A dispute involving adult baseball leagues in Santa Ana is providing yet another backdrop for the ongoing political battle between Mayor Miguel Pulido and the current City Council majority, with Pulido going so far this time as to advise the leaders of two leagues to sue the city over the use of baseball diamonds, according to the owner of one league.
The Pacific Baseball League and the Golden Baseball League have for many years been playing adult baseball on the weekends at six baseball diamonds in the city. But in recent years a third league, OC Regional Baseball League, has been lobbying city officials for similar access.
According to parks Director Gerardo Mouet, after OC Regional met certain standards, such as Santa Ana residents constituting 75 percent of the players, city officials decided to hold a lottery to grant two fields each to each league. All the league are for-profit entities.
OC Regional won the lottery and picked first, taking the two fields that Pacific League owner Jesus Nieto said are the best in the city. Nieto insisted that OC Regional has no right to the fields, because it does not meet the 75-percent minimum for resident players.
Roany Rivera, one of OC Regional League’s presidents, said that Nieto is wrong. The city approved the league’s roster of players, which is at least 75 percent Santa Ana residents, he said.
In years past, Pulido and former city managers Dave Ream and Paul Walters would have had control over all levers of the city bureaucracy and dealt with this dispute as they saw fit. But over the past year, the so-called “Santa Ana Spring” council members, led by David Benavides, Michele Martinez and Sal Tinajero, have in large measure changed that dynamic.
It is under this new reality that Pulido, according to Nieto, recommended the older leagues sue the city.
Tinajero has accused Pulido of turning an issue of fairness and public interest into a campaign fundraising drive. Tinajero said Pulido has sided with the older leagues so the mayor can tap them for campaign contributions, calling it “pseudo corruption.”
“If [Pulido] wants to use these guys as political capital even though it’s the wrong thing to do, by all means go ahead,” Tinajero said. “Miguel can bring it on.”
Pulido did not return a message seeking comment for this article.
Meanwhile, Nieto and city activist Alex Vega, a longtime Pulido supporter who has sided with the older leagues, say that Tinajero overstepped his council authority by unilaterally directing city staff to redistribute the fields.
“That’s not what an official of his [Tinajero’s] caliber should be doing,” Nieto said.
Nieto also accused Henry Buenrostro, one of the partners in OC Regional Baseball, of a conflict of interest because Buenrostro is also a high school baseball coach with Santa Ana Unified School District, which shares control of the fields with the city.
School district officials said there is no conflict, because the school district does not control the fields on the weekends when the adult leagues play. “We don’t assign the fields,” said Art Jimenez, director of constituency services.
Mouet said that Tinajero was involved in a council subcommittee meeting during which the baseball fields issue arose. Tinajero “facilitated” the discussion because of his history as a baseball coach but didn’t unilaterally direct staff to redistribute the fields, Mouet said.
“From my perspective, its good to give people choice,” Mouet said. “I’m fairly confident that we’re approaching this in away that best serves the Santa Ana public.”
Nieto said he’s not sure yet whether he’s going to take the mayor’s advice to sue the city. He said he would first need to consult a lawyer.
Tinajero said that the possibility of bringing in a third league began when he started receiving complains that the fields weren’t being maintained properly over the weekends. He said that he will seek the support of his council colleagues on the issue.
“I will stand up for this, because I think it’s the right thing,” Tinajero said.
If the council opts to overturn the field redistribution, he said he will accept that decision. “That’s democracy,” Tinajero said.