One Year Out

Today is Opening Day for Major League Baseball. Finally! I’m finding it very hard to be excited about this season and I’m not sure why. Maybe its life; our lives in general that have me down. Maybe its the way the owners treated the players and the drama they caused before they started Summer Camp. Maybe it’s the mere fact that we are even playing baseball during the pandemic. We need some normalcy in our lives so I’m grateful for the game, but at the same time, the exhibition games I’ve watched are rather eerie, or maybe, just maybe, it’s the fact that sports once again is a reflection of our lives and society. While baseball is about to start, the Tokyo Summer Olympics which were set to start yesterday are now scheduled to start a year from today.

Olympic Softball was set to return yesterday. After a 12 year hiatus, USA Softball would once again be on the world stage and show its dominance in game 1 of the tournament, but it could not happen because of the pandemic. I was lucky enough to see that last team play in 2008. The team was STACKED with Jennie Finch, Cat Osterman, Monica Abbot, Caitlin Lowe, Laura Berg, Crystal Bustos, Vicky Galindo, Andrea Duran, Natasha Watley, and others who led the team to a Silver Medal in Beijing. This past Spring Team USA lead by Monica Abbott and Cat Osterman, and featured Sacramento area natives Ally Carda (Elk Grove) and Ali Aguilar (Orangevale) were set to make a stop at Sutter Health Park before COVID shut us all down.  The 2020….umm…2021 team features some amazing players as well such as former Cal star Val Arioto, Florida’s Aubree Munroe, Alabama’s Haylie McCleney, and Oklahoma’s Keilani Ricketts.  It’s a bit sad to think of what could have been, but that stage will be there again, one year out.

Don’t Fence Me In (Part 1)

There is not a day that goes by on social media where I do not see someone making a comment about wanting to change something about their life. This is not to say that their lives are miserable, but simply that they would like to change something about it, their weight, their looks, and often their jobs. Yet it seems as though most people do not actually do something about their situation. It can be scary to leave the things you are accustomed to, but what if the thing you love and have been doing your whole life isn’t where your passion lies? Do you remain static, or do you throw caution to the wind and follow your heart? This is a story of one man who followed his heart. A story of a man who reached the pinnacle of his profession by the time he was 24 but knew there was something else waiting for him. 

Adrian Cardenas, the son of Cuban immigrants grew up in a home that can be described as a house of love, and a house of learning. Adrian was an only child, whose parents exposed him to the things that they loved such as reading, watching movies, and music. This developed a love for the arts in Adrian who started to play piano at the age of three. Like other children Adrian wanted to be around his friends and sports was a way to do that, so when he was five his parents signed him up for baseball on a team coached by his uncle. It would not take long for Adrian’s natural skill set to start to separate him from the crowd, which in part he credits to his ability to play the piano, and with that his love for the game began to grow, all with the support and encouragement of his parents. By 13, Adrian would find himself on the U.S. Junior National Team which took him to Cuba for the first time in 2001. It would also be the first time that his father returned home to his native land after escaping thirty-one years before.

Baseball would be good to Adrian. He would be drafted in the first round of the Major League Draft by the Phillies, along with high school teammate Chris Marrero who was the first pick of the Washington Nationals that year. His amateur and professional career would make him teammates with such superstars as Clayton Kershaw, and Anthony Rizzo, and in 2009, as a member of the Sacramento River Cats, Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics, he would be reunited with Gio Gonzalez with whom he played baseball with in high school at Monsignor Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens, Florida.  During his days in Sacramento, Adrian decided to begin taking classes at New York University to study creative writing and philosophy, while in his free time he found himself honing his photography skills on the banks of the Sacramento River and in Old Sacramento. Adrian played 236 games in Sacramento, by far the most of any team during his professional career and still carries fond memories of his time here. Whether it be the Doskow sandwich, named after River Cats announcer Johnny Doskow, or the cold night in which he was a homerun shy of the cycle, and in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded he laced a ball that everyone thought was going to be a walk off grand slam for the cycle, “I remember hitting it, and I thought it was gone by forty feet over the fence, so I drop the bat and swag over to first base and sure enough the right fielder just goes and barely reaches over and catches it” Adrian recalled.  The Athletics took him off of the 40-man roster after the 2011 season, which allowed the Chicago Cubs to claim him off waivers and finally gave him his shot in the Major Leagues. Adrian found himself going between Chicago and Triple-A Iowa, getting his first Major League hit off of Jose Veras and breaking up A.J. Burnett’s no hitter in the 8th inning, but he was blocked by Gold Glove winning second baseman Darwin Barney that year. Adrian ended the 2012 season as Major League baseball player, but when 2013 rolled around, he quit. He was 25 years old, and in the prime of his career, but baseball became a business, and his heart longed to express itself in other ways. Adrian Cardenas still loved baseball, but his passion for knowledge consumed him.

Having been away from the game for eight years now Adrian can look back and realize that he appreciates the game much more now,

“I feel like I’m so much more in love with the game now than before, and I think that’s just the product of being away from it. I was a bit ahistorical about the game, and to my detriment I would say, when you don’t have an understanding of the game and its history, it can be hard to appreciate it on any given day especially because you’re just constantly playing. Once I was no longer playing, I got a greater sense of what it meant to be a baseball player”.

Looking back, Adrian sees that baseball, through his own experience is not as popular as it once was. The younger generations continue to gravitate toward other sports, and in essence, baseball appears to no longer be American’s Pastime. One solution in Adrian’s eyes would be to give fans more access to players in ways such as mic’ing them up.

“I think that it would definitely be something that would get people to tune in a bit more. The game is a beautiful game and I think there is a big misconception regarding the fast-paced nature of baseball. Most people think its slow, and boring and nothing happens but if people really understood what went on between the forty seconds it takes for a pitcher to release the ball and then throw the next pitch, there is so much going on there. There are so many permutations that are being calculated…and if there is a way to understand that a bit better, I feel like there would be a greater appreciation of the game regarding the masses”.

