A Dugout Tale with Jessica Kleinschmidt

May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month and like the various heritage and Pride months that are celebrated in the United States I find it to be both a celebration of cultures and big neon sign that says we live in a society that is so backwards that we still must remember our diverse communities and force ourselves to think about what they have endured and continue to endure in some ways. Let us first look at some reasons as to why we celebrate, and how we can do so respectfully.

Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month is set aside to acknowledge the contributions that members of this community have made to the United States and all over the world. The need to remember the contributions of the AAPI has reached a point of urgency as the anti-Asian hate crimes have seen a spike over the last couple of years since the start of the Covid pandemic.

May was chosen as AAPI Heritage Month because long before we cared to remember the first Japanese immigrants arrive in the county in May of 1843; and just over 25 years later, the transcontinental railroad was complete and worked out by roughly 200,000 Chinese immigrants under some of the worst conditions.

The United States would finally acknowledge AAPI in 1979 when President Carter signed a proclamation if the first AAPI week, and another thirteen years until Congress would pass an amendment that created AAPI Month. Through these political actions, May is now use to celebrate and amplify AAPI voices and concerns as the uptick in violence toward the community was up 150% in 2020, even when overall hate crimes were down according to a study done by the group Stop AAPI Hate.

While this is a time for AAPI to celebrate, the rest of us must consider taking the time to understand and educate ourselves about a culture other than our own. I took this opportunity to sit down with Jessica Kleinschmidt, multimedia journalist for the Oakland Athletics of Major League Baseball, and speak to her about baseball, her Filipino ethnicity, and what AAPI Heritage Month means to her.

Sitting down with Jessica made me realize that I have never really given much thought about my Mexican ethnicity. I have a background in sociology, so I know what I am supposed to know about my ethnicity, but I never really considered how I learned about who I was or where my family came from. Jessica shared a story of how she first discovered that she was different through a bowl of rice, and pizza.

“When we would make food, we would always have rice, and I spent the night at a friend’s house, and I was waiting for us to eat, and we had pizza…I was waiting while they all started eating, and my friend’s mom asked, “what are you waiting for, aren’t you going to eat?”, and I [asked] when is the rice going to come”?

Jessica shared that when she got home the next day and told her mother about what took place at her friend’s house her mother took the time to share her family’s background and culture and it was from there that she began to see and understand her life in a different way.

What does AAPI Heritage Month mean to you?

It’s about awareness and about embracing the fact that we’re different. Understanding there’s a lot of stereotypes and racism out there so when people meet me, they’re like, “Well, you don’t look Asian”, and that’s where it kind of stems from. It was actually Tony Kemp, one of the players here who taught me about how racist things are; he would be told, “well, you don’t sound black… you sound educated”. For me, it was the same thing. I was like, what does an Asian look like to you? Don’t ever ask that to people, because, of course, that adds to the stereotypes, but it was also about the fact that’s what I wanted to learn, like why am I different and to embrace the fact that I’m different. There are a lot of shitty things going on in the Asian community, there’s a lot of violent crimes and hate crimes that I wasn’t even aware of, especially living in the Bay Area where that population is so significant. I want to know what’s going on, and there [are] ways to help and to show people that being Asian doesn’t mean you have to look a certain way and or act a certain way and we’re still here, and we’re so proud of our lineage. My family worked really hard to come to America and I love that for them. So being able to celebrate how hard we worked to make a better life for ourselves is just phenomenal.

What do you think people can do to raise awareness about the important issues that impact your community?

Its just starting with asking the right questions, it doesn’t even have to be the right question, just be curious, and instead of saying, “you don’t look Asian” [ask], “tell me about your background” or “do you still practice the culture that you grew up having”? For us, it started with food, and then that turned into asking, “When did you guys come over to America”? “What was it like being raised in the Philippines”, and online has tons of stuff you can look up, take classes, and my DMs are always open. Tony and Michelle Kemp’s DMs are always open because they want to teach about the +1 Effect [and] systematic racism, racial injustice, and police brutality.

Jessica is now proud of her ethnicity, but it took time to grow, understand and accept who she was at first.

