There’s a mathematical perfection to a baseball diamond, the emblem of a beloved American pastime. Major League Baseball has published a lengthy definition, including lots of numbers. “The infield must be a square that is 90 feet on each side, and the outfield is the area between the two foul lines formed by extending two sides of said square,” according to the MLB. “Home plate is a 17-inch square of whitened rubber with two of the corners removed so that one edge is 17 inches long, two adjacent sides are 8 1/2 inches each and the remaining two sides are 12 inches each and set at an angle to make a point.”
The fields at the Salinas Sports Complex, however, are about a lot more than geometry. Since 2002, they’ve been hosting Salinas Storm, which began as a youth women’s only league in 1992, and expanded in 2009 to include adult men and women. The league now consists of 76 teams with a total of 841 players. (There are 576 people in the men’s slow pitch league, 216 in the co-ed league and 49 people in the fastpitch league.)
Besides the hundreds of players here throughout the spring, summer and fall seasons, there are hundreds of fans who pay the $2 entry fee, which goes to support the nonprofit Salinas Storm, to cheer players on and watch games.
Mark Lacuata, the adult league supervisor, oversees the dozens of teams and hundreds of players. “It is bringing the community together, because a lot of the people who come out here, both men and women, come out here every day to play,” he says. “We do not care whether we win or lose; this game is all about the respect and the fun we share.”
On a Tuesday night as a 6:30 game is about to begin, players warm up by playing catch while fans bundled in layers line the bleachers on the chilly night.
On the field, the batter grips his bat as he stands in the batter’s box. The pitcher underhands the first pitch, but the batter doesn’t swing. Instead, the high arching ball floats in the air and drops onto the plate, and the umpire calls the first strike of the game. From the Mendoza Landscaping dugout, players cheer for their teammate. Two pitches later, the batter swings and makes contact.
Mendoza Landscaping loses this final game of the season 20-5, but they walk off the field with their heads held high, and high-five the winning team.
Lacuata, 53, has seen this ritual playing out for the 35 years he’s been participating in softball. He’s mostly been a utility player, meaning he’s played every position in the outfield and infield; his favorite position is second base.
“Softball has been a significant part of my life,” he says. “I’ve gotten to travel, I’ve met many people,” he says. Looking across the field, he remarks on the diversity of the Salinas softball community, noting players who are white, black, Latino, Polynesian, Filipino: “All the cultures are here, but we play to play. It doesn’t matter.”
Lacuata has been doing this for long enough that some young players look up to him as a mentor. Eighteen-year-old Matthew Gooden, a student at Everett Alvarez High School, says he met Lacuata when he was 5, and he says softball has given him not just athletic opportunity, but a place to come out of his shell.
“Mark is like my second dad, he’s been there since the beginning,” Gooden says. “Softball and Mark have made me not as shy and more open as a person. Softball makes me more talkative.”
Melissa Castillo, 37, has been playing second base and outfield since she was 13, and she now coaches the 14U Salinas Storm travel team. She reflects on the game and also says it’s taught her lessons that apply off the field.
“Being on time to work and being accountable for completing tasks when asked,” she says. “Teamwork is stepping in when someone is absent and helping out with all aspects in everyday life, work, coaching or even being a parent, aunt or friend.”
As a teen, Castillo would help take care of her little brothers at the softball diamond – and also teach them how to hit, pitch and master the other fundamentals of the game.
Now, as a coach, she’s trying to help players see the relationship between putting in effort and getting results.
“If you give 110 percent out here, you never know what might happen,” Castillo says. “You can hit a pop fly, you can make the last out, you can make the winning run. Just by giving it 110 percent, it helps players increase their confidence and their demeanor.”
What takes place inside the regulated and well-tended geometry of a ballpark is a shared experience. Some might call that a community.