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!