56-71

Minor League baseball is a bit of a weird animal. While one would expect a Major League team to be good or bad based on their previous season, Minor League teams never know what their rosters will be like from one day to the next. So, when the River Cats were introduced as “Your Tiple-A National Champions” before each game, it always was a little weird to me as only a handful of players from that 2019 Championship were still on this year’s team. That said, the River Cats ended their season last week with a record of 56-71, which includes their 4-6 record in this weird playoff thing that Minor League Baseball decided to do this year. It was a far cry from 2019, but so much in the world has changed since 2019, hasn’t it?


There were some good times and some bad, but worldwide pandemic aside, I should have taken my tweet from February 4th as a sign of what was to come. In response to the Minnesota Twins tweeting out the announcement that they had acquired Shaun Anderson from the San Francisco Giants for Lamonte Wade Jr, I replied, “You got the better deal I think”. While Wade would start the season with Triple-A Sacramento, he would become a valuable part to the Giants lineup this year, and even was named winner of the Willie Mac Award, awarded annually by the Giants to a player for their individual achievements, as well as competitive spirit, and leadership. Anderson found himself bouncing up and down with four different Major League clubs and a total of eight teams in eight months. While I was hoping for more of a season like Wade’s, my year ended up a lot more like Anderson’s.


I opened the 2021 Minor League Baseball season in Las Vegas. After writing about the River Cats 2019 championship season, I decided that it would be important to write about the first game post pandemic. Minor League Baseball had lost a season, teams were lost, but baseball endured. Game 1 of the 2021 season brought the return of Tyler Beede after undergoing Tommy John surgery the previous Spring, it showcased a piece of the future of the San Francisco Giants with Joey Bart hitting a homerun in his Triple-A debut. The Ballpark was electric, and although it was opening night and the first game since 2019, the game played second string to the return of Las Vegas native Drew Robinson, making his return to professional baseball a year after his attempted suicide which cost him his right eye. Drew had a rough night going 0-4 with four strikeouts in front of his hometown crowd, but the weird part for me was heading out to the Vegas Strip after the game and every channel had something to say about the River Cats and Drew Robinson. Robinson would have a memorable moment in front of his friends and family when in the final game of the series in Las Vegas, he hit a home run and the crowd erupted. Robinson didn’t find much success and saw his playing time dwindle until he ultimately retired during the year to take a new position with the Giants organization as a mental health advocate with their End the Stigma program.


Memorial Day marked a special night as local boy Sammy Long made his Triple-A debut and out of the blue we had a star. Tying a Major League record of striking out the first eight batters he faced, I couldn’t find a Minor League record, but I feel safe in saying this set the mark. Long, who had just a couple of years earlier been contemplating giving up his career now found himself on the fast track to the Majors and would spend the rest of the season going up and down with the Giants.


Sacramento was also the beginning of another Scott Kazmir comeback. After being out of organized baseball since 2017, although he did pitch for a Sugarland Skeeters developmental team Eastern Reyes del Tigre last season prior to Sugarland’s promotion into Triple-A baseball. Kazmir made his was way back to the Majors with the Giants as well as being a member of the Silver Medal winning USA Baseball Team at the Tokyo Olympics.


In 2019 the River Cats celebrated their 20th anniversary, and 2021 would mark 20 years since the last River Cats no-hitter, a 7-inning gem pitched by Micah Bowie. There had never been a 9-inning no hitter in River Cats history, but that changed in front of 4,458 reported fans on a warm summer night in September. Four pitchers combined their efforts to accomplish the feat, most notably with Norwith Gudino who started the game by striking out the first 7 of 9 hitters. He would end the night with a career high 9 in four innings. Tyler Cyr, Connor Menez, and Trevor Gott would round out the relief pitchers for the rest of the night who shut down the Salt Lake Bees offense.


2021 may not have been the season River Cats fans were hoping for, but the future looks bright with up and coming stars like Marco Luciano, Luis Matos, and Hunter Bishop. For now, let’s be grateful that we have baseball back in the City of Trees and let’s look back at some of the players that brought smiles to our faces as the River Cats released their annual player awards.


Press release from the Sacramento River Cats by Maverick Pallack
The Sacramento River Cats, the San Francisco Giants’ Triple-A affiliate, finished off an exciting season on Sunday with the reveal of their team awards. Seven different River Cats were named the winners of eight awards, which were voted on by their teammates and coaches.
Offensive Player of the Year and Team MVP: Infielder Jason Krizan
Infielder Jason Krizan was a constant presence in the River Cats lineup, finishing the season as the Triple-A West hit king with 136 in 2021. Krizan hit .316 while leading Sacramento with 67 runs, 26 doubles, 73 RBIs, 38 multi-hit games, and 18 multi-RBI games. He was also second on the team with 16 home runs, and even threw 1.1 scoreless innings on the mound.
Pitcher of the Year: Right-Hander Kervin Castro
In his first season above Single-A, 22-year-old Kervin Castro forced his way to San Francisco with a great Triple-A debut. After a quick adjustment period, Castro impressed going 6-1 with a 2.86 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, a .197 opposing batting average, and 60 strikeouts over 44.0 innings. He also had Triple-A West’s longest streak of consecutive games with a strikeout, punching out a batter in all 30 games before his promotion.
Defensive Player of the Year: Outfielder Bryce Johnson
It’s one thing to make a full-extension diving catch, it’s another to do it twice in the same game, but outfielder Bryce Johnson did it on back-to-back batters twice this season. The speedy outfielder consistently flashed the leather and made highlight plays for the River Cats. He also had a great season with the bat, hitting .286 with 65 runs, nine home runs, 44 RBIs, 48 walks, and a Triple-A West leading 30 stolen bases.
Most Exciting Player: Infielder Thairo Estrada
Prior to his promotion to San Francisco on June 29, infielder Thairo Estrada was arguably the best hitter in Minor League Baseball, leading Triple-A West with a .385 batting average and a 1.057 OPS. Estrada continued to impress with the Giants, hitting .273 with 19 runs, seven home runs, and 22 RBIs in 52 games. Estrada is the second straight infielder acquired from the Yankees organization to win the Most Exciting Player Award, with Abiatal Avelino taking it home in 2019.
Most Versatile Player: Infielder/Outfielder Will Toffey
Will Toffey has done everything the team has asked, playing left field, right field, first base, second base, and third base. He even caught some bullpens when the River Cats were in need. Despite the many different gloves worn this season, Toffey had a .988 fielding percentage. The midseason trade acquisition from the Mets hit .270 with 15 runs, two home runs, and nine RBIs in 31 games for Sacramento, his first year at Triple-A.
Most Improved Player: Infielder Peter Maris
Infielder Peter Maris excelled when on the field for Sacramento. During his end-of-season call-up in 2019, Maris was 2-for-35 (.057) in 12 regular season games. In 2021, despite sporadic playing time, Maris became a force at the plate, hitting .289 with 23 runs, nine home runs, 29 RBIs, and a .847 OPS.
Best Teammate: Catcher Ronnie Freeman
If you don’t like Ronnie Freeman, you don’t like people. Freeman is absolutely beloved by his teammates and has played a major role in the River Cats’ success each of the last two seasons. Over his final seven games, Freeman had four runs, three home runs (including the Sept. 30 game-winner), and five RBIs. This is Freeman’s second Best Teammate award, having shared it with catcher Francisco Peña in 2019. (End)


Now the only questions left for the 2021 season is whether Ronnie Freeman retires and if a certain person I know says “yes” to a date with him?? Come back in 2022 for the answer. Until then, Claws Up!

It Started with Some Smoke…

I think we all remember our first no hitter; mine was June 29, 1990. I was 15 years old sitting in my room going through baseball cards as I always did during games and watching the Oakland Athletics play the Toronto Blue Jays at the Skydome. Dave Stewart got the ball for Oakland, and I never expected that he would throw a no hitter that night, so the game was on more for the background noise. It wasn’t until the 8th inning or so that I noticed what was happening and stayed glued to the TV until that final out. I was focused in on the game to watch Tony Fernandez pop out to Dave Henderson who skipped over a few feet and caught the ball with his trademark smile to end the game. Baseball fans were blessed on that night as later that evening Fernando Valenzuela of the Dodgers threw a no hitter against the Cardinals becoming the first Mexican born player to accomplish the feat. Fernando-mania was long dead, but the memories remained and his greatness shined bright one more time.

I had been aware of other no-hitters. I recall Juan Nieves’ game in 1987, and Tom Browning’s perfect game in 1988, but I never actually watched a no-hitter until Stew’s. It would be 22 years later before I saw my first no hitter in person. I was at a summer college league game watching the Marysville Gold Sox. I don’t remember anyone who played that day except for Gold Sox pitcher Nick Hudson who threw the gem. In 2013 I also witnessed my kid throw a no hitter in a losing effort. Going into the final frame leading 1-0, The Kid gave up a couple of walks, followed by back-to-back errors by our shortstop and they lost in a walk off. I was still proud of The Kid, celebrated their performance, and kept the ball but man was that a tough one.