That bowl of rice reminded me how different I was and how much we just marched to the beat of our own drum. When I was little, that was weird. It was weird to have rice with everything and that turned into me embracing the fact that this is what I like to do, this is what my family likes to do and it’s okay to be different, if anything it’s way more beautiful to be different. When you’re so young, learning that is difficult because you want to be like everybody else. You don’t want to be the last one picked in dodgeball. You want to be the first or the second and not have to stand there waiting and now it’s like, you want to be proud of who you are, you’re going to rub people the wrong way. Also, just the fact that knowing that I did have a different background than a lot of people, that immediately made me know I was going to handle my career and personal relationships differently. It is just really cool to know that I was able to say I’m different than everybody else, and it all has to do with my somewhat insane Filipino mother.

Having been raised in a Mexican household, I very much could relate to having rice with every meal, coupled with beans of course. Thanksgiving meals were always, turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and a side of rice and beans.

I began to cover the Bay Bridge Series back in 2019 when I started writing my book about the River Cats because of the ties that both teams have to Sacramento. In 2021 I had the opportunity to meet Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, who I have been a fan of since her days at the Sacramento Bee in the 90s. I’ve enjoyed her work and her career for not only what she’s accomplished in this profession but how she went about doing it. It was an awkward moment for me as I stumbled over my words and shook her hand. Susan was ever so gracious and humble throughout the whole thing and I’m grateful for the time she gave to me. In preparing to meet with Jessica I discovered that Susan has also been an inspiration in her career as well.

Susan Slusser certainly does [inspire me], and I feel like it’s because she taught me just to stay true to who I was…I remember watching her and she stayed true to who she was. She also asked the questions she was genuinely curious about and watching her ask questions, from a journalistic perspective made me ask questions from a personal perspective, and whether it’s, “Hey, can you help me with something”? and seeing how she carries herself with confidence helped me with my career.

It was at this point in our conversation that I thought back to just prior to sitting down with Jessica today during A’s Maganger Mark Kotsay’s pre-game interview. I happened to be standing behind Jessica during the media conference and while I stood there with my voice recorder, I could see Jessica with her recorder in hand, and an old-fashioned pen and notebook, jotting down quotes, and seamlessly asking the right questions. Watching her in that interview was a work of art, and she inspired me, humbled me, and made me think of the day I first met her.

I introduced myself to Jessica before the final game of the Bay Bridge series in Oakland last year. I had just started to follow her on Twitter and Instagram earlier in the year because of her podcast with Rachel Luba called Cork’d Up. While it was a brief encounter I was surprised when Jessica said that she recognized my username on Twitter and gave me a hug when we met as though we had known each other for years. I was a bit shocked that she had even known that I existed and taken aback at how forward she was with the hug, but I’ve learned since then, that’s just Jessica; honest and real to herself. While my first interaction is not as significant, I can see the similarities in Jessica’s story of meeting Susan Slusser for the first time.

I saw her [Susan Slusser] at A’s FanFest 2018 And I just walked in front of her and said, “nice to meet you”, and she goes, “you do a really good job”, and for somebody that does a phenomenal job to say that was sensational. At the time of course we worked together on the A’s beat, and now not only do I look up to her as a mentor, she is one of my closest friends.

In a 2021 interview with Nevada Sport Net, Jessica said about her journalism style as wanting to “Think about these guys as the heartbeats underneath their uniforms”, and I felt that. Having studied sociology I try to focus on more of the human element of a story than I do the numbers when writing my own work, so I wanted to know what Jessica felt was the most difficult part of this journalistic style for her.

I think it’s developing the relationships and even that’s not necessarily challenging, but I have to remind myself that that’s the reason why I’m so different, people are going to embrace that in a different way. You’re used to a game story, you’re going to get the slash line, you’re going to say this is how Paul Blackburn did, and that’s fine; but I want to talk about the fact that he got a little emotional talking about how he shares an ERA group with Justin Verlander, or how he talked about Shohei Ohtani’s numbers being like that of a video game. [James Kaprielian walks by us] There is James Kaprielian and he emulates what Kobe Bryant does because he looks up to Kobe Bryant. Tony Kemp, I talk to him as a dad and a husband. People are going to want to know about the curveballs, and I can still talk about that, but I want you to know who these people actually are. Yes, they are superstars, but they go home to their families, and I think it’s the normal things that can be the challenging part.