The waning interest in baseball led Major League Baseball to decide to contract the Minor Leagues by 42 teams in 2020, yet once Covid-19 shut down all of Minor League Baseball, that left many more teams wondering how they will stay afloat until the revenue they need to maintain their ball clubs returns.

Having put baseball behind him, Adrian embarked on following his new career path as a filmmaker and enrolled at New York University.  His student films Rocinante (https://vimeo.com/220024689), and Tabaquero (https://vimeo.com/157092382) can both be found on Vimeo. In discussing these films, Adrian says,

“Those were assignments for class, an OCS is what we called it, an observational character study. The assignment was to find a person that interests you, and then follow them for a while and craft a story around it. The rule was that you couldn’t use talking heads. So you couldn’t interview. The goal was essentially to learn how to how to be able to recognize, I wouldn’t say drama but sort of where there’s tensions, what’s engaging, what is not engaging, in a way that if you have someone just giving an interview is, you know, a lot, a lot harder to do or a lot easier to create. This makes you, the filmmaker be a bit more proactive”.

Upon graduating Summa Cum Laude from NYU, and then completing his M.F.A from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Adrian found himself with a lot more time on his hands.

“Once I finished grad school, I realized for like the first six, seven months, it was this bizarre experience where, I had nothing to do. I dictated what to do, no one was telling me what to do, and for my entire life, since I can remember that was never the case. You know, I had baseball, piano all throughout my childhood, plus High School. Then I was playing baseball professionally, and that was extremely rigorous. Then I was balancing baseball and school. Then I went and did my masters. And now I have all this free time. And for me, I’m a big believer in the constraints, and I think they’re necessary. And luckily I feel like I’m a pretty disciplined person. So I had to create a routine for myself but the way it works now is I carve out four or five hours, maybe a day to work on the primary things that I’m doing. So like, in this case, now, it’s editing the short film and working on my feature. And then the other, like, two or three hours is spent sort of just, learning or reading or just doing something intellectually to sort of feed into my work”.

Adrian now has four short films under his belt which include Rocinante, The Artisan, The Fisherwoman, and Canoe Poems which was a selection for the 2018 Miami Film Festival. Adrian’s desire to learn more about his heritage led him back to Cuba in hopes of being able to film there.

“Because my parents are Cuban I’m able to go there a lot easier than someone who is not….that was a big misconception unfortunately…anyone if you’re an American through and through, could have gone to Cuba legally. I also have a lot of family there, so I go to meet my family and when I started going to school I wanted to go back more and more just to sort of see for myself some of the stories, some of the places that my dad and mom spoke of. I wanted to see where they grew up and where they lived, and then eventually I wanted to explore other parts of the country that seemed interesting to me or friends that were Cuban.

It was through a friend that Adrian discovered the town of Gibara, which is a small fishing community about 12 hours east of Havana. Of Gibara he says, “I fell in love with that place and spent a lot of time there and decided I wanted to write a story that took place there”. It would be a story that would take Adrian much longer than anticipated to complete. Adrian’s desire to cast the locals for the roles meant that he spent a lot of time scouting locations and trying his best to find genuine stories that would tell the tale of Cuba after the Revolution, but without it being the at the forefront. “The oppression is real. I just had a strong inclination to tell stories that didn’t avoid the politics….and focus more on the everyday conflicts of certain people. I think that’s sort of my subtle way of wanting to get people to lean in and be curious about Cuba”.  Filming in Cuba presented its own difficulties as all films need to be approved by the Instito Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematograficos (ICAIC).

“Filming there was a bit trickier because when you film there, censorship for example is a thing. So when I first tried to film in Cuba I was just like this no one for them. I’m just an American, and I’m not Cuban to the government. I had to contact so many people and I was just basically getting either no response or the runaround. This was my second year in grad school, and your second year of grad school revolves around one big project. That project for me was going to be in Cuba. I had a certain slot in which I had to shoot that film [to] get everything done and approved to shoot that film there”.

During this time, Cuba was still on the list of state sponsors of terrorism but have since been removed by President Barack Obama in 2015. This caused further troubles for Adrian as NYU made it more difficult for him to go there and he was unable to get his visa on time forcing him to wait a year to film in Cuba. It turned out that was not the only reason that Adrian was unable to film in Cuba that year.

“Part of the reason why, I learned, they weren’t paying me much mind was at that time a year prior, a film that the ICAIC approved ended up getting censored once it came out. And so they were sort of like in this we’re not letting anyone show up here for a while. Priority number one was figuring out who the hell approved this film. So coupled with the fact that I didn’t have any contacts there it was just an impossibility”.

During his stay at NYU, Adrian became close friends with someone whose father is a well-respected director in Cuba who was able to put Adrian in contact with the ICAIC. It was from that point that Adrian was able to submit his script for approval and obtain the proper permits and authorizations to film The Artisan in Cuba.

Although having had a set back the previous year in regard to filming in Cuba it was during that time that Adrian was able to film his Miami Film Festival selection.

Canoe Poems was the result of the film that I wasn’t able to shoot in Cuba. I had to make something up quickly, very quickly, and shoot it. The story centers around this guy who is in an open relationship with his girlfriend, or at least is trying that out, and as the relationship spirals to an end in one long sleepless night, he continues to romanticize daydreams of a better time between him and her, and sort of like his deceased father who shows up in these dreams….I wouldn’t say its experimental because it’s not but it was in film school and what that means for me is there was just learning and trying, just like the minor leagues all over again, learning how to perfect your skill”.