I started to cover the Sacramento River Cats in 2018, but long before that I had always been a fan going back to their inaugural season in 2000. I was still living in Boise on May 1, 2001, when Micah Bowie would throw the first no-hitter in River Cats history as he threw a 7-inning no hitter against the Tacoma Rainiers at Cheney Park in Tacoma. Since then, there have been two no-hitters thrown at Sutter Health Park, formerly known as Raley Field, but unfortunately none were thrown by the River Cats. In 2006, three Portland Beavers teamed up to no-hit the River Cats at Raley Field on June 9, 2006, in game two of a double header. Three years later, Sean O’Sullivan threw the first 9-inning no-hitter at Raley Field for the Salt Lake Bees. The closest game that I’ve ever seen come to a no-hitter for the River Cats was back in 2003 when Erik Hiljus took a no-no into the 9th. I don’t remember why the decision was made but after facing the first batter in the 9th, manager Bob Geren pulled Hiljus and brought in one of the A’s top prospects Joe Valentine who had recently been acquired in a deal with the White Sox. My heart sank. Valentine, in my mind, was not the reliable closer that he was hyped up to be, but here we were and there it went as Valentine gave up a hit to the first batter he faced. Its been 20 years since Bowie throw his no-hitter for the River Cats, but this past Friday night, September 4, 2021, that streak came to an end as four River Cats pitchers, Norwith Gudino, Conner Menez, Tyler Cyr, and Trevor Gott, combined to throw the first 9-inning no-hitter in River Cats history.

The game was special right from the start when I noticed that Norwith Gudino had struck out 7 of 9 through the first three innings, and he would end the night with a career high 9 in four. This had me so hyped up that I quickly picked up the only 5 baseball cards of his I could find. Menez, Cyr, and Gott would combine for an additional 6 strikeouts to give the River Cats 15 on the night. Gott would finish off the game by getting Bees second baseman Michael Stefanic to ground out 6-3, as Mauricio Dubon played it cleanly and tossed it to Jason Krizan to end the game. The River Cats will be on the road after this Labor Day series wraps up, and although I highly doubt there will be another no-hitter thrown before they get back to Sacramento in 10 days, can we try not to wait another 20 years?

Claws Up!

Nada, Nada, Nada, Not A Damn Thing!

I’m able to keep the fangirling to a minimum when I am at games. I even try not to show much emotion when my team makes a great play or comes back to win it in the bottom of the ninth, but just below the surface I still have my moments. In 2018-2019 I was fortunate enough to be a part of post game interviews with then San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy, and although I’m not a Giants fan I knew that I was speaking to one of the best Major League managers of all time. Growing up, I watched Barry Bonds live his best life on a baseball field, so the day I walked right by him within arm’s reach in the bowels of Oracle Park blocked off to the public, I stiffened up and strained the limits of my peripheral vision staring as he walked by talking on his phone. Now, if this is how I feel at the times when I am lucky enough to be around and have access to professional baseball players on almost a daily basis, I totally understand how fans can get a little too excited around their favorite players. Getting excited is one thing, so when a “fan” is just rude to players, or feels entitled to their time thats when I feel there is a problem

Players understand that they are entertainers, celebrities, or anything else that you want to call them, but at the end of the day they’re just another person doing their job. Fans need to recognize that they are still humans with real lives, families, emotions and concerns like everyone else. Fans also need to realize that the event that you came to see are these players jobs. They worked harder and are better at what they do than either you or I to get where they are, which is why we watch them from our seats. It is this dedication and their work ethic that separates them from the beer league heroes who feel they can do better and don’t mind telling you how much these players suck. Players have boundaries and it is absolutely okay and necessary to maintain them. Players don’t want to be stalked and swarmed by people outside of their hotels because that’s their time to be alone and have some privacy, and as fans I feel that is something that needs to be respected. It can be argued that its a public place, but for these players on the road, its the only homes they have for half the season. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with someone approaching another person walking down the street or something like that, but it irks me to see people post online about how rude players are for simply turning down an autograph request even if they are kindly told that the will gladly sign at the ballpark.

On June 19th the Sacramento River Cats posted a photo of Jaylin Davis and Justin Bour on their Instagram with the caption “MANNERS”. According to a fan who witnessed the incident, there was a kid incessantly shouting to Bour to throw him a ball. Bour stopped and turned to the kid and said, “Hey could you at least say please”? The kid said please, and Bour and Davis continued to warm up a little longer. Once they were done Davis threw the ball to the kid who quickly turned and ran with his prize. As he left Bour called out in vain, “A thank you would be nice”. A similar incident happened to Joey Bart. Bart got frustrated at a bunch of fans being rude while trying to get autographs. While Bart was singing he said, “How about a thank you or hey how are you doing”? He signed a few more items in silence as no one said a word, and then he left. Eric Sagara, a lifelong autograph hunter told me, “I’m glad Bour said something. The amount of people asking for autographs and not saying thank you was horrible or maybe I’m just old fashioned”. Is he old fashioned or are we as a society that have forgotten what manners are? Is it oppressive to be polite now? “Don’t tell me what to do”, “You can’t talk to my child that way”; Judith Martin would have an aneurysm out here. It isn’t just how rude someone is that is turning off players, but also the intentions of many of those “fans” who are asking for the autograph.

Players get turned off by autograph seekers who continue to come back for more, so if you think you’re not being noticed, fear no more because you are. Having collected baseball cards for over 30 years, and having done my own share of autograph hunting, I’ve sadly watched the hobby I love turn into a cutthroat business. I’m not naive to the fact that there has always been a market for sports memorabilia and I don’t know if its just the openness on social media that we see the ugliness of it all now but its like we just forgot how to act as we come out of 18 months of lock down because of the pandemic. I was told by one collector that Joey Bart asked if the fan was from Sacramento because he won’t sign for those who are from out of town. After signing the card he told them, “Don’t sell it”. The same fan told me that not too long after that incident Bart told him “no”, that same day he was also snubbed by Tyler Beede, and Mauricio Dubon asked him how much he was selling his autographs for online. For those fans who cannot attend the games many collect their autographs through the mail (TTM).

Fans who don’t have access to live baseball games will send cards, baseballs, jerseys, or whatever they want to autographed to players homes, or to ballparks in hopes that their favorite players will sign them. Some players return your items in a couple of weeks, while others may take a couple of years depending on the amount of mail they get, and sadly sometimes you never see your item again. Sutter Health Park in Sacramento is notorious among collectors for not having TTM requests returned. Although this practice is risky for various reasons, fans who I’ve spoken with at the ballpark have said that they never have gotten an item returned by a player. A quick look at http://www.sportscardforum.com, a website that tracks TTM autograph requests, also failed to confirm any players returning items sent to this ballpark. I reached out to the Sacramento River Cats and asked the protocol for fan mail. I was informed that all mail is delivered to their On Deck Shop (team store), separated, and then a team representative comes and picks it up and must sign for it daily. What happens after that is still a mystery but according to a former River Cats player the items sent to him were never distributed and that he had to ask if he got any mail before he got it.

In my own personal experience, I limited how many times I asked a player for his autograph. I probably never asked anyone for more than 2-3 in a season. My main focus was getting a team ball signed, but if there was a card I really liked then I’d also try to get that signed. I made it a habit to only ask for one autograph from any player on any given day. I’ve had pretty good luck with my approach and was able to get team balls from the 2001-2007 Sacramento River Cats. Having the ability to speak Spanish once got me Felix Hernandez while he was standing in the outfield, and learning a bit of Japanese helped me get the attention of former Japanese star So Taguchi. Maybe that was a little extreme on my part but it worked. I will say that most players, regardless of how famous they are, are willing and grateful to sign for fans. I know that some will mainly sign for kids, but at the end of the day they’re still signing. So next time you don’t get an autograph just remember that this is their job, and they’re taking a moment of their time to give back to their fans. Maybe you get passed over when someone next to you got an autograph, but it was probably because the player was trying to give as many people as they could along a long line of people shoving things in their face without so much as a please or thank you. Appreciate the experience, be polite, respect their time, and always remember that they owe you nada, nada, nada, not a damn thing.

Who the Fook is THAT Guy??

I had my mind set for 2021 on making this blog focused on Triple-A West, and Low-A West baseball, but I find myself still focusing on the River Cats. I’ll try to work on that, but for now here is another update on the River Cats 6-game series against Las Vegas where they went 2-4 so there wasn’t a whole lot to get excited about. Joey Bart did return to action after having been out for about a week due to some tenderness in his groin. The real highlight of the series was Sam Long. Who? You might ask. Well, most people outside of Sacramento probably don’t know him, and to be honest being from Sacramento myself, I had already forgotten about him, but he is definitely worth taking note of after his first start here for the River Cats.

