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Ben's Biz: Stalwart Stockton supporters

A conversation with Stockton Ballpark mainstays Pat and Will
@BensBiz
June 14, 2024

This is an excerpt from the latest edition of the Ben's Biz Beat Newsletter, bringing Minor League Baseball business and culture news to your inbox each and every Thursday. Check out the full newsletter HERE. Every ballpark has its regulars, and these regulars all have a story. Who are they,

This is an excerpt from the latest edition of the Ben's Biz Beat Newsletter, bringing Minor League Baseball business and culture news to your inbox each and every Thursday. Check out the full newsletter HERE.

Every ballpark has its regulars, and these regulars all have a story. Who are they, and why do they keep coming back? Stockton Ports fan Pat Riley, not be confused with the Hall of Fame NBA coach, has a simple answer to that question:

“I’ve worn out my welcome every place else!”

Perhaps this is literally true, or perhaps Riley is being facetious and hyperbolic. At any rate, he comes to see the Ports because they’re his third-favorite pastime and the first two are hard to find these days.

“Stockton used to have wrestling every other Tuesday, now we’re lucky if it’s once a year,” said Riley, who pronounces wrestling as it was meant to be pronounced: wrassling. “Square dancing died off here. Used to go square dancing every Monday night.”

So Riley goes to Banner Island Ballpark, home of the Ports (Single-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics), but he insists that’s “only because I don’t have anywhere else to go.” Maybe it’s because he wore out his welcome everyplace else. But maybe, just maybe, it’s because he actually enjoys it. On Wednesdays and on the weekends, you can find Riley sitting on the first-base side of the seating bowl alongside a coterie of regulars. He said that he first began attending Ports games in 1984 at their old home of Billy Hebert Stadium.

“I’m old!” he said by way of explanation, before launching into a digression about how hair turns white “just to let the world know you’re old.” He eventually got back on track, remarking that “At Billy Hebert, you could get in for $3.50. Wrassling was $3.50 too, but that was ringside.”

Riley ultimately offered up two things he likes about going to the ballpark. He enjoys following the careers of Ports players -- John Jaha was a particular favorite -- and he also enjoys yelling at them.

“I don’t care about the opposing teams,” he said. “I get mad at the Ports.”

Apparently, Riley sometimes attracts the ire of his fellow fans. One of his anecdotes involved a recent encounter with “a little old lady” who he berated for “walking up the down side” of the aisle. In his telling, she responded to him with a vociferous and wholly unprintable profanity.

Was this a true story? It’s a little hard to tell with Riley, who reports that he has conscientiously worked to cultivate a personality that combines Groucho Marx with James Rockford (the titular character on The Rockford Files). Not everyone appreciates his “droll sense of humor,” especially because he likes his jokes like he likes his wrasslers: “The dirtier the better.”

“I can cuss and holler and nobody thinks it’s abnormal,” he said, finally summing up the ballpark’s appeal. “That’s a real fan right there.”

For Will MacNeil, regular attendance at Ports games is emblematic of a larger aspect of his existence: “I just love sports. I probably see a sporting event 300 days a year, if not more. I don’t slow down. I never slow down.”

MacNeil is a regular at Oakland A’s games, where he is known as Right Field Will. Other teams he supports include, but are not limited to, the San Francisco 49ers, Golden State Warriors and the San Jose Barracuda (AHL affiliate of the San Jose Sharks). He also attends the majority of Ports games at Banner Island Ballpark, sometimes serving as PA announcer, while also traveling to see the team in Modesto, San Jose, Fresno and Visalia.

It all started 18 years ago, when he was “randomly bored one day.”

“I saw that [the Ports were playing] in San Jose. July 16, 2006. Why do I remember that? I don’t know. It was one of the hottest days of the year in California,” he said. "I remember my first game at Banner Island Ballpark was August 10 of ’06, I believe against Bakersfield who are now sadly defunct. I’ve had a great time coming out here over the years and the ballpark is absolutely beautiful for a Single-A facility. You can’t get much better than this.”

Watching the Ports has given MacNeil the opportunity to watch players who might go on to make an impact with the A’s. Regarding players from his early days of fandom who made an impression on him, he cites Dallas Braden, Landon Powell, Cliff Pennington and Tommy Everidge.

“He didn’t have the greatest big league success, but Tommy Everidge is one of my favorite players of all-time,” he said. “We still talk all the time. Now he’s a coach in the Nationals organization, a hitting instructor. He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met in the game. … There are guys you just build a connection with and it’s great to keep in touch with them whether they make it or not. Doesn’t matter. It’s still a great time.”

Though he says it “wasn’t my proudest moment,” MacNeil also has a memorable claim to fame: In 2013, he was ejected from a game. It was, specifically, a weekday “Education Day” game that had gone into extra innings. The kids in attendance had long since left, the ballpark was quiet, and Will was tossed after directing an insult at the umpire regarding his height. He then hid behind a merchandise kiosk on the concourse, where he witnessed Wade Kirkland’s walk-off home run in the 17th inning.

“Our manager at the time, Webster Garrison, he was so proud of me,” said MacNeil. “Gave me the biggest hug, ‘That’s my boy! I can’t believe you got tossed.’”

Moments like that are what keeps MacNeil coming back, again and again and again.

“My family questions my sanity a little but I absolutely love going to games,” he said. “You see something new every day and I love the sport itself. It’s awesome.”

As always, thank you for reading. Get in touch anytime. My upcoming road trip itineraries can be found HERE.

Designated Eater spot still wanted. Get in touch about that, or anything at all, at any time.

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.