly kind act, especially considering she had never seen a professional baseball game. But the Gulls grew on her from the first at-bat.
"I like these minor leagues," she said. "They mix it up. It's kind of interesting to see these kids try to put it all together."
Among the 37 players to wear a Gulls uniform, two--reliever Jeff Musselman and outfielder Rob Ducey--have played with the Blue Jays this season. Although Ducey was sent down to Syracuse of the Triple-A International League two weeks ago, Musselman, who made his major league debut last September, is still with the big club and has a 4-1 record, two saves and a 2.65 earned-run average through Friday.
Musselman's promotion to the majors excited Nancy Gregorius, a 53-year-old Ventura grandmother who let Gulls players Hugh Brinson, a pitcher, and Mike Jones, an outfielder, live with her family all season. Musselman often visited Brinson at the house.
"Now I can say I had a major leaguer in my house," Gregorius said.
Musselman has fond memories of his summer in Ventura.
"It's good to know that the people appreciate our profession," said Musselman, 23, the only current major leaguer with a degree (economics) from Harvard. "Not many people got to our games, but the ones who did were good fans. It was enjoyable playing in Ventura.
"It will always be a special place to me. It was a beautiful area, and it was the place that kind of got me started on my way."
The Summer of '86 would have gone on forever if Gregorius had her druthers.
"Hugh and Mike were marvelous young men," she said. "I'm a baseball junkie and that was the best summer that I'd had in a long time. This summer just doesn't cut the mustard without the Gulls. It just doesn't seem the same."
Gregorius would be lodging more Gulls this season if not for two things: beer and lights. Or lack, thereof. When the Gulls said "Gimme a light," Ventura College wouldn't budge. Neither beer nor lights was allowed at the baseball field.
And when you're a fledgling minor league team, that double negative turns off fans, according to Sarah McPherson, former administrative assistant for the Gulls.
"I'm not saying beer was the biggest thing in the Gulls' failure--the big thing was not playing at night--but it's real easy to get alcohol at a low price and sell it at a normal price," McPherson said. "That's profit and that's business."
The Gulls were unsuccessful in getting either Ventura College to put up lights at its baseball field or getting nearby Camarillo to agree to build a stadium with lights.
Camarillo officials reasoned that until enough money was raised for lights, stands and fencing, it would be irresponsible to spend public funds on a rudimentary field.
As Nancy Bush, a Camarillo park director, said last July: "No one has ever came forward with actual funds. There are promises and dreams, but nothing concrete."