A Fair Oaks native and an alumnus of Del Campo High School, and Sacramento State where he played for three years, Sam was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 16th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball Draft. After spending three years in the Rays system before being released, and then considering leaving baseball, before signing with the White Sox after a six-month break. The Giants signed him and invited him to Spring Training this season. He opened some eyes with his 97-mph fastball, and he was assigned to Double-A Richmond to start the season where he was 0-1 in four starts with a 3.00 ERA, and 22 strikeouts in 15 innings of work. Having just been called up days before, Long was making his Triple-A debut for his hometown team, in front of a hometown crowd; and he didn’t disappoint.

Long struck out the first eight batters he faced before allowing a hit to Aviator’s outfield Buddy Reed. He then struck out the next batter for good measure. He had a 60-pitch limit and was pulled after strikeout number nine and had reached pitch 56. I couldn’t find any information on the Minor League record for strikeouts to start a game, but the Major League record is eight, which is the mark that Long reached. The feat was first done in 1986 by Houston Astros’ pitcher Jim Deshaies and matched by Jacob deGrom in 2014. While we may or may not have witnessed history that night in Sacramento, it was still an outing to remember. It will be interesting to see how Long follows up this performance when he toes the rubber this Saturday June 5, 2021, against the first place Reno Aces. There’s something amiss about Long’s season so far in my opinion as the Giants don’t seem to be stretching him out as is shown by his 60-pitch limit. I just find it odd that he had those four starts in Richmond, yet only has 15 innings under his belt so its probably safe to assume that 60 has been the high point for him so far.

The rest of the series saw Tyler Beede with his worst outing of the season where he simply didn’t have his control. Beede pitched three, and allowed 6 runs, 5 earned, while walking six, including two hit batters and only striking out one. I don’t know if these are numbers that we should be concerned about or if it’s the natural progression of someone who is going through Tommy John rehab as I’ve never watched another player’s return so closely. I realize the numbers don’t always tell the whole story and I wasn’t at this game to see it firsthand, but his control seems to be getting a little worse lately. The series did end on a high note though as newly acquired Braden Bishop, older brother of Giants top prospect Hunter, ended the series finale in style.  The back-and-forth game which found the River Cats and Aces tied in the bottom of the 9th started and ended with Bishop. On a 1-1 count as the clock struck 10:00pm Braden launched his first homerun off of Ace’s reliever Matt Milburn for the walkoff! This was Sacramento’s first walk off since August of 2018 when Gregor Blanco did, and was then called up the next day.

The River Cats start a 12-game road trip against Reno and Tacoma before returning to Sacramento on June 17th. That will be the first game since Covid in which capacity will be at 100% and I’m excited to see a full crowd!

Home at Last – A River Cats Round Up

Its been over 600 days since Sutter Health Park in Sacramento hosted a professional baseball game that mattered, and back then it was still called Raley Field. The 2021 season started with two weeks on the road for the River Cats that took them from Las Vegas to Oklahoma City. Coming into their first series at home with six games against the Reno Aces who are first in the West Division with a 9-2 record while the River Cats find themselves with a 6-6 record with four of those wins coming against OKC. Fittingly tonight’s starter for the home opener is Tyler Beede. This is his fourth rehab start since his Tommy John surgery back in the Spring of 2020. Beede has been looking really good in his outings, and although he is still on a limited pitch count he has a 3.18 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, with 10 strikeouts and two walks in 5.2 innings.

The Aces come into this series with only two of the Arizona Diamondbacks Top 30 prospects on the roster with Seth Beer (13), and Jon Duplantier (22) who will pitch game two of this series. The Aces also bring in a couple of familiar faces as former River Cats Ryder Jones, and Henry Ramos are on the team and playing in this series.

The River Cats were able to get on the board early as Jason Vosler put them on the board in the bottom of the second with a solo shot to make it 1-0. Beede would then come out after going 2.2 innings throwing 53 pitches. He looked good through the first 45 when the Reno team started to make some contact. I could not tell you the speed because the radar gun was stuck at 82 on the board all night.

The game was a bit ho-hum and as nice as it was to be back at the ballpark, something was missing. The crowd wasn’t bad considering it was a Thursday and there are still some Covid restrictions that are being dealt with but I’m still missing the energy of the game; maybe its just me.

The River Cats got their first home win of the series in Game 3 of the series and they did it with Bryce Johnson’s speed who after stealing third, took home after an errant throw to win the game. Johnson is the guy I think you need to keep an eye on this year. I’ve watched him play a few times in previous seasons during his time in San Jose, and I found him to be a pretty good fielder, and fast. Nothing really stood out to me though, but he has me taking notice this year. A sixth-round pick in 2017 out of Sam Houston State, Johnson is hitting .358/.476/1.013 with two homeruns, 10 RBI, and 7 steals.

The highlight of series was Game 5 when the River Cats broke out 14 runs in beating the Aces by a final score of 14-9. 22 of the games 23 runs were all scored before the bottom of the fifth. It was a seesaw battle until Jason Vossler capped a five run third with a three-run shot, and Drew Robinson added a solo shot in a four run fourth.  

The final game of the series was a day game, and it was pretty hot. Tyler Beede was on the mound and took the loss. He only lasted two innings and threw 53 pitches, giving up one and striking out three. It was probably his worst outing so far, but I wouldn’t call it bad in any way. He was getting squeezed by the home plate umpire on plenty of pitches, and his fastball was sitting around 95-96 on the day. Tyler’s overall consistency has been great in my opinion, and will be a huge asset to the Giants once he returns to the rotation.

Not going to lie, I don’t remember much of the rest of the game except for the Aces pulling Henry Ramos in a double switch after he half assed a ball that allowed the River Cats to score two. The only reason I even remember this was that those around me were joking about how poorly Ramos would misplay the ball during his tenure with the River Cats, and here we are. Ramos’ misstep aside the River Cats still lost and are now 8-10 going into their next six game series with Las Vegas which starts tonight.

The River Cats will be playing six against Las Vegas with Jesus Luzardo taking the mound for the Aviators, and the Cats counter with Shun Yamguchi (0-2, 5.65). The Cats went 2-4 against Las Vegas to open the season, but they are both 8-10 coming into the series.

Jason Vossler was also called up after the last game, and by doing so was unable to enjoy a day off on Wednesday like the rest of the River Cats did since he had to be in Phoenix for a game against the Diamondbacks. Apparently, Jason didn’t seem to mind as he hit his first Major League homerun. I think he’d skip a day off for that any time; congrats Jason!

I have to say that I’m really disappointed with the new configuration of Triple-A West and its scheduling. Six-game series, and then a day off followed by another six-game series. I don’t think that this would necessarily be that bad, but there are only 10 teams in the League, and the River Cats only play eight of them. Sugarland and Albuquerque don’t play Sacramento this season.

On a side note, I’m thinking about doing a review on ballpark food. It will probably focus around the food in Sacramento and Stockton as that is where I intend to attend most of my games, but I hope to give you a little insight on what they have to offer. I need a cool hashtag though. Well, that’s all for this installment, see ya at the ballpark!

Viva Las Vegas!

The last time the Sacramento River Cats took the field was in September 2019 when they defeated the Columbus Clippers for the Triple-A National Championship. I wasn’t there for that game because I happen to be watching from the right field seats at Fenway Park, watching Mike Yastrzemski hit a historical homerun in the ball park that his grandfather played in, as well as being seated right next to the Giants bullpen. I watched the Championship game on my phone, while former 2019 River Cats, Shaun Anderson, Sam Selman, and Enderson Franco were in the bullpen. Probably the highlight of that season for me was being able to tell them that they were all National Champions.

This would be my first trip to Vegas since Covid, and I was excited to be back in Vegas. I got into town a day early; aside from just being a less expensive flight, it was also Cinco de Mayo so I was ready to partay!!! Caesar had other plans. While Vegas is 80% open, the crowds large, and social distancing more of a catch phrase out in public, the Vegas vibe was missing. Think of that TikTok trend from a little while back that said, “I’m alive, but I’m dead”, and that’s Vegas right now. It wasn’t all bad though as I finally took the time to try out the Taco Bell Cantina. If you don’t know about it, it’s a basic run of the mill Taco Bell with alcohol. I order my usual Crunchy Tacos and a Crunch Wrap Supreme, but I washed it down with a Tequila Twisted Freeze; it tasted just like a cherry Slurpee with tequila. I walked along the strip for a bit and then just spent the rest of the night in my room. Not very exciting but I overlooked the strip right across the street from Caesars so it was nice.

Opening Day was finally here! It had already reached 88 degrees by 10:00 am so it was going to be a hot one. Luckily, Summerlin, where Las Vegas Ballpark is located is usually a little cooler than out on the Strip. I started my day with a breakfast burrito, and was sadly disappointed. It was more Pico de Gallo than anything else so it was simply kind of gross, but the Mimosas more than made up for it. Later that day I grabbed my Uber and was off to the ballpark.

