The Stockton Arena is visible from the grandstand of Banner Island Ballpark during an August Ports game against the San Jose Giants. Both facilities were built in 2005. (Photos by Steve Martarano)

Stockton’s Growing Minor League Scene Aids in Waterfront Revitalization

Back Photo gallery Dec 12, 2018 By Steve Martarano

When the Sacramento Kings swapped their development league affiliate from Reno to Stockton earlier this year, it meant Stockton claimed its third minor league team, adding a key tenant to the city’s revitalizing downtown waterfront.

Stockton is now home to a representative of the NBA, Major League Baseball with the Ports and the National Hockey League with the Heat, ensuring that the downtown area will be bustling with activity all year. Through the first seven home games this season, which began Nov. 2, the Stockton Kings have averaged around 1,800 attendees per game.

Fans cheer the Stockton Ports at Banner Island Ballpark.

There’s nothing like a warm summer evening at the old ballpark.

“We’re excited with the possibilities now that the Kings are here,” says Micah Runner, the City of Stockton’s economic development director, noting that the team’s presence helps realize the  potential of the city’s downtown ballpark and arena complex.

“It helps us financially, but then there’s the other benefit of bringing people to downtown Stockton, where they can have dinner, see a game,” Runner says. “That third team provides a nice mix of different types of sports and rounds out the ultimate sports trifecta.”

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All of the teams play within the city’s downtown waterfront entertainment area, which includes the Stockton Arena, baseball’s Banner Island Ballpark and the University Plaza Waterfront Hotel. Those facilities, as well as the nearby Oak Park Ice Rink and Bob Hope Theater, are all within close proximity of each other and have been managed by SMG Stockton since 2011.

The City of Stockton still owns the naming rights of the Ports’ stadium and until rights are sold the official name is still Stockton Ballpark. Banner Island is the historic site of the park, where the poem “Casey at the Bat” by journalist Ernest Thayer was reportedly based.

Fans wait for the Stockton Kings’ opener to begin at Stockton Arena on Nov. 2.

“Stockton is such a huge sports town, rich in history,” says SMG Stockton General Manager Kendra Clark. “The three teams are powerhouses. They bring a lot of enjoyment and a lot of pride to the community. “

Stockton isn’t stopping at three teams. In November, the Major Arena Soccer League 2 announced the city was awarded an expansion team for the 2019 season. The fourth pro team, named Stockton Rush, will play its first game at the Stockton Arena on Jan. 18.

The Stockton Arena will host about 150 events next year, including 34 hockey games, 25 basketball games and six soccer games, according to Clark. The ballpark will host another 70 Ports games. The arena, ballpark and Bob Hope Theater also hosts concerts, as well as youth and collegiate baseball and soccer tournaments, among other events.

Kings forward Wenyen Gabriel drives to the basket during the first half of the team’s opening game against the Oklahoma City Blue at the Stockton Arena. The Kings opener in Stockton officially drew 5,000 fans to the Stockton Arena.

The Kings opener in Stockton officially drew 5,000 fans to the Stockton Arena.

The $68 million Stockton Arena is configured to seat between 8,600 and 12,000 fans and features 24 luxury suites, 344 club seats, a four-sided Daktronics video display and scoreboard, and 5,000 square feet of conference room space. The arena has enjoyed professional hockey since it opened, with the Stockton Thunder taking residence until the Heat and the Triple-A American Hockey League moved to Stockton in 2015.

The Stockton Kings and the Heat — who both play at the arena — are at the top rung of the minor league ladder, which enables fans to see players regularly alternate between Stockton and the parent club. A recent example involved Sacramento Kings’ rookie Harry Giles, who was summoned to Stockton for a game in November, where he scored 30 points, before heading back to Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center the next day for an NBA game.

The downtown Stockton Marina at sunset in November.

Stockton rookie Matthew Phillips scores when a pass from Anthony Peluso deflects off him and into the net during the first period of the Heat’s 3-1 win over the Tucson Roadrunners at the Stockton Arena.

The Ports, the Class A affiliate of the Oakland A’s, are steeped in history, with roots going back to the mid-1800s when they played at the current Banner Island location — then known as Mudville — and were reportedly the inspiration for Ernest Thayer’s classic “Casey at the Bat” poem. As a result, the Ports were renamed the Mudville Nine for the 2000 and 2001 seasons.

The Ports formerly occupied Billy Hebert Field, which is still used by youth leagues, before the Stockton landscape changed in 2005 when the Banner Island Ballpark and Stockton Arena went up concurrently as part of the waterfront redevelopment project.

Anthony, Jr., and his mom Ashlynn Brown of Livermore take in the Heat game at the Stockton Arena in November.

Stockton Heat mascot Frankie the Firebird at Stockton Arena.

The ballpark, built by the City of Stockton and designed by HKS for almost $24 million, holds 5,200 fans. It features plenty of wide walkways, concourse views of the neighboring San Joaquin River Delta channel and marina, and boasts impressive concession choices, including an open cantina that provides clear views of the field.

Meanwhile, the Kings and the presence of the NBA have been heartily welcomed to town, SMG’s Clark says. “The Kings have been amazing,” Clark notes. “They said they don’t want to be just a tenant, they want to be part of Stockton community, and they’ve lived up to that.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that these facilities are within close proximity to one another, but may not be within walking distance.