Upon Canoe Poems selection to the film festival and the experience he gained from it Adrian said,

“They put [Canoe Poems] on the big screen and it’s nice, it’s a nice event to sort of see it played in front of a big audience and have them react to it in ways that you may or may not have intended but it’s nice to have those discussions which, for me, that’s what filmmaking is like; an opportunity to discover things about me, my family, sort of how I like to view the world and what I make of it. It’s a grueling process, but it’s a rewarding one. It’s definitely one that I can see why ultimately, it took me away from baseball. Oftentimes people say, or asked me, did you not like baseball? No, I love baseball. I just like this more or I felt a stronger urge to begin this journey of mine. I understood that I just won’t become a filmmaker overnight. I need to put in the time just like I did with baseball, and I wanted to do that sooner rather than later”.

Adrian is just getting started with his film career and grateful for his film’s inclusion into the film festival but realizes he hasn’t reached “the Majors” in filmmaking. That dream will be realized when he makes his first feature film. Adrian has just wrapped up work on another short film, a fictional story that stars his parents, grandmother, and best friend. Incorporating archival footage shot by his dad.

“I shot it, it was just me and my girlfriend who was the cinematographer and we spent 27 days, which is ridiculous, like more than a lot of features take to fill. But yeah, it was two people and it was at my parents’ house and you know, within consecutive days I had to work around their schedule. Also, they’re not actors. So one scene probably took, could have taken up to two days, ridiculous, but it was just this passion project of mine that I wanted to craft the story around them”.

Adrian has also started work on his first feature film which is set in a fictional town based loosely on Gibara, Cuba. Already with a draft of the film done, Adrian plans to apply to writing labs to polish off his work before he submits it to production companies, and finds the financial backing for the film in hopes to begin filming in 2022, “that would be my cup of coffee”.

Adrian is also working on his father’s escape story from Cuba. Although originally intended to be a film, before he understood what it took to make a film, the period piece, which he considers to be a big story would be better as a novel so that he could explore and develop it with much more meaning. In the back of his mind, Adrian dreams that once published his book could be adapted into a film, and considers that similar to being selected for the All Star team, as he feels there would be nuggets with which he can expound upon and run with.

There is no end to Adrian’s talents. I was fortunate enough to watch him play baseball for the Sacramento River Cats on many occasions and he was a fan favorite for what he was doing on the field. I can now say that I’ve watched his work as a filmmaker, and highly recommend both Rocinante and The Artisan. Adrian is a storyteller. He once told a story with a bat and ball and has grown into a storyteller who tells his stories with his heart and mind. Although one might think that baseball and the arts are on two separate planes, they are woven together by passion. It can be a blinding passion and Adrian once said that “the American Dream forgot to tell you to step back and enjoy the smell of burnt wood”, well he is definitely doing that now.

“I love my parents. My parents have been such great role models. I’ve been able to travel with my dad and dad a lot, but my dad sort of has the bug to travel. I’ve been able to like, sift through all these videos and digitize them. I’ve been able to craft the story centered around them and record them. That for me is everything really like that’s what it’s about for me. I don’t think I’d be able to do any of that stuff if I were playing baseball. It’s not that its impossible. just for me personally, who I was, I was so focused and so competitive and chasing this relatively meaningless goal; relative to the things that I just mentioned. that I felt I forgot to step back and enjoy the smell of burnt wood. You know, many players were able to do that. Many players were able to do that and have this other life or felt fulfilled just playing baseball. For me, there’s just so much more. I don’t know if it’s this sort of nature, I’m an only child. I’m an introvert at heart, I’m constantly struggling with existential thoughts. And that was sort of like a way to feel, acknowledge, my presence in this in this world and really relate to it, and react towards it and engage with it, and then ultimately discovered things. I feel like that was sort of the goal. and that’s what I’m doing now. I just need to make a little money”.

This story started out about baseball, but as I dug deeper into Adrian’s life, it became a story about a second-generation immigrant looking to discover himself through that which he is most passionate about. I was moved by Adrian’s family story, and I was intrigued by how familiar it felt. His families’ story in many ways is mine, and then I realized that this story is the story of us, the story of the United States of America.

This story contributed to by K.Bria

EPISODE VI: Return of the “Good eye”

Baseball is back, and the excitement is lacking. Its July 1, 2020, more than three months from when Opening Day was set to begin yet here we are and “Summer Camp” Spring Training 2.0 will be underway in a few short days. After a long back and forth between the MLBPA and the Owners the season will finally begin in about three weeks. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, fans will not be attending games any time soon, unless you take up the A’s and the Giants on their offer to buy a cardboard cutout they will put in a seat to represent you.

Summer Camp will begin with each team being allowed up to 60 players in the players pool for the 2020 season. Many teams are adding some of their top young prospects who may be years away from being Major League ready so that they can gain some experience by being around the veterans. This also means that teams are leaving so many more players out of work this year and sitting on their couch waiting for their phone to ring next season.

There will be new rules put in place for 2020 such as each team will be allowed to have 30 players, plus three more on the taxi squad for away games. This not only allows them to replace an injured player, but also in the event that any players test positive for Covid-19. The shit just got real. The remaining players will be sent to an alternative training location while they are at home working out and playing intrasquad games.  This is how the young Minor League players will continue to develop as the 2020 Minor League Baseball season was officially cancelled yesterday.

Losing Minor League Baseball is a tough pill to swallow. Although fans and team owners have been expecting this for quite some time, now that its here, it still hurts. The Minors is where you go for the cheap seats, and where nobody knows your name. For the players, the front office staff, the grounds crew, and even the guy in the mascot suit go in hopes of working their way up the ladder to “The Show”. Major League Baseball had already been planning on contracting 42 teams in the lower levels of the Minors, but the greater challenge belongs to the teams that had fully expected to play this year, to have fans in their seats, and to pay their bills. Now all of that is in the air. Sponsorship contracts will need to be reworked, people will lose their jobs, and for some teams, this may be an unexpected end if they can’t afford to keep the lights on. Yes Virginia, there will be baseball this year, and it doesn’t matter who wins the World Series because everyone loses in 2020.