I fell ass backwards into writing about baseball through a fit of desperation, and the Sacramento River Cats allowed me to cut my teeth with their organization and its been full speed ahead ever since. I studied sociology in college, took one journalism class on mass media as an undergrad just for the transfer units, and while I could write a good research paper, I lacked the experience in writing a gripping story, or being able to ask the right question, or even how to just get in there and ask any question. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, but I was starting to feel like I was beginning to make some progress as a freelance journalist this year. Sitting down with Jessica made me realize that she just gave me a Master’s course in twenty minutes.

Having been at this now since 2018, I still like to take a step back and take in what I get to experience every summer, and last week after a game in Sacramento, I asked a cohort who has been on assignment, if she ever does the same. We reminisced of when we used to sit in the stands, and to those thoughts of wishing we could walk on the field with the players, and here we were, doing just that. Looking up into the crowd from the field is a different feeling. Whether it be at Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton, California for Single-A ball, or in Sacramento’s Sutter Health Park for Triple-A, or seeing the massive stadiums in the Majors, the feeling always humbles me, but this isn’t my livelihood. I don’t rely on what I’m producing to pay my bills, so I asked Jessica if she as a professional has ever taken the time to reflect on where she is in her career.

That’s a great question. I need to do that more often because I ask the players that a lot. I just asked Paul Blackburn last night, “You’ve come a long way, do you have a chance to think about that”? He’s like, “No I haven’t”, and not in a bad way, I’m jealous of him because he just doesn’t over think things, and I’m like, oh that must be nice; but every now then sure. I need to do that more though because I also know that when I do interviews with people, I do like to have that connection with them, and I do get to step back and think about it. Overall, though, no. Every now and then I do need to just sit in the crowd for fun because at the end of the day, I grew up a baseball fan. I grew up playing baseball.

Jessica wasn’t only a baseball fan, but she was an A’s fan, and her dreams began here at the Coliseum when she was 12 years old.

What I’m most proud of about my career is the fact that I was 12 years old at this exact stadium watching Eric Chavez hit a homerun, and the moment I got home I told my dad, “I’m going to be the A’s reporter one day. I’m going to do it” and the best part was he just said, “Ok, lets do it”. Unfortunately, it was the last game that he and I ever went to, Major League Baseball wise, but it was the fact that I said I wanted to do it, and I did it. I also know that a lot of girls and young women are looking up to me, and to give them advice has been phenomenal. I keep it real, and as many mentors as I possess, I’m mentoring a lot of people, and I think that’s something that I’m very proud of.

The Oakland A’s have been managed by Bob Melvin for the entirety of Jessica’s professional career until this season when Mark Kotsay took the reins, and I was curious about the changes she has seen with the new skipper at the helm.

Its really interesting that you ask that because A’s managers seem to have a specific vibe about them, and that’s laid back. For Bob, he was my manager for four years and I learned so much from him. I just saw him recently when the A’s were playing the Padres right after the Sean Manaea trade, so everyone was emotional. Not just the fact that Bob was returning to the A’s Spring Training facility where he was for a decade, but he gave me a big hug, and I didn’t even know he was a hugger. For Kotsay, he worked under BoMel, and he was able to learn so much from him but also his managerial style is very Kotsay, its very So. Cal guy and he’s fine. He’s easy to talk to and he’s still trying to figure it out which I understand…but the best part of the two, and the most imperative for the A’s is they let the players be themselves, and that’s beyond the playing field.

Jessica is well aware of the heartache that every A’s fan goes through during the off season when one of their favorite players is traded away for young talent. This past off season, the fans were dealt some hard blows when Matt Olsen was sent to Atlanta, and Matt Chapman was shipped north of the border to Toronto. Trades that sent ripples through baseball, but at the same time were par for the course here in Oakland. Having a finger on the pulse of all things A’s I asked Jessica about the fans reactions and how they are accepting the newest members of the organization.

We can’t really make an assessment on them until they are in the Bigs because they’re all playing in the PCL, which I joke that I’m hitting .300 in the PCL, because the balls fly there