Las Vegas Ballpark is beautiful. If you ever get the chance to go I highly recommend it. For those local to the greater Sacramento area, think of Banner Island Ballpark in Stockon, but bigger and in Vegas. A 360 degree walk around park with a pool in centerfield, and the view from along the first base line and into the outfield is spectacular as you look on to a backdrop of the Red Rocks.

I had learned earlier that day that James Kaprielian was starting for Las Vegas, but still didn’t know who was throwing for the River Cats that night. When I got to the press room, and saw that Tyler Beede was set to make his first appearance since Tommy John surgery I was elated! I got to watch him pitch so many games up close in 2019, and I was at his final outing against the Rockies that year where he had a no hitter until he had to be taken out of the game due to an injury. If he’s anywhere near or better than he was in 2019, the Giants’ next ace is coming right around the corner.  

Although excited to be at Opening Night, it was still a little humdrum since the Giants Alternate Squad had been scrimmaging the A’s Alternate Squad this past month, and both teams are heavily filled with players from those teams; but at least these games mattered. The games batteries had a bit of River Cats past, present and future as Fransico Pena, the hero of the River Cats Championship run in 2019 was the starting catcher for the Aviators, while Beede would be throwing to Joey Bart who would be making his Triple-A tonight.

Tyler was limited to a 20-pitch limit and threw 17 before being relieved after two thirds of an inning. He managed to strike out two while walking one, so I would say that’s a good start. Aside from being Opening Night, there was an extra buzz in the air as Drew Robinson, local boy from Las Vegas, was making his first professional appearance since his attempted suicide last season which resulted in the loss of his right eye. The loudest cheers of the night though were for Robinson as the ballpark erupted like a rock concert. The clapping, cheering and standing ovations for every at bat were emotional. Sadly, Drew would go 0-4 with 4 K’s but it’s truly an amazing story that he was able to come back and play ball at this level. I even saw the highlights of his at bats on ESPN in the casino bar afterwards. I will leave Robinson’s story for others as its not my story to tell. Although it brings awareness to the necessity of mental health services and suicide prevention, I feel dirty exploiting his trauma. It took hard work and determination to get back, and it’s a moment for his family and friends to cherish and be proud of, but after this story I don’t expect to write on it again.

The Cats put a fairly good beat down on the Aviators tonight with a final score of 8-1 highlighted by Joey Bart’s first homerun, which was a two run, opposite field shot of about 350 feet. Thairo Estrada would follow that with a three-run shot in the eighth to cap off the River Cats production for the night. Overall, the team looked pretty good. Anthony Banda picked up the win working four and one third innings, while Kaprielian who really did look good took the loss. I feel like all those years of hope of Kaprielian’s potential might start to pay off.

While the River Cats looked good on Opening Night, they would end the six-game series with a record of 2-4. Tyler Beede would make a second appearance, pitching two innings, and striking out four. Bryce Johnson who is in his first season of Triple-A is the team’s hottest player hitting .565 with 2 homeruns early on in this season, not much of a power hitter in his previous seasons, he has definitely been an exciting player to watch when he was with San Jose. And James Kaprielian? Well he made his first Major League start on May 12th and beat the Red Sox for his first Major League win.

Only time will tell how these River Cats will fair this season, but they get their first look at another team who isn’t affiliated with the A’s starting tonight as they take on the Oklahoma City Dodgers. Claws Up!

ScapeGOAT 🐐

Take me out to the ballgame, take me out with the crowd, buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks, I don’t care…wait a minute, I do care if I’m ever coming back because I haven’t been to game since September of 2019!!! Here it is, April 7, 2021, and baseball is back, I’m back, there is kind of a crowd, but no peanuts or cracker jacks for me, and things are starting to look right in the world. I had originally planned on attending a scrimmage in Sacramento between the Alternate Site San Francisco Giants against the Alternate Site Oakland Athletics, but here I am in Oakland watching the A’s take on the reigning World Series Champions Los Angeles Dodgers.
Getting the opportunity to watch the Dodgers play is always exciting for me, but today is even more special because the man of the hour, Trevor Bauer will be making his second start for the Dodgers after signing his lucrative contract over the winter, and I tell ya boys, the hype is real. Think what you want about the man, but you can’t deny the talent he has, and last year’s Cy Young, Mickey Mouse or not, was deserved. I’m going out on a limb here and tell ya that he’s repeating in ’21. The was no doubt that Trevor was the attraction of the day especially as he was loosening up in right field where a large crowd gathered to take photos and wish him well.
Bauer went up against Jesus Luzardo for Oakland, and I was excited about an old familiar face starting behind the plate. Long time Giants prospect, and former Sacramento River Cats player Aramis Garcia got the start today and he did an amazing job as Luzardo started off the game a little wild forcing Aramis to work a little harder. He handled it well, and I hope he gets the opportunity to stay a while. Its one of those bittersweet things though with Aramis as another catcher and former River Cats player, a legend in his partial season that he played there, Francisco Pena is down with the Alternate Site team so it would be nice to see him back in the Majors as well. Sadly, Aramis didn’t do so well at the plate against Bauer as he would go down on strikes in two plate appearance before being lifted for Sean Murphy.
I was surprised to see how many Dodgers fans were in attendance, and they easily outnumbered those who were there to root on the hometown A’s. To top it off, throughout the game chants of “Lets Go Dodgers” rang throughout the Coliseum. It wasn’t until the bottom of the 10th that fans started to chant, “Beat LA” and I think that had more to do with just wanting to go home. It was a beautiful California day with temperatures in the low 80s, but with a 12:37pm start I think we were all a little tired of sitting in the sun.
I went to the game as a blogger but being a Dodgers fan for literally 40 years I couldn’t help but get a little excited and jump out of my seat when Zach McKinstry dropped a perfect squeeze that scored Max Muncy to allow the Dodgers to regain the lead. It was also another great outing by Bauer following his Dodgers debut as he pitched 6 2/3 innings, allowing 2 runs on 3 hits while striking out 10. It was pitch number 96 that was the beginning of the end when he gave up a solo shot to Matt Chapman. The Dodgers still lead 3-2 when Bauer was pulled and replaced by Kenley Jansen. The crowd around me was not happy, and I was a little nervous myself. It turns out the bad mojo was all Jansen needed to blow the save. Oakland would ultimately come back to win in 10 with a walk off hit from Mitch Moreland.
Bauer’s outing should have been the story of the game, but it was leaked that some of the baseballs used by Bauer, and presumably other pitchers whose names were not leaked were checked for foreign substances. Now Bauer has been the most vocal about the use of foreign substances on balls to increase spin rate over the past few years, and it was just this past off season that Major League Baseball stated that they would enforce cracking down on pitchers who used the “sticky” stuff. Its no coincidence though that Bauer’s name is the first person to get any attention over the matter. A process that was supposed to be done in secret, yet the leaks and rumors revolved around only one man and that’s a little fishy to me. I’ll call it what it is, and that’s a witch hunt. I honestly don’t know where to stand on the subject matter. Players say that they like that pitchers have such good control over the ball for their own safety, and its also no secret that those early Hall of Fame pitchers used foreign substances, so where do we draw the line to what’s cheating and what’s not? In regard to proving how the substance even got on the ball, former Mets pitcher Carlos Torres said on Instagram that “It’s a joke to every try to pretend you can figure it out”. Like with steroids, baseball has turned a blind eye to this for many years, so what is the sudden about face for now? My guess? A thorn in the side of Rob Manfred and the owners by the name of Trevor Bauer.

Quality Time with Jade Hewitt

Growing up my heroes were found on the front of baseball cards. I can still remember the day that I was introduced to baseball cards, and how my friend gave me a 1987 Topps card #520 Jack Clark. I can still picture it all clearly that morning on the bus to school. The wood framed border. The picture of Jack in the middle of what appears to be a rundown in a Spring Training game. I was fascinated by it all, and when he told me that I could have it, little did either of us know that 34 years later, I’d still be engrossed by the pictures on the front of baseball cards. I’ve made life long friends, and some of my happiest memories come from my baseball cards as baseball cards are a bridge.

Thirty-four years is a long time, as a matter of fact its longer than Jade Hewitt of Jade Hewitt Media and the Quality Time vlog, has been alive yet baseball cards, well actually softball cards from the Athletes Unlimited Professional Softball league is actually how we met. Last season the Topps company, which is celebrating its 70th season of producing baseball cards in 2021, made an On Demand set for Athletes Unlimited Softball, and Jade Hewitt was the photographer. I bought a number of those sets, and one day I noticed that Jade was a recurring buyer of some of the cards I was selling, so I reached out to her and here we are.

Jade played softball about 17 years including four years at Millsaps College in Jackson, MS where she lettered all four years. She was passionate about softball, but her love of videography and photography started in high school when she picked up her dad’s VHS camera.    

“I just thought it was fun to tell stories, and show my friends, and show our experiences. I was that geek that took a camera everywhere I went. I would go to a friend’s house, I’d have a camera, or I’d go to a friend’s party, I’d have a camera. I was always just really drawn to capturing life and telling stories”.