Mexican League: A Father’s Day Story

Baseball and Father’s Day are as American as apple pie. Yes, baseball is meant to be enjoyed on Father’s Day unless of course your Papa was an avid soccer fan. I was born with the love of baseball in my blood, thanks Mom; but I never got to play organized baseball until I was 14. Not even t-ball!! I almost played Little League one year when I was eight. I remember well going to the meeting after school to grab our medical release forms that needed to be signed. I was so excited to play but when I got home, Papa took the wind out of my sails. I was crushed and my get up and go had gone out and went. I must have been about eight when all of this happened because it was that Summer in which I began to play futbol. I spent the next five years miserably playing the game of soccer, or maybe better yet, I played soccer miserably. Those years gave me a ton of memories, good times, and friends with whom I still keep in contact with nearly 40 years later. My passion for baseball only grew stronger over those five years, and I even started to collect baseball cards during this time, a hobby that continues to this day, but I digress.

I played soccer for five years and it wasn’t until toward the end of that fifth year that my father finally came to see me play. We lost that game, and I remember him leaving early. My best friend’s Dad came over sometime shortly after that to have a few beers with Papa, and as they talked life, a miracle of God happened. Mr. B. had gotten mi Papa to agree to let me play baseball!! Papa would never go to one of my soccer or baseball games ever again. Maybe it was not so much a miracle of God as it was that Papa suddenly realized that his “baby boy” didn’t have a future in soccer like his brother, my Tio Gabriel, who played collegiately and semi-professionally into his 40’s. 

Over the years Papa saw my love of baseball continue to grow and began to open up about his own memories about baseball. Papa told me that during the 60’s and 70’s he and a friend of his used to go to many San Francisco Giants, and Oakland A’s games. Mi Papa loved the fire that Marichal played with and was also a big fan of the Swingin’ A’s and Sal Bando. My biggest surprise was that mi Papa didn’t even remember the name of his all-time favorite player as all he ever called him was “El Penguino”. He loved the hustle of Penguino’s style of play but found his run endearing. It would be years before I learned that “El Penguino” was the one and only “Penguin”, Ron Cey of the Dodgers. Through the years Papa would continue to surprise me. I never saw him watch or listen to a game on the radio but every once in a while, he would talk to me about the standings, or someone’s hot bat, or someone’s dominant pitching performance. There were times that Papa would know more about what was going on in the season than I would.

I never spent a Father’s Day at a ballgame with Papa; as a matter of fact I’ve never watched a ballgame with Papa. The only “in the moment” memory I have with him about baseball was during the 1989 World Series and the Loma Prieta earthquake. Mi Papa and I were standing next to an irrigation canal just after 5pm on that fateful day, and while I was waiting for the work day to be over so that I could go watch the game, Papa said, “There’s an earthquake, look at the water”. We lived 90 miles from San Francisco so the waves weren’t violent, but there was enough of a disturbance in the water that it was clearly noticeable. Although Papa never attended any of my games, there was something he did for me that he never did for my older brothers.

The greatest gift that Papa ever gave me was the freedom and encouragement to chase my dreams. I was allowed to put in as much time and effort needed to become a better player. That may seem trivial to some, but it really made a difference in the father I am today in my own right. Yes, I still had chores to do down on the farm, but I wasn’t assigned extra duties which allowed me to work more on my game during my free time. I would spend my afternoons with a sawed-off broom handle hitting small rocks or playing wallball using a tennis ball off of the barn and taking hops off of the gravel driveway. In games I could hit, but I didn’t have any power, and I was a slow runner. My fielding was superb, and my feet and hands were quick. The fact that I practiced making plays on gravel taught me how to have good range without having to dive after balls, but my arm was weak. I played third, but I was a second baseman like my favorite player Steve Sax; as luck would have it the best player in our high school also played second. My baseball career ended headed into my freshman year of college when I tried to walk on at American River College. Unfortunately, during that summer, I tore the infraspinatus in my right shoulder; my throwing arm. My own poor discipline ended my career right there and then as I failed to rehab properly which left a reminder that I can still feel to this day. Not all was lost, I just wasn’t meant to play baseball as a way of life.

I’m 45 years old, Papa died 14 years ago, eight months after Mom, I have two daughters of my own and I went to my FIRST baseball game on Father’s Day last year. Unfortunately, my daughters were not there with me as I went as a journalist and not a Dad. I vowed to make 2020 different. When the Sacramento River Cats released their 2020 schedule, I decided then and there that I would go to my first Father’s Day game with my family and have my fiancée’s father. Herman is a baseball loving Canadian who grew up in Southern California and spent many a summer playing with the Ventura All Stars baseball team that included some guy who starred in Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, and For the Love of the Game. Yes, it was going to be a hot summer day and the sun would beat down unmercifully on us; everyone would be miserable and bored except for me and Herman. Dinger Dogs in one hand, and a cold drink in the other, we would watch the River Cats take on the Wichita Wind Surge. Yes, this Father’s Day would finally be special. Well, I can dream, can’t I? Maybe next year.

And There Goes Rickey!

I first met Rickey Henderson the winter of 1989 at a baseball card show held at the Holiday Inn off J st in Sacramento. It was cold and raining when my mom dropped me off. Admission was $5 and there was a $10 fee to meet Rickey and get his autograph. I’m grateful that my parents foot the bill, but it also cut into my baseball card allowance. I waited in line for what seemed like an eternity to meet Rickey and although I was fifty feet away from him at most, I couldn’t see him because of the crowd. When I finally got to the front of the line I handed Rickey a card to sign and shyly asked, “Mr. Henderson can I get a picture with you?” Without looking up he simply replied “yes.” I handed my camera to the gentleman behind me and sat in the folding chair next to Rickey. A quick snap and it was done. I was excited to meet Rickey and to that point getting a picture with him was the highlight of my life. This was long before digital cameras so once I got my photo back from being developed I was greatly disappointed. I had a weird look on my face, my mouth was open as though I was saying something, and Rickey was still signing my card. Oh bother!

