Swapping baseball caps for yarmulkes in Marin

When the San Rafael Pacifics host their first Jewish Heritage Day this weekend, the popular baseball song may go something like this: “Take me out to the ballgame, take me out with the crowd, buy me some latkes and mohel dogs …”  

The Pacifics, an independent, minor-league team, will throw the game’s first pitch at 1 p.m. Sunday, July 31. And what is a “mohel dog,” you ask? It’s a kosher hot dog cut in half, of course.

Along with the humor organizers are serving up on Jewish Heritage Day, pastrami sandwiches and latkes also will be available for sale, and the first 200 fans will receive a free souvenir yarmulke.

Players sign balls for the fans at the National Hot Dog Day game on July 23. photo/facebook

Mike Shapiro, the Pacifics’ owner, general manager and president, is Jewish, and earlier this year he had the idea to hold the 6-year-old team’s first-ever Jewish heritage game.

“My wife [Jane], who inherited my mother’s latke recipe, had just made a great batch of latkes and a light bulb went off in my head,” Shapiro said. “I said we need to serve latkes at the ballpark, so that’s why we created a Jewish Heritage Day here.”

Those games are old hat for the San Francisco Giants, who are hosting their 12th annual Jewish heritage game this year (Aug. 30 vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks), and the Oakland A’s, who are hosting their sixth (Aug. 9 against the Baltimore Orioles).

In San Rafael, Jane is the director of concessions, and the day’s delicacies will come from Jane’s First Base Café. The potato pancakes will be marketed as Bubbie Jane’s latkes.

Other Jewish aspects to the game include the first 200 people through the gates receiving free yarmulkes sponsored by the Osher Marin JCC. Marney Margules, the wife of Cantor David Margules at Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael, will be singing the national anthem, and Matt Elkins, head of the Rodef Sholom softball team, will be throwing out the first pitch.

“What is especially nice,” Elkins said, “is that this game is probably one of the few events in Marin where you’re going to have members of a variety of congregations all in one place at the same time.”

Elkins is no stranger to 1,200-seat Albert Park, the quaint 76-year-old ballpark in which the Pacifics play; he used to be an announcer for a team that played there before the Pacifics.

While no players on the Pacifics are Jewish, Shapiro said three out of five people in the ownership group are Jewish, as is assistant general manager (and announcer) Vinnie Longo. Moreover, running the team is something of a family affair for the Shapiros: Sons Harry and Jackson have at times collected tickets, sold popcorn, poured drinks and worked in the clubhouse.

Mike Shapiro

The Pacifics have quintessential minor-league promotions, such as cow-milking competitions and pie-eating contests. They are also socially active, hosting Prostate Cancer Awareness Night, for example, where the giveaway item was (wait for it) a foam finger.

The Pacifics play in a four-team league called the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs that also includes the Vallejo Admirals, Sonoma Stompers and Pittsburg Diamonds. Shapiro said the Pacifics average about 500 fans per game.

The players get paid, so they are professionals, but the unaffiliated league is a mix of undrafted players and those who perhaps played for a while in the minor leagues but were released by the Major League Baseball teams that held their rights. Still, Shapiro said the level of play is “very high,” though the focus of it all is to give fans and families a fun experience.

To that end, the team this year has been celebrating the diversity of its community, with Irish, Italian, Canadian and now Jewish heritage games.

“We are a local, low-cost family entertainment option, and it’s a lot of fun to come out to the games,” Shapiro said. “We have kids’ games on the field between innings, my wife cooks great food — we have this great atmosphere that we want to share. That’s one of the reasons we have been doing these heritage nights, to attract the diverse elements of our community and celebrate not only baseball but the wonderful place where we all live.”

Dalia Jude

Dalia Jude was a J. intern in summer 2015.