Jade would turn her interest into a small business in 2006, and she started to work professionally in 2008. As she entered college, Jade’s softball coach allowed her to merge her love for both the game and photography into an opportunity that would become her career by allowing her to use the team as the subject matter of her photoshoots and videos.

“Looking back on that stuff now, it was a great learning experience, and just really laid the foundation of working in softball where I was comfortable and using my skills with a camera in a spot where I felt strongly about the game, and it took off from there. So, I wouldn’t say sports was the goal from the get, but it obviously made the most sense for me”.

While working toward her MFA in Film Production from the University of New Orleans, Jade became an intern with the Dallas Charge of the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) League which she credits for developing the building blocks and set the foundation for where she is now.

“In the world of softball, our athletes are so giving and so generous and so open minded. That first summer as an intern, I if I pitched 20 ideas, the athletes were down for all 20, and I think having them always say yes and so willing to try new things, was so influential. It enabled me to fail a lot and to succeed a lot. Just their overall positivity and encouragement that whole summer catapulted me to keep going. Not to mention just the amount of fun that we had. It was myself, the players, our trainer, and our assistant General Manager traveling for three months, and I got to get close with the players and just be right on the ground with them”.

That season would mark many first for Jade such as her the first time her photos were printed, but her favorite memory was when Cat Osterman shared Jade’s photos on social media, “I just about cried of excitement” she recalls, “there were just so many firsts and that’s so special to me; I will never forget that first year”.

The experience would build relationships of trust with the players and introduce her to many across the league as the following year she became the Media Director for the Scrap Yard Dawgs (now Scrap Yard Fast Pitch).

Jade feels that having a background in softball has helped make her a better photographer for the sport because she is able to understand the hard work that the players are putting into their craft. While an average fan might say, Amanda Chidester is a great hitter, but by being able to see the work she puts in allows Jade to experience it from a different level of appreciation, and having played at the collegiate level, knows the sacrifices that these players have had to have made to continue their playing the game they love.

“To be frank, they’re my heroes. I admire them, I look up to them so much, because I know what it takes to be that good…just on a technical level of understanding each athlete and understanding their strengths. For pitchers knowing what pitches they throw, where hitters tend to hit them, where I can capture them best. Knowing certain players and where they move best on the field. There’s a lot of little things I think that they really benefit my photography”.

This understanding helped lead Jade to her most prestigious position in photography when she was selected to be the official photographer for USA Softball on their Stand Beside Her Tour presented by Major League Baseball. After softball was taken out of the Olympics after 2008, it was finally making its return as an Olympic sport in 2020. It was an exciting time for fast pitch softball fans around the world, and Jade was there to watch it firsthand, until Covid shut it down.

“Working for USA softball and being able to wear the red, white and blue was the ultimate for me. When we were on tour and people that you met, or people that you knew, would casually ask, “Where do you want to end up working in life?” I was like, “literally right now”. Working with USA Softball was a dream, and the fact that they were able to have that position for me with Digital Media for the tour just meant so much to me that they really valued media, and brought me on, I was so grateful to USA for that. I mean, if you’re a softball fan, it doesn’t really get better than that. Then obviously, it was put on hiatus, understandable given the state of the COVID pandemic and everyone’s safety, of course, but looking back I think, oh man, we were living the dream. But I can honestly say for those for those few months that we were on tour, I soaked up every single inch that you could soak up. When people say, “Don’t take things for granted” and “Live in the now”, I really tried to do that with the tour. It’s sad that it’s over but it was one of the greatest honors to show up to work and to be able to represent the United States of America. It was such a very, very special time”.

After the Stand Beside Her tour was cancelled, Jade returned home and to Scrap Yard Fast Pitch as an independent contractor for the 2020 season.

2020 will not only be remembered for Covid-19, but for the continued fight for justice against the excessive use of force and brutality by police departments across the country, most notably against those in the black communities. Several protests broke out across the country as the incidents arose but none more prominent than the deaths of Breonna Taylor on March 13, 2020, and George Floyd on May 25, 2020. These incidents continued to separate our country along political and racial divides. No industries were immune and that held true for professional softball. While more and more players along professional sports “took a knee” during the National Anthem to show support for the victims of police brutality and Black Lives Matter, including the Seattle Storm and New York Liberty on July 25th on the WNBA’s Opening Night, the owner of Scrap Yard Fast Pitch sent out a now deleted tweet that included a photo of the players standing for the anthem said,

“Hey @RealDonaldTrump Pro Fastpitch being played live @usssaspacecoast @USSAPride Everyone respecting the FLAG!”

The fallout was drastic as all 18 members of Scrap Yard, including some on the USA Women’s National Team, walked out and refused to play for Scrap Yard. Star player Haylie McCleney tweeted,

“We might be standing in this photo but we SURE AS HELL AREN’T STANDING FOR THIS. I’m embarrassed. I’m heartbroken. I’m DISGUSTED. @ScrapYardFP I will never be associated with your organization again. BLACK LIVES MATTER. The tone deafness on this is UNBELIEVABLE!!!!”

Jade remembers the feelings when it all happened and said,

“It was extraordinarily sad and heartbreaking. It was just a very, very sad moment for everybody. For staff and players included, putting together a pr Softball season is so much work, as any operation…especially in the middle of COVID. Then to finally have this thing that everyone was looking forward to so much, and then literally in an instant, it’s all gone. It was just, it was very sad”.

Jade describes the raw emotion in the locker after the team found out about the tweet, and how their resolve to make something positive is what drove these players to something better.

“It was so hard for everybody, including the players to watch them go through this moment. I’ll never forget being in the locker room, and Kiki Stokes being in there, obviously, as one of the leaders of our franchise….it was very, very sad. And a lot of tears were shed. But ultimately, what came out of it was something that was very positive and continues to be very positive”.

Through all the turmoil, something beautiful developed through the unity, love and respect that these players had for one another, and for those across the country who suffered, and with that This Is Us Softball was born, and Jade Hewitt was there for it.

“This Is Us Softball kind of formed that night. I hold these players in the highest regard, and then to be in the room and watch them build something that was completely and 100% their own was amazing. In the room immediately following everything for those couple of days were the players and myself. I was just there as a set of hands to do whatever they needed. But I watched this group of women build something and start something and work so hard to make this happen. The whole experience, quite frankly, was just life changing. Players are usually concerned about their practice, play, and training and this and that. Now, they have got to worry about how we are going to get rental cars? How are we going to get hotels? They went from putting their playing aside to being the ones who are running the team, and that’s extraordinary when you think about these huge players dealing with buying a website and getting thank you cards printed and figuring out all the logistics. So, I felt so lucky and honored to be in that room to help them build it in whatever way they wanted to. It was a lot of late nights; we did not sleep a lot during those few weeks. There was a lot of hard work, but also a lot of personal growth as well. The players were so open to share and talk about their feelings and talk about the world and talk about what was happening. It was a very open loving understanding space that we were in and it was very life changing when it happened”.

In the wake of it all, Jade produced a powerfully moving video that captures the essence of This Is Us which you can watch here, ‘This Is Us’ Softball announcement (yahoo.com).

“Within the four days following all of that, I worked with a couple of the girls to get a script written and that was really cool to see. You have a couple of girls who are really strong writers, you have another couple of girls who are really great with logistics, you have these other couple of girls who are really great at reaching out to contacts, etc. I just saw everybody go into superhero mode. I worked with a couple of the girls who were great writers, like Ally Carda and Aubrey Leach, and we wrote a script. We filmed it and had the girls who weren’t there send in video. We made that really quickly. I pulled an all-nighter that night to build the website to get everything published as fast as possible. it was just an absolute team effort to get everything done”.

Later that summer, and amidst the Covid pandemic and lockdown that we faced as a country, Jade was fortunate enough to be a part of the media team for a new professional sports league known as Athletes Unlimited (AU).  It was Jade’s reputation and work ethic that gave her the opportunity to be a part of AU. After being referred to AU by Cat Osterman, Jade met with AU to learn about the opportunity in front of her.

“I think what Athletes Unlimited doing is quite literally changing the world for women. AU hire’s such talented people, and the mission of the company is incredible. Athletes Unlimited has been phenomenal, and they’re relentless in their pursuit to better the world by progressing professional sports for women. That’s one of my biggest goals and the one of the things I strive for is, to just keep bettering softball and keep bettering women’s sports for everybody”.

There were plenty of players for softball fans of the past 20 years to cheer for as once again the sport built generational bridges. Names like Cat Osterman, Amanda Chidester, Sam Fischer, and Megan Wiggins, inspired the younger players like Trish Parks, Kamalani Dung, and Paige Halstead. A talented set of 56 women played for Athletes Unlimited last summer, but what for Jade there was one rookie that she thinks we’ll all be watching as her career progresses.

“As for the rookies that we had, I mean, Jordan Roberts; that 310-foot home run, you can’t you forget about that. That was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever witnessed on a softball field for sure. I think that ball is still somewhere up in the air with how hard she hit it. Jordan is just a great person and a fun person to be around, so I would say keep looking out for Jordan Roberts”.