I would run into Rickey again 30 years later during the summer of 2019 while covering the Bay Bridge Series between the A’s and Giants. That weekend included a reunion of the 1989 World Series Champion Oakland A’s. I was standing near the A’s dugout when Rickey appeared and walked right by me on his way to do a radio interview on the field. I
followed close behind and took a few quick photos. Once the radio interview was over Rickey came back to mingle with his old teammates and answer a few questions from the media. Sadly I wasn’t fortunate enough to get a question in, but behind his sunglasses we appeared to make eye contact. After 30 years I never expected Rickey to remember me but ever since that day….

Rickey Henderson is in the Hall of Fame and deservedly so. His career spanned four decades and he is considered to be the greatest lead off hitter of all time. Rickey is also the all time stolen base leader with 1,406 which far easily eclipsed Lou Brock’s previous mark of 938. I don’t follow crime rates but it’s easy to see that Rickey was a master base stealer.

We live in a fairly quiet neighborhood, we have two cats and a dog, and are pretty happy; but when crime hits home it hurts. Since that day in Oakland last summer, my things are going missing around the house and I think it’s Rickey. As a matter of fact, since I sat down to write this my pen disappeared. It was right next to me on the desk. The door is closed and I didn’t even hear Rickey come into my office! Why would Rickey want my pen?? Wait a minute…
here’s my pen, it rolled under my printer. Sorry about that. Okay, maybe I was wrong about the pen but there are other things missing that I’m sure Rickey must have taken.

I don’t think Rickey takes my stuff maliciously but more so to irritate me. I get why someone would steal a car, but why my car keys? My wallet is regularly stolen but conveniently returned and hidden in the back pocket of yesterday’s pants. The funny thing is that Rickey never takes anything of any value.

I wear reading glasses now and it really upsets me when I can’t find them. There isn’t a day that Rickey doesn’t swipe a pair of glasses from me, he is 60 years old now, but it gets worse. The other day I went for some leftover pizza in the fridge, and when I opened the door, it was gone! Obviously “someone” stole this in the middle of the night. I guess if he is so hungry he must be in a pickle.

Living in the capital of the Golden State, along with the recent protests, civil unrest, and looting over the murder of George Floyd, I hear politians talk about getting “tough on crime.” When it comes to Rickey and his habitual stealing, I, like the catchers during his career, would like to lock him up and throw away the key. Better yet, hang them on the key rack where they belong and I’ll never find them there.

Disclaimer: This post is all in good fun. In no way am I claiming that Rickey Henderson is
taking my things, I just have a wild imagination. Maybe one day I’ll write about my dream where Junipero Serra stole my goat.

Drat Day Rewind


Draft week is upon us and as the tension mounts let’s go back in time to an interview I had with former Yankees #1 pick Slade Heathcott. This article was originally published on Bridget Mulcahy’s “Cheap Little Swing” Blog:


Slade Heathcott was drafted in the first round of the 2009 draft by the New York Yankees and spent 10 years in professional baseball with the Yankees, White Sox, Giants, and A’s. He retired on January 15, 2019. Below is a transcript of this interview:

DE: When were you first considered a prospect and start having scouts get in contact with you about the possibility of being drafted?

SH: My junior summer after having lived in Dallas and playing for a travel team, teams started coming to see me that summer and throughout the rest of the year.

DE: You were as they say a “bonus baby.” How did that impact the life you knew, and how did it help shape who you are today?

SH: I was a mess right after being signed. I was bouncing in bars the first couple weeks after signing, staying out all night partying, and so many other opportunities all of which I am very thankful for because they were a part of the process to get where I am today. I think it definitely gave me a sense of entitlement that was quickly calmed due to all my injuries and surgeries.

DE: Who told you that you were first going up, and how did they do it?

SH: My manager Miley, I was holding my son feeding him late after a game one night. I didn’t have phone on me, so they actually called one of my roommates and relayed that I needed to call.

DE: Can you tell me about your first day up, and what your favorite memory is of your time with the Yankees?

SH: It was surreal, it happened all so fast. I packed overnight and was in DC the next morning. My time with the Yankees was full of so many incredible moments; my first roll call, first home run on Memorial Day of all days, and the home run to put us ahead in Tampa Bay.

Slade Heathcott
Slade played for the Sacramento River Cats during the 2017 season. He appeared in 26 games and had a .290 AVG, .435 SLG, and .837 OPS.

DE: What was it about your Minor League experience that made you want to get involved with More Than Baseball?

SH: Jeremy and I had something in common, in that we wanted to make the lives of Minor League players better right now. Minor League players are in the top one percentile of their profession and get paid as a season intern title. Food and equipment are some of the biggest challenges when you are getting $7,500 a year before taxes and expenses. Other challenges are paying for an apartment at your affiliate, living on the road eating fast food because that is all players can afford, and the worst is guys having to retire because they do not have a bat to play with.

DE: Looking back at your experience, what advice would you give to this year’s and future draft picks, and would that advice change if they went in either the 1st
or 40th round?

SH: Go to college, get prepared for life and then come out ready to tackle the world and to tackle the game of baseball. Baseball allows for an amazing opportunity for players to build their own personal brands and use connections around the game to make things happen on the entrepreneurial front. Take full advantage of that and use your platform to impact as many lives as possible.

You can follow Slade Heathcott at @heathcott_slade. For other projects that Slade is involved with and that support the betterment of Minor League Baseball and its communities, please check out and follow:
MoreThanBaseball.org — @MTB_org

Thank you to Slade Heathcott for his time and cooperation. This interview was conducted by David Espinoza in May 2019. Published by Bridget Mulcahy on Cheap Little Swing.

