Professional Baseball in San Bernardino
As far back as 1899, professional baseball has been played in San Bernardino, CA. In 1913 the San Bernardino Kittens played in Southern California League then in 1929, the San Bernardino Padres squad served as members of the California State League. The San Bernardino Stars were the first California League team, competing for one season in 1941. From 1948 - 1950, the city was home to the Valencias of the Sunset League which moved from Anaheim and subsequently changed their name to the Pioneers for the 1949 and 1950 seasons.
After the 1950 Pioneers season there was to be no professional baseball in San Bernardino for the next 37 years until the San Bernardino Spirit began play at Fiscalini Field, previously known as Perris Hill Park. At the conclusion of the 1992 California League Season, the Spirit relocated to Rancho Cucamonga and changed their name to the Quakes. Once again, San Bernardino was left without a professional baseball team. However, the Spirit would return when the Salinas Spurs took up residence at Fiscalini as an independent team during the 1993 and 1994 California League seasons.
In 1995, the Spirit became the High A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. From that point on professional baseball in San Bernardino has become an institution and continues to thrive.
Name and Affiliation Changes
From 1987 - 1992, the Spirit were the affiliated with the Seattle Mariners. In 1996, while affiliates of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team changed their moniker to the Stampede. This name lasted for seven seasons during which time, the team's affiliation once again changed back to the Mariners (2001 - 2007). Looking for a new identity and a way to include the fans in rebranding, the front office held a competition to rename the organization in 2003. Season ticket holder, Phil Westbook's suggestion and a desire to brand the team to the entire Inland Empire led to the team taking on the name Inland Empire 66ers.
The Los Angeles Dodgers once again became the team's major league affiliate in 2008 and remained as such until the 2011 season when Inland Empire partnered with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, bringing about a new era in San Bernardino baseball.
California League Championships
During the Spirit's first season with the Dodgers (1995) under the helm of current Milwaukee Brewer's skipper, Ron Roenicke, the team captured the first of five California League championships since relocating from Salinas to San Bernardino. The Stampede were back to back champions in 1999 and 2000 and during their first season as the Inland Empire 66ers in 2003, they brought the title home to San Bernardino. The last of the five championship seasons occurred in 2006.
San Manuel Stadium
In March of 2012, the stadium in which the 66ers have called home since 1996 was renamed San Manuel Stadium, ushering in a new decade. Originally, the stadium was known simply as The Ranch to tie in with the western-style of the architecture. The stadium boasts 5,000 seats and grass seating that can accommodate several thousand more fans in comfort. It was designed by HOK, the same firm that created Baltimore's Camden Yards and Coors Field in Denver. The facility has all of the modern amenities, including 12 spacious luxury skybox suites, each with a private outdoor balcony equipped with stadium-style seating, two large outdoor picnic areas that overlook the playing field, and a high-tech scoreboard that features a full-color video board. The seats are all angled toward home plate, so there is not a single bad seat in the house.
Elmore Sports Group
In 1993, after the original Spirit relocated to Rancho Cucamonga, the incoming Salinas Spurs were sold to Dave Elmore and Donna Tuttle and have since been operated by the Elmore Sports Group, which also operates six other minor league baseball teams and an ECHL hockey team. These teams include the Eugene Emeralds, San Antonio Missions, Helena Brewers, Idaho Falls Chukars, Colorado Sky Sox, and the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL. The Elmore Sports Group has a tradition of putting together community and family oriented franchises, elements that the 66ers pride themselves on.
Commitment to Community Service
The team has sponsored a baseball league for underprivileged children in conjunction with the San Bernardino Housing Authority and the San Bernardino Police Department. The 66ers have also put together numerous fund raising programs to benefit local foundations and charities in the Inland Empire and will continue to do so, knowing that the team's success is ultimately tied to the success of the local communities and businesses that work with the 66ers and the families that come out to San Manuel Stadium.
In 2012, the 66ers announced the creation of the 66ers Foundation whose purpose it will be to renovate little league baseball fields in San Bernardino and assist in the subsidizing of costs all in an effort to get more children involved in little leagues across the city.
This past season the 66ers went through an improbable California League playoff run. After a 3-1 victory over the San Jose Giants, the Inland Empire 66ers could finally call themselves California League Champions. This was the first title win for the Inland Empire 66ers since 2006, and the first for an Angels California League affiliate since 1996.
Notable Players and Moments in 66ers History
The Spirit, Stampede, and 66ers Top 5 most notable players:
1) Ken Griffey, Jr. Played for the Spirit during the 1988 season in 58 games. Griffey had 74 hits and 11 home runs.
2) Paul Konerko Played for the Stampede during the 1995 season in 118 games. Konerko had 124 hits and 19 home runs.
3) Felix Hernandez Played for the 66ers during the 2004 season. He started 15 games and amassed a record of 9-3 with a 2.74 ERA.
4) Adrian Beltre Played for the Stampede during the 1996 season in 63 games. Beltre had 62 hits and 10 home runs.
5) Ted Lilly Played for the Stampede during the 1997 season. He started 21 games and amassed a record of 7-8 with a 2.81 ERA.
Honorable mention goes to Kevin Costner who participated in an exhibition game versus the Seattle Mariners in March of 2002 as a member of the Stampede. Although Costner went 0-3 that day and committed an error as the starting short stop, the highlight of the game is when he was called to pitch in the ninth inning to Mariner's skipper, Lou Pinella, whom he walked.