Athletes Unlimited progressive vision is what led to the Topps Company producing softball cards for the first time in their 70-year history. There have been softball cards produced in the past, but none have had the marketing or production that Topps was able to provide. Over 4,200 sets were made for the inaugural season, and another 1,300 for the Championship series, and Jade took every one of those photos.

“We had plenty of staff meetings leading up to season and I remember them talking about Topps cards, but I never connected the two like “Oh, these are going to be on trading cards”. Then when the press release came out, and everyone started texting me, I was like, “Oh, wait, I get it now”. And then I freaked out. I collected baseball cards as a kid, and I was kind of right in the era of Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Griffey Jr. So, I loved baseball cards growing up. The Topps opportunity was a huge deal for me. I think I was more excited than everybody else combined! So that was an extraordinary opportunity, and I’m still very, very excited about it”.

Although Jade had little to do with the selection of photos that Topps used in their sets, she does still have some favorite memories from the pictures that were chosen.

“Sam Fischer’s card was really cool, that was the first home run in Athletes Unlimited history; Jasmine Jackson’s was the first Grand Slam and that was special that they chose that photo. Aubree Munro’s card makes me laugh because she’s so well known for being one of the greatest catchers to ever play our game, yet her picture is of her hitting, which is great. The Championship deck was super cool as well. It was special to me to know what these athletes sacrificed and what they put in to be professional softball players, and then finally, to get that recognition on Topps cards. I would open up Twitter and I would see young girls holding their Topps decks, and that just makes me want to cry. Seeing young girls who get to hold these decks and look at their heroes, but also say to themselves, “I want to be on this card one day” is just super amazing”.

Like the NBA, Athletes Unlimited maintained a bubble, or as they called it, “The Shield” to protect themselves against Covid. Jade gave a behind the scenes look at what it was like for her and the content team.
“There’s a bunch of us that are on the Content Team, and by the time we get home to the hotel every day, we’re pretty tired. Because of COVID, everyone’s trying to keep their distance and whatnot, but I will say, my favorite memory from the shield was that there was a basketball court at our hotel. The content team would go down to the court every couple days, and we would shoot hoops for hours, just blowing off steam and taking a break from work. So yeah, we played a lot of basketball and did a lot of trick shots. Even our one of our founders, Jon Patricof, played with us one night, which was pretty awesome”.

AU is an innovative approach to professional sports that puts the players first and telling you about it would be a story on its own, so please go to auprosports.com to learn more about their exciting vision for professional softball, volleyball, and lacrosse.

For Jade, the most special part of Athletes Unlimited is how heavily invested the players are who are; from the Player Executive Committee, to various other committees, players all had a voice in shaping AU.

“I feel like that’s really setting the league up for success to really give the players the chance to voice their thoughts and their opinions about what they like, and what they don’t like. It’s really special and a testament to Jon (Patricof) and Jonathan (Soros) and the staff on how valued these players are”.

Jade’s optimism about the league carriers over into their future professional sports projects with AU Volleyball scheduled to start on February 27, Lacrosse in July, and the second season of softball to begin in late August of 2021.

“I’m so excited and really anxious and nervous for volleyball…. softball is in my bones. I know it like I know the back of my own hand. But with volleyball, I know the basics, and that’s pretty much it. So, on one hand, I’m terrified, but on the other hand, when you shoot softball for so long, you kind of get into your habits and in a rhythm, and sometimes that kind of stifles creativity; with volleyball, I don’t have any of that. [Volleyball] is going to be a total overload of new experiences and creativity and thinking outside of the box that I don’t even know exists. I’m nervous because I want to do a great job. I’m very excited and I feel like it’s probably going to be similar to my first softball season, when I was an intern; just a whole season of new experiences”.

Jade takes pride in her work and it shows; and for those of you who have Instagram, make sure to follow her @jadehewittmedia to see her work. So what does it take for a photo to stand out among the rest for Jade?

“I like to take photos that tell a story, not just a photo for photo’s sake. I want to tell something that is going to convey emotion, something that is pleasing to look at, something that if it breaks the rules of photography, it’s because there’s a reason and there’s a purpose behind it. I love shooting black and white photos because it just strips away everything except the subject and their emotion. So, a good photo to me is something that kind of gives me a rush when I take it. Usually, the mark of a great photo for me, is when I snap it, I immediately go to the dugout to go look at it, because I’m like, “Is that as good as I think it is?” So, I would definitely say that’s probably the best marker, when I’m being super intentional about what I’m trying to capture and it gets me excited”.

Jade is not lying when she says that she wants her photos to tell a story as she explained a recent post of Aubree Munro throwing the ball down to second base and you can feel her own personal excitement in the photo.

“Aubree Munro’s throwdowns belong in the Louvre. I mean, they’re just the most beautiful things that you will ever see in your entire life. I will never forget the first time I saw it up close, I literally had to pick my jaw up off the floor. I was a collegiate catcher myself, and I can tell you right now that she’s on a completely different level than anybody else on this planet. I love photographing her throwdowns! Aubree has such big expressive eyes, so I love to be on the side of her, which is where I typically photograph her. When I photographed that image, it was between innings and you can see Randi Hennigan kind of walking off a little bit because it was a throwdown. But I just saw that the light was real even, so I stopped mid-walk to squat down and take the photo. Right when I snapped it, I was really excited about it. And then the cool thing was that Aubree was really excited. She texted me about it. She was “Dude this picture.” I’ve only been shooting now for about six or seven years of Pro Softball, but when you find a photo that you’ve never taken before, it’s pretty exciting”.

Jokingly I asked Jade if there was a favorite among the pictures she has taken or if they were all special in their own as if they were her children to which she replied,

“I feel like that should be my answer, but one of my all-time favorites is from 2018 at the WBSC World Championships in Chiba, Japan. I was there with Team USA, and it was the championship game. Monica Abbott and Aubree Munro were throwing their bullpen to warm up, and it’s a shot of the back of them just standing there in their red uniforms before a game with just a beautiful sky and the bright lights on them. It’s just the kind of perspective shot that you go, “This is the moment that I was in at that at that time”. It felt so big, and it felt so special. That’s how it felt to me when USA won gold and qualified for the Olympics. I feel like that’s the picture that will always mark that that memory for me, and I think it’s one of my favorite photographs of all time”.

While interviewing Jade for this post, I learned that she was much more than just a photographer for professional softball, and like her photos, her business name tells a story. Jade Hewitt Media, is simple, and straight forward, yet powerful and all-encompassing just like the work she produces. One of Jade’s newest projects is a vlog called, Quality Time where she visits players during the off season to give fans a sneak peek into their favorite player’s lives. Episode 1 aired in mid-January with Jade visiting Sam Fischer for a week (https://youtu.be/yzh8hhv2wZQ).

“The idea came up really after my first or second summer was Pro Softball. I would shoot during season and it was the greatest time of my life, and then everybody would go home. I was like, man, I miss the athletes. I want to know what they’re doing right now. I want to know how they live their lives. What do they do in the offseason? And so, every offseason, I would just be at my desk going, “I feel like there’s a lot more going on with the athletes”. For a long time, I’d always wanted to do something like this, and then I was planning on going out to Arizona to visit Sam Fisher for a week. I was like, you know, let me bring a camera along. Let me try vlogging and just authow it goes. I was really nervous about it but when I started editing and I was like maybe we have something and then kept editing and revising. Sam was really encouraging and the people who are in my inner circle who knew what I was doing were super encouraging. Now Athletes Unlimited is now behind it, which is an amazing opportunity, so it looks like it’s going to have a good life of its own”.

Since you’ve read this far, I hope that you take the time to watch Episode One of Quality Time, you’ll find that Sam takes Jade on her first trip to Costco, and tries to influence Jade that Costco is far superior to Sam’s Club. Unfortunately, the video doesn’t tell you Jade’s answer to the most burning question of the vlog, so for the first time, to the masses, in her own words we have an answer as to whether she thinks Costco, or Sam’s Club is the superior store.

“You know what, I thought Costco was amazing. Being during COVID they weren’t handing out samples, which was a bummer, but I think if I had to pledge my allegiance, I think I would agree”.

There you have it; Costco, I think she deserves a free year membership. Episode Two of Quality Time has just been released and it features the legendary Cat Osterman (https://youtu.be/K8FMZImeFM8). Due to the athletes’ tight schedule because of the Olympics coming up, and Jade’s commitment to UA Volleyball, there is no set time frame for more episodes to follow but ideally, she would like to have them out about once a month.

Jade certainly has her hands full, and I was grateful to have taken up so much of her time for this interview. So, what’s next for Jade? She has already accomplished so much, and is having the time of her life, what more does she hope to find out there?