River Cats Recap: May or Maybe Not 2019


April showers bring May flowers, but they didn’t bring baseball. Come to think of it, I really don’t remember any rain in April. May certainly had it’s wet days here in the Sacramento valley; that is until it got so hot to melt the butter on your biscuits come memorial day.

Writing a baseball blog is difficult when you don’t have any baseball to write about. There are plenty of stories to share but the excitement isn’t the same. The feeling to me is like being away from your family and friends when the only way to communicate with them is through pen and paper. Keeping in touch is nice, sharing stories of old brings a smile to your face, but none of that is like actually having them there with you creating new memories. When I sat down to write this week’s blog my intention was to recap the River Cats’ month of May 2019. I went through my notes picking out the vest highlights, and some of the low ones, that best captured the moments that made up May 2019. The month started with fans begging the Giants to bring up Mac Williamson’s powerful bat, but the Twitter storm began when Mike Gerber was selected instead. Days later Mac would force the Giants’ hand with a terrible three-homer game while Gerber struggled. There were also the Major League debuts of Shaun Anderson and Mike Yastrzemski.

Anderson’s debut was highly anticipated but prior to the first pitch the attention was on the Blue Jays lineup that featured baseball’s top prospect Valdimir Guerrero Jr. On the mound that day for the Jays would be veteran Edwin Jackson who with his very first pitch set the Major League record for the most teams played for, and amazing 17 over his career. None of that seemed to bother Anderson as he pitched like a veteran, and even collected a couple of hits.

Mike Yastrzmeski also blossomed in May and put the River Cats on his shoulders, yaz raised his batting average 115 points from May 1 to May 20 to .345 while batting over .400 during that span and earning his first promotion to the bigs. Mike continued his hot hitting in San Francisco leaving Triple-A behind.


Tyler Beede was the talk of the River Cats rotation, and if it weren’t for New Orleans’ Zac Gallen he would have been the talk of the entire Pacific Coast League. In Beede’s shadow emerged Sam Selman out of the bullpen with a 50% strikeout rate through May. Enderson Franco, after a horrific five weeks to start the season blossomed with two magnificent starts at the end of May. The River Cats, the fans, and even the Giants had just gotten a glimpse of the dominance Franco would have out of the bullpen for the playoff and championship run. The biggest story of the month came May 31, when Chris Shaw, the prodigal son returned to Sacramento after starting the year at Double-A Richmond. Chris went 0-4 that day while sporting a hideous mustache for “Mustache May”, sorry Chris, but with his return he brought a sign that things were about to change.


May 31, 2019 was a hot and muggy night in Sacramento and the Cats would be playing game 3 of a 5 game series against the Red Hot Las Vegas Aviators. Coming into the game the Cats had started the season 0-8 against Las Vegas. Enderson Franco got the ball that night and shut down the Aviators through three while striking out three and allowing only two hits to the powerful lineup. Sacramento would get things going to start off the bottom of the third with a solo homerun off the bat of Mike Gerber to put the River Cats up 1-0. Leading now, the Cats were about to take the field to start the fourth when it happened; the lights went out on Raley Field. During the delay I said to Chris Shaw, “Nice welcome back to town don’t you think?” To which he replied “I brought a power outage.” After a one hour and seven minute delay the game would continue. The gerber homerun was all the Cats would need to claim their first victory of the season over the Aviators, and set the tone for the rest of the year.


The River Cats ended May with a win and roll into June with a record of 28-28. This puts them in a tie for second place with the Fresno Grizzlies as they chase the Tacoma Rainiers who are on a four game win streak, and lead the Division by one and a half games. The Cats’ batting leaders were Mike Gerber and Mike Yastrzemski even as Yaz had settled with the Giants. Gerber’s .344 batting average ranks 7th in the Pacific Coast League, and his 11 home runs puts him one back of Yaz, but the most on the active roster. The inconsistent pitching that the team shows as relievers Steven Okert and Pat Venditte are tied for the team lead in wins with only three a piece; which is about half of what the rest of the league leaders have. Now that both Beede and Anderson are up with the Giants, Ty Blach leads the team with a 5.96 ERA and 1.68 WHIP, ouch! May also marked the end of an era as Mac Williamson elected free agency once he cleared waivers.


I didn’t think that this post would actually end up as a recap, but that’s the life of this baseball blogger who still longs for the day we hear “play ball” one more time. P.S. I wrote this blog at 3:30am after being inspired by Ricky Bobby overcome his demons and become “El Diablo”; It’s like spanish for a fighting chicken. Thank you sweet baby Jesus.

Mom

Mom died 14 years ago this past April. Born in what is now the heart of the Sacramento Delta wine country, Clarksbourg, CA on August 8, 1939. I don’t know what Clarksburg was like at the end of the Great Depression or as World War II rolled in, but the wine grapes were in their infancy as Bogie led the way during my childhood. Clarksburg was surrounded by sugar bees, tomatoes, corn, and alfalfa as well as the great pear orchards of Courtland  across the river.

Mom was the second of five children which included three sisters and their baby brother. I don’t remember stories from Mom’s childhood except that she loved to play volleyball and softball in what sounded like a church league at St. Joe’s and graduated from Clarksburg high school in 1957. A few years after Mom graduated Clarksburg High School would be renamed Delta High School. Mom’s childhood home was maybe 200 yards from my childhood home. I can barely remember it from my youth as it was torn down in the early 80’s to make room for a horse corral.

Mom’s life was difficult as she spent over thirty years with Dad and his textbook machismo, and later in life diagnosed with scleroderma. Mom had five boys and sadly buried one shortly after birth. I was the last, it was a difficult birth, and I arrived eight years after her last child. Mom hoped that I would be the daughter she had longed for, and was planning to name me Hope; as it turned out my name is David for my dad’s best friend.

