Often sneered at by its more history-suffused neighbors, such as Santa Rosa and Petaluma, Rohnert Park has blossomed into a successful, albeit center-less, town.
"We have some really nice things that in many ways require a lot of maintenance," Mayor Flores said. "Our residents have grown to enjoy and appreciate those amenities.
"We always knew charging the Crushers a dollar a year would not always be a sound financial decision," he said. "The land became increasingly more valuable."
Flores rattled off the parks and pools -- Alicia, Benicia, Ladybug, Honeybee, Magnolia -- scattered throughout the city. All are spacious, well-lighted, with striped and manicured playing fields. "As the economy started to deteriorate, and we went into recession, we could probably have decreased the scope of services," he said.
But like many in the state, officials in Rohnert Park avoided cuts until they had no choice. Michael Harrow, an accountant who was the city's finance director for 15 years until resigning three years ago, said he seethed as he watched the council build a million-dollar pool, the city's fifth, and construct the baseball stadium for $2 million in the 1980s, a decade that also saw a performing arts center rise and take up $400,000 in annual subsidies.
"I told them, 'At the rate you're going, you'll be broke in five years,' and sure enough, I was right," Harrow said.
Harrow ticked off a list of management decisions, including generous pay raises and pension plans, throwing up his hands in disgust. "I'm glad I don't have to think of this stuff anymore," he said. "It drove me nuts."
Fletcher is bitter over the fate of the stadium, where he spent about $500,000 on stands, restrooms and concession areas in return for his dollar-a-year lease. Although the Western League had fallen apart, he had hoped that with a renewed lease he could attract a team from a different league. With a mall taking the place of the stadium, that dream is unlikely to be realized.
"The field was a disgrace," he said. "We made it something they could be proud of and something that got them national attention."
Three years ago, a Forbes publication hailed Crushers home games as the "best afternoon of baseball," Fletcher said. Major leaguers, including Giants pitcher Chad Zerbe, got their start there.
"There definitely was more than baseball to the Crushers," Fletcher said. "You could take a family of four and get in for $20. They said they needed the property, but I don't know. Sonoma County should be able to support a team."
For residents like Jordan, the issue goes beyond baseball, to a place where lucre trumps a distinctly Californian belief in an ample future. "Selling off city property to solve a short-term financial problem doesn't solve anything," Jordan said. "They're going to get a one-time financial windfall and unless they do something permanent with it, it goes away."
For now, Rohnert Park Stadium remains standing, a gray and forlorn ghost in a pasture overgrown with mustard weeds. Bob Fletcher still dreams of baseball in the Sonoma Valley, and doubts whether appraisers will affirm the city's high expectations of an upscale mall on his former team's field of dreams.
"I think something a lot less grandiose will happen there," he said from his home in Santa Rosa.
Then he paused, and added: "I'm still hoping someone will say, 'Hey, let's build one of those really nice minor league baseball stadiums there.' "
Times staff writer Evan Halper contributed to this report.