“I find it very hard to believe that I would leave women’s sports for anything. I just love it so much. It’s in my soul. It’s in my bones. There’s nothing else that I so much firmly believe in as I do in these professional athletes and in women’s sports. I love being the photographer for Athletes Unlimited and hopefully, maybe in five years, Quality Time has really taken off, and we’re still doing it and evolving it and involving other people in it. So, you know, I’m on the Athletes Unlimited train, and I’m super excited to see where they go and hope to continue to be a part of it”.

I’m new to baseball writing, and photography. In the two years that I decided to dabble in this profession, I have been honored to learn from amazing photographers here in Sacramento like, Ralph Thompson, Steve Martarano, Kaylee Creevan, and Ricky Cazares. I get lucky with my shots, and I’m grateful for all the tips they have taught me, especially with the limited equipment that I use. The one thing I’ve learned though over the years is that although many of my heroes are still on the front of baseball cards, you never know who or when someone will touch your life, inspire your work, and become a hero to you, whether they’re on a baseball card or taking the picture that is on the card itself. Thank you Jade for inspiring me, thank you for being that hero behind the camera that I never expected to find.  

I Was Going to Release My Book Today…

I was going to release my book today, but I took the big L; Life. I originally planned to release the book in Spring 2020 to coincide with the start of the Minor League Baseball season, but I learned real soon that editing was more difficult than I ever imagined. Hiring a professional editor was not in the budget so I resigned to editing this book myself, and then Covid hit. One would think that being locked up would give me plenty of time to finish the book, and that plan started just fine, but then it kept spiraling and my mental health deteriorated. I’m finally in a better space mentally so I’m pushing forward and completing this book. I’ve put a lot of time energy and money into the project so I hope that the final product will reflect that. In the meantime, please enjoy the current introduction of “Let’s Get It All”!!

I’m passionate about baseball. It’s in my blood. As far back as I could remember, I wanted to play baseball. Before I ever owned my own bat, I used to saw off the handles of broomsticks and hit rocks in the fields behind our home. There were electrical wires running across a small canal, and if I could hit the rock over them, it was a homerun. This was before we talked about launch angles so let me tell you, it’s pretty hard to elevate a rock about the size of a shooter marble 40 feet in the air, when you’re about 100 feet away and using a broomstick. Yes, baseball is my passion, but I never dreamed of writing a book, yet here I am, with a concept born of frustration in the Summer of 2017.

I finally finished my degree from Sac State at the ripe old age of 41 in the Fall of 2016 and like any good recent grad, I was sending out as many resumes that I could. I was getting interviews here and there but not many bites, when suddenly, the calls just stopped. I continued applying, and attaching resumes, and updating my LinkedIn and other online job sites, but nothing. One day my 16-year-old daughter came to me asking to see my resume so that she could get an idea on how to do hers. When I pulled up my resume for her, I discovered that all the info had been deleted except for my name and contact information; the rest of the page was completely blank. I don’t know how it happened, or for how long I had been sending out blank resumes, but it left me feeling frustrated. After kicking myself for a few hours, I realized that the River Cats would soon be approaching their 20th Anniversary in Sacramento; and from there the dream was born.

I had just moved to Boise, ID in 1999, a year before the River Cats relocated to Sacramento. I had never cared about Minor League Baseball at the time and was quite content following the Dodgers and Red Sox. It was in Boise that I developed a love for the minor league ball and the small intimate parks of the Northwest League. I fell in love with listening to games on the radio and feeling a bit nostalgic about a time I never lived through where families sat around enjoying their time together and listening to the greats from years ago play the game I love. The crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, and hanging on every word as the broadcaster described everything down to the pinstripes on the team’s uniforms. While living in Boise, I was excited to hear that the River Cats would be going to play back home. Sadly, I was unable to attend any games that year because the few times I came home to visit, the River Cats were out of town. I followed the team a little, but my hometown team were now the Boise Hawks.

I moved back to Sacramento in the Summer of 2001 and just days after moving back, I found myself experiencing my first game at Raley Field sitting in the right field lawn. Grass seating in a ballpark? $5 tickets? What wasn’t there to love!! Plus, they used to shoot real hot dogs out of that cannon back then. I remember thinking “this isn’t Boise anymore” as I walked around the ballpark that night. It would be a night to remember as not only was it my first time at Raley Field, but Matt Williams, the former Giants slugger who was now playing out his last years with the Diamondbacks, was on a rehab assignment with the Tucson Sidewinders. Boy, what a night it would be as Matt would hit two homeruns that night, and I was hooked. For me, Raley Field was The Show, and it solidified my love for this team that very night. I’ve had many experiences at Raley Field over the years since that first game; the players I’ve met, the games I’ve seen, the jobs I’ve held, and most importantly the memories that were created. Looking back, I may have never dreamed of writing a book, but I was destined to write THIS book. The River Cats will be playing their 20th season in Sacramento in 2019, and I’m fortunate to be documenting it.

The River Cats finished 2018 with their worst record in franchise history at 55-85. Starting the 2018 season the team didn’t look so bad, as they were only 2.5 games out of first in the Pacific Northern Division by June 1.  Sadly, they ended the year 27.5 games behind the first place Fresno Grizzlies, finishing last in the division for the third straight year. Who can you blame though when you’re at AAA? The players are ruled by the big club, and everything is based on their needs. It’s a revolving door that leaves manager’s heads spinning and it is what it is.

In a way this is just another baseball book, except for everyone who was there to see it happen. No one expected much from the Sacramento River Cats in 2019; I didn’t either except for the fact that it was their 20th anniversary. I came into this project planning on writing more of a historical book that covered all 20 seasons of River Cats baseball, but something magical happened that changed the book entirely. Now, for your reading pleasure, here are your 2019 Sacramento River Cats.

Latin Roots (Don’t Fence Me In Pt. 2)

Welcome to Hispanic Heritage Month where Major League Baseball continues to exploit Latinx players in an attempt to reframe its history from their egregious sins and now pander to the Latinx community for profit. Let’s just cut to the chase and say that its time to stop using inclusivity to make money and not to actually try and understand any lifestyle, heritage or culture. I’d like to point out a few things before I start my breakdown of the program. First you will notice that most of my figures and observations come from my experience attending Sacramento River Cats games. I’d like to make it clear that my use of the River Cats was in no way an attempt to harm the reputation of this team or their ownership, but simply a matter of convenience because they are my hometown team, and from where I drew most of my opinions of the Divertido program instituted by Minor League Baseball. The River Cats Baseball Club’s ownership and front office have shown over the last twenty years how much they value their community, and their fans. I would also like to point out that a person can be Hispanic, and not Latinx, or vice versa. For this piece I will be referring to Latinx players as this term refers to a geographical area and not a language or culture.  

In 2016 Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez teamed up with a Texas PR firm called LatinWorks to start the “Ponle Acento” movement, when translated means “Put an accent on it”. This was a push to have Latinx players put accents and tildes on the back of their jerseys. Teaming up with Major League Baseball their goal was to showcase the history of Latinx players in MLB. Later that summer MLB introduced its biggest push toward the Latinx community when they made a huge push in celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month which included adding an accent mark to their silhouetted batters’ logo.  They focused on a national marketing campaign and 23 of the 30 teams hosted Hispanic Heritage games. These games were infused with a “Latinx” fan experience that included themed entertainment, food, and giveaways coupled with the home team wearing the special “Ponle Acento” t-shirts for batting practice. This would lead Minor League Baseball to introduce “Es Divertido Ser Un Fan” (Its fun to be a fan) for the 2017 season.   

Christened to “Copa De La Diversión” (Fun Cup) or at times “MiLB es Divertido” (Minor League Baseball is Fun) starting in 2018 this program is an attempt to reach out and build a fan base out of the Latinx communities around the country. When the program started in 2017 there were four cities selected for the program’s debut with a nationwide rollout for 2018 with 33 teams. In 2019 the participating teams grew to 72 and had the Minor League season not been postponed due to Covid that number would have jumped to 94 in 2020. Minor League Baseball called the campaign a “massive success” citing numbers per their website of 1.8 million fans attending nearly 400 Copa games in 2019, donating more than $400,000 in cash and “gifts in kind” to local Hispanic philanthropies, as well as averaging nearly 20% more attendance per Copa game vs the average per game attendance. That sounds great on paper but lets look at these numbers a little closer.  

1.8 million fans over 400 games comes to 4,500 fans per game. Of the 16 teams in the Pacific Coast League the average seating capacity per stadium is 10,603, which includes the outliers of 6,200 in Wolff Stadium in San Antonio and the 15,334 of Smith’s Ballpark in Salt Lake City. As a comparison the Short Season Northwest League had an average capacity of 4,249 within its eight teams. The Minor Leagues boasts that Copa games averaged 20% more attendance than the average per game attendance but do not mention that most of the Copa games were held on weekends. The $400,000 in cash and “gifts in kind” I will say is a nice influx for whichever charities received the donations as it averaged $5,500, but I was unable to find how the money and gifts were divided up.  