Being the youngest, I don’t know exactly when Mom was diagnosed with scleroderma or how bad her condition was. That was just like Mom to keep things to herself so that she wouldn’t be a burden. Mostly Mom suffered in silence. This is what made Mom so special; though she dealt silently with her own pain she bent over backwards for her children, especially me. I was told that Mom almost died during my birth, but I was lucky enough to have her for 31 years: sadly I didn’t appreciate her as I should have. The scleroderma was hard on Mom and I still remember the last meal we had together at the Olive Garden. She didn’t suddenly die after that meal but swallowing food became more difficult as her condition worsened. As an aside, as we were pulling up to the Olive Garden, Mom noticed the Hooters across the street and suggested maybe we go there. Luckily she settled for Olive Garden. Can we say awkward??

Fourteen years is a long time and I’m saddened to have taken Mom for granted. I can barely remember her voice but I’ll never forget her laugh. Mom thought she was funnier than she actually was but that’s what made her laugh wonderful. It was a dorky laugh, if you will, and a little high pitched but soulful. My oldest daughter has her laugh and Mom would have loved that.

Mom always wanted a daughter and the “Hope” she had for me paid off on July 4, 1998. Mom was right there when her first grandchild was born; a girl. I always thought it fitting that her last son, who she hoped would be a daughter, finally gave her the little girl she dreamed of. I can still see Mom’s joy as she held her granddaughter for the first time.

My oldest memories of Mom are oddly the ones that drove me crazy about Mom. After a long day at work, and also being a mom, Mom would fall asleep on the couch, head tilted back, and begin to snore while we watched TV. As a child I would feel offended and wake her up to tell her she was snoring or ask why she wasn’t watching TV. She never got upset with me for doing this and would simply reply with, “I’m just resting my eyes”. It’s only now that I know parenting is hard, she was tired, and it was love, not boredom that kept her there instead of going to bed. Mom is getting the last laugh now as I often fall asleep and start snoring on the couch while watching TV with my daughters. They’re not as “nice” as I was to Mom; they poke, prod, and try to balance things on my head, or put things in my ear while taking embarrassing pictures. Damn smartphones, but Mom always did have a great sense of humor and she is finally getting me back.

My favorite memory with Mom took place in May 2004. I don’t remember the exact date but it was the Tuesday or Wednesday following Mother’s Day. I was working as the mascot for the Stockton Ports, Single-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers at the time. Living in Sacramento, Mom had never seen me perform so I treated her to a day at the ballpark. Upon arriving at old Billy Hebert Field in Stockton she was whisked away to her VIP box seats behind home plate but a little down towards third base, right in front of the Ports’ on deck circle. I checked in on her before the game to make sure she had her hot dog, nachos, and drink, and asked if she liked her seats. She was content but Hebert Field was an old ballpark with hard seats, no shade, and it was a hot day. After checking on Mom, I suited up in the walk-in fridge beneath the third base bleachers, and then started up the ATV that I would make my entrance on. The voice of the Stockton Ports introduced me at 6:50pm, fifteen minutes before game time. I shot out onto the field just past third base, raced around the outfield warning track, and sped up coming down the first base foul line and coming to a stop just in front of the Ports on deck circle, and Mom. I jumped up on the seat of my ATV and waved to Mom and the crowd. The PA system started to play my intro music, “Just Because” by Jane’s Addiction, and on cue I jumped off the ATV doing the splits in mid-air before landing on my feet and going into my dance routine. My performance ended with a cartwheel and then running the line giving the Ports players hgh-5’s. While they threw gatorade and bubblegum at me. Mom watched it all while laughing and smiling. Mom was proud. Her “baby boy” was dressed as a smelly wharf rat, but she was proud. I stood shoulder to shoulder with the team during the National Anthem, and Mom was proud that I was doing what I loved.

Mom is gone, my memories are fading, but it’s funny how my love grows stronger. So whether you bred them, bought them or stole them, whether they have two legs, four legs, or no legs, Happy Mother’s Day.

For Mary Lucy Espinoza (nee Davalos)

8/8/1939-4/12/2006

Darth Dinger

May the fourth be with you… and also with you. Wait, are we in a galaxy far, far away or at church? Nevermind that, Happy Star Wars day everyone!! Who else agrees with me that Episode IX, The Rise of Skywalker, was the best film of them all? Pew! Pew! I’m glad your shooting is as good as a stormtroopers, that was close. Really though, I love Episode IX.

One month of what would be 2020 baseball season is in the books, and virtual baseball games just don’t cut it for me. This week I decided to turn back time to what was April 2019 for the Sacramento River Cats.

Opening night 2019 would start the season with a wild extra inning game. It would be the first time in River Cats history that the home opener would go into extra innings, and ended with catcher Aramis Garcia sliding head first into home to just beat the tag and walk-off the game! Little did we know that this would be the making of an amazing season, especially as the Las Vegas Aviators would dominate the entire Pacific Coast League in April.

The first homerun of 2019 would come the next day off the bat of Stephen Vogt, and Carmichael native Zach Green, who came in to replace an injured Ryder Jones on opening night, would get off to a blazing start by hitting .500 with two home runs in the first four games. April would also start to put the name of some guy named Yas… Ya… Yaz… Uh… Yastrzemski in the minds of River Cats fans, and although many could say it, not a whole lot could spell it… for now.

Despite the hot offensive start in all of baseball, River Cats pitching was ice cold. Six of the first seven starting pitchers would fail to pitch more than four innings. Then there was Tyler Beede whose dominance was overshadowed by a bullpen that couldn’t hold a lead, and players who couldn’t field or throw a ball.

Halfway through the month of the River Cats were a dismal 6-7, and four of those losses were to the Aviators who were an amazing 10-2 at this point of the season. April would also mark the return of Mac Williamson to the River Cats lineup after being sent down early by the Giants to make room for Kevin Pillar. Williamson was a favorite of manager Bruce Bochy and barely made the Giants roster out of Spring Training. Although the writing was on the wall that the front office no longer wanted Williamson, Mac would go on a tear that would force the Giants’ hand to bring him back to the big leagues.

Saturday April 20, 2019 was one of the most memorable nights of the young season. The River Cats celebrates 20 years of baseball with throwback jerseys which featured the classic pinstripes they wore from 2000-2002. This was also the first locally televised game of 2019 and the fans in the stands and at home were treated with a total of eight home runs between the two teams which included six River Cats home runs between five different players. This would be the most homeruns the River Cats had hit in a game since June 17, 2009 when they hit eight! The best catch I’ve ever seen at Raley Field happened that night as Mike Yastrzemski climbed the wall in right centerfield on the run and extended his body halfway over the fence to rob Salt Lake’s Matt Thaise of his second home run of the night. It was a catch that should have been on sports center. The fans also got their first look at Sam Selman who worked two innings and struck out four. 2019 would become a dream season for Sam that would include a Triple-A all star game appearance and his Major League debut later that summer.

There were some promising moments in April, but there was also a lot of bad. How bad you might ask? On April 27, 2019 the River Cats FINALLY ended a 10-game streak in which they committed at least one error, which included a game with three errors, and a league leading 30 errors. The game on the 27th was only the fifth time that season in which the River Cats had not committed an error. To make matters worse, the River Cats were 4-1 in those games.
The River Cats ended April 2019 atop the Pacific Coast League Pacific Northern Division, two games ahead of the Fresno Grizzlies, with a record of 13-12. Tyler Beede was without a doubt the team’s best pitcher as he was 7th in the league in both ERA with 1.99, and WHIP with 1.06. Mac Williamson was the team’s hottest hitter and ranking 10th in the league with a .373 average, and leading the team in both home runs and RBI.

I hope you enjoyed our little trip down memory lane. It was a tough start to 2019 but in the end it was a dream season. On a side note I attended the May 4, 2019 game as both a journalist, and a fan. My Aunt Francis, and cousins Florence and John came out to enjoy the game with me as the River Cats took a no hitter into the fifth inning. It was an interesting insight to view a game from both perspectives in the same night. Look for my book in the fall to see how it all played out.

Pigskins + Cowhides: A Tale of Two Drafts

I don’t care much for football, I never really have. If you were to ask me who my favorite football team was though, I would quickly tell you it was the Denver Broncos. The reason for this is simple; my oldest brother attended Cal during the years John Elway played for Stanford and the rebellious five year old in me became a lifelong fan of the Cardinal. I would later find out that Elway spent a summer with the Oneonta Yankees so in a way my fandom still was rooted in baseball.

We are now in early May and there is still no sign of baseball, and out of desperation I decided to tune into the NFL’s “virtual draft” last week. There was Roger Goodell live from his basement, virtual boos and all, announcing the picks. I tuned in mainly to see who would go #1, and also to see who the Raiders, and 49ers would select. The lowly Cincinnati Bengals, who at 2-14 the previous season, had the first pick and selected LSU quarterback Joe Burrow. Burrow was considered a no brainer after the amazing season he had in 2019. Prior to the season, Burrow was considered a fringe player and Mel Kuiper had slotted him as a potential 6th round pick after a very pedestrian 2018 campaign.

Now a senior, at age 23, he became the fifth oldest player ever selected #1 overall. Burrow’s story is one that dreams are made of: but what about the nightmares? Although still going in the first round, and still a very respectable #5 overall, Alabama’s quarterback Tua Tagovailoa who was the long time favorite to go #1 slipped to the Miami Dolphins. Injuries over the past year gave teams something to worry about but the Dolphins gambled at #5 based on what he could do when he is healthy. To be clear he has been medically cleared to play football now. It will be interesting to see how both of these players’ careers unfold. Honestly I’m more intrigued with the #2 overall pick, Ohio State defensive end Chris Young. The commentators couldn’t say enough about Young and labeled him a “generational player” who can change the Redskins defense. It was also fun to see his teammate Jeff Okudah go #3 to the Detroit Lions. This pick made it the first time in history that the top 3 picks had all been teammates as Burrow played for Ohio State prior to transferring to LSU. I’m still not a football fan, but as a sociology major these stories fascinate me and the draft kept our mind off of the real world for a few hours, and although it didn’t cure the suffering, it allowed us to feel normal.

The Major League Draft is scheduled to start on June 10th, just a little over a month away. I don’t know if the world will be back to “normal” by then, but I hope that Major League baseball takes a page from the NFL Virtual Draft. I found it much more exciting and natural to see the player’s reactions when their names were called and the real emotions they shared with their families. Yes, you see that during the MLB draft, I vividly remember watching Tyler Beede, Kyle Tucker, and Brady Aiken celebrate their selections with friends and family but those moments are spoiled a little for me by those who attend in studio. An exception goes to the 2009 draft when Mike Trout was the only player to attend the in-studio draft in which was also the first year of MLB network. Honorable mention should go to Courtney Hawkins and his backflip in 2013.

The draft is the realization of one dream, and the beginning of another. One thing that this NFL draft has over the MLB draft is that due to the pandemic, the 2020 amateur baseball season has come to a grinding halt. Where as in college football Joe Burrow went from a potential 6th round pick tp #1 overall in his senior year is remarkable, but baseball players, especially college seniors didn’t get that opportunity. These”fringe” players may have had their careers come to an abrupt end, especially as Major League Baseball is considering reducing this year’s draft to only five rounds.

So what about Spencer Torkelson? Going back to before last years draft, the Arizona State outfielder was considered the hands down #1 overall pick for 2020. During the MLB season I even saw fans of losing teams hope that their teams would “tank for Torkelson”. Will Torkelson still go #1? Who could have stepped up in 2020 and changed their destiny? No matter who goes #1, I’m excited to hear Rob Manfred say… “with the first pick of the 2020 Major League draft. The Detroit Tigers select…”