I first started to think about this promotion on Cinco de Mayo 2019 when the Reno Aces played as Los Corazones de Reno against the Los Dorados de Sacramento (River Cats). Initially I thought that it was pretty cool that this event fell on Cinco de Mayo, and I was excited about the whole Divertido campaign. Over the season it was a nice idea that just fell short, at least here in the Sacramento market which in January 2020 was ranked the third most diverse city in California behind Stockton and Oakland according to U.S. News. The River Cats play in West Sacramento, Yolo County, California on the Sacramento River. Yolo County is made up of 30.3% Hispanics/Latinx, while the City of Sacramento which lies just across the river is 28.7% Hispanic/Latinx. I did not use Sacramento County’s demographics (21.2% Hispanic/Latinx) because of the overall size of the County itself which does not necessarily make attending a River Cats game the most convenient option as the most Southern end of Sacramento County may find themselves closer to a Stockton Ports game.  
 
Baseball’s attempts to attract a Latinx fanbase is offensive. Stereotypes are abundant in the MiLB es Divertido plan; mariachi bands on the concourse, Mexican dancers, and special menu items that focus on Mexican cuisine with a side of gentrification. This program is not to attract new Latinx fans, but a program for Minor League Baseball clubs to put on a face of inclusivity. The River Cats are fortunate to have a fan base that is already diverse. Those who attend come from all different socioeconomic backgrounds and the team is a draw all on its own which makes focusing on a culture to exploit for financial gain in the name of community outreach disheartening. Last summer I asked the (now former) River Cats Manager of Communications and Baseball Operations if he would be able to get me the number on how the Divertido program has affected attendance, if it reached its target market, and what exactly the market was. He did not have the numbers available and they were never given to me later. I was told that originally Divertido was introduced by Minor League Baseball in cities who had a high number of Hispanics in its population, but this year (2019) they were expanding it to everyone. There is no doubt that profits were the focus of this campaign from the beginning, and I am not blaming MiLB for doing this, but it needs to stop being pushed as community outreach and inclusivity because it’s not. 

Maybe I’m wrong though. Maybe I hear that MiLB is reaching out to the Latinx community and I assume they are talking about the migrant workers and lower income families who would not typically attend a ballgame. If this is indeed the target audience, Major and Minor League Baseball does not seem recognize that those they are trying to reach through this program do not necessarily have the disposable income, and more importantly time, to bring their families to a game. Even with a family pack that supplies 4 tickets, 4 hats, 4 meal vouches, and watching the fireworks on the field, that is going to be $100 for a family of four. This is a great package available to anyone but the Latinx population who go to the games are people who have disposable income, more often than not are fluent in English, and assimilated to American culture. We are going to the games whether these events take place or not. If Minor League Baseball really wants to bring in more fans from the Latinx community reduced prices need to be offered for Divertido events. There are no reduced prices in Sacramento, in fact tickets bought on the day of game go up in price, which would be when an immigrant family would attend and without having bought tickets in advance.  

Race relations continue to be at the forefront of our society and in continuation of my blog post “Don’t Fence Me In (Part 1)” with filmmaker, and former Major League Baseball player Adrian Cardenas, I asked about his experience as a Latino in professional baseball, and whether he found himself facing any discrimination during his career.  

“Although I’m Cuban-American, and consider myself Cuban-American,  I definitely pass as white. I’m fair skinned with light eyes, I in essence was very privileged relatively speaking. When I got drafted, I was 18, (and) definitely  feeling very self-conscious about my accent. Every time I’d speak someone would be like, oh where are you from, you’re definitely not American. Things like that affected me and for a long while there growing up I was so self-conscious about my accent that I wanted to not learn Spanish and sort of forget Spanish and just try to perfect my English so that no one could detect an accent. It wasn’t  until I started playing professionally where I noticed the value of knowing both languages”.  

While understanding his privilege, Adrian still faced some adversity but was able to find a way to grow and be accepted by his teammates.  

“On one hand I was never Hispanic enough for the Hispanics, or American  enough for the Americans. I served in many cases as a mediator for discussions that someone who didn’t know Spanish would have with someone who only  knew Spanish, and that was a beautiful experience, it allowed me in.  It allowed  me to see how I’m similar and see how I’m different”. 

Adrian’s bilingual ability have also been exploited by teams.  

“It also brought along some not so nice experiences to where I had to at one point, fire a Latin player for a manager who didn’t know Spanish. I was called into the office, and he said look, I don’t know how to tell you this but I don’t know a word of Spanish and I  want to make sure that he understands me, but we’re firing him. Can you do this for me?  So I had to go to the office and fire him. Its hard for a lot of people to put themselves in a minority. The things that minorities have to overcome, talking specifically about being  Hispanic, black, or just non-white really. Its unfortunate that people just don’t take the  time to empathize and understand what it means to be an immigrant. The obstacles that  need to be overcome and how resilient we are”.  

So what is baseball doing for these players? A new trend in baseball is paying the players while they are young and unproven as opposed to paying them when they are older and declining in their abilities. I get the reasoning and it makes complete sense that this would be done, but how much revenue will these young players lose? Yes, its much better to guarantee this money now because anything can happen, and one could argue how much money does one person really need? Well that answer will vary of course, but I feel that players born outside of the United States will still get the short end of the stick. If a player like Ronald Acuña Jr can get shafted by his agent in taking a $100M ten year contract what does the future hold for players who aren’t of Acuña’s caliber. Acuña has made it very clear that he is happy with the contract, and honestly, who wouldn’t be? $100M is life changing for anyone but even more so for a poor kid from Latin America. An even greater injustice was the contract of Ozzie Albies who inked a deal for $35M over seven years. Rumor has it that these contracts came about because the players’ agents were worried about losing the players before they were paid the top dollar they would have deserved down the road. The Braves were happy to get these deals done, but this set baseball back. Where do signings go from here? It seems like teams are securing younger players early with large contracts but potentially much smaller investment than what they would have earned had things not changed. How will this affect players born in the United States? Carter Stewart a top prospect of the 2017 draft class who was taken 8th overall by the Atlanta Braves turned down their offer when he was shown a contract below slot due to an injury and then later bolted to Japan for a guaranteed $7M. That is great for Carter, but the international born player will still suffer. More than three quarters of Latinx players who are signed will drop out of baseball within four years, and less than 3% make it to the Major Leagues. Americans face the same odds, but nearly 70% will advance at least one level and are four times as likely to reach the Majors. 

“In my experience, it was always clear that although there were so many teams of so many players, very few had a chance of making it to the Major Leagues. Not because they were not capable of playing or weren’t talented enough, more so because of the investment given to the very few players. Coming to terms with that as a player was a big deal for so many. They’d have incredible years and just not get the chance; they’d have incredible years and get demoted. They were way more consistent, which is arguably one of the most important qualities you can have as a baseball player, than a highly touted prospect and still never get the shot over him, and that was the reality of it”.  

I’m sure someone will point out the number of Latinx players that fill rosters up and down professional baseball to discredit ant bias toward them, but baseball’s exploitation of the poor Latinx player starts in their home countries. They are put into baseball camps/schools and taken from their homes, separated from their families, and then those who are “good enough” are brought over to a new country where they don’t know the culture or the language and if  they don’t produce for their owners, they are cast aside.  To get an understanding of what these players go through, please take the time to watch the 2008 Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck film Sugar. This film features Andre Holland, best known for his roles in 42, Selma, and Moonlight, in a supporting role about the life of a professional baseball player from the Dominican Republic nicknamed “Sugar”.

So, is Major League Baseball doing anything to improve baseball for the Latinx player? Inadvertently the answer is yes. Major League Baseball’s decision to contract the Minor Leagues is far better for the game and may reduce some of this exploitation of foreign-born players. I don’t know if contraction is actually going to make this better but it does seem like a promising idea and one that I fully support going forward as it seems like it will reduce the amount of players who are simply filling roster spots. I recognize the hardship that communities will face by losing a team, although Major League Baseball plans to set up collegiate wood leagues or independent league teams.  
As you read this you may be thinking, “at least they’re trying”, “you can’t expect things to be perfect”, “baby steps”!! Well, of course I don’t expect things to be perfect, but I do feel its time that businesses do not take advantage of other’s differences. I’m all for these clubs making a dollar any way they can, this is America and more power to them if they can squeeze every hard-earned penny from your cold dead hands. The problem I have is doing so in the name of inclusivity. The goals of these promotions are to make money, and not to understand or educate on any heritage or culture, if anything the stereotypes make it more offensive.  

I do not hate everything about the Divertido program. I’m a huge fan of the artwork on the alternate jerseys and hats, especially when done by local artists. I like when teams put some thought into their alternate names to be the historical aspects of their community, and I hope that teams continue to do this without out the rest of the fanfare. If there was one team that I saw who seems to be getting it all right, it had to be the Fresno Grizzlies of the Pacific Coast League. Whether it be a Copa game or a regular game they have been able to incorporate an atmosphere of inclusivity that looks and feels like their community. From the on-field entertainment, to the fans in their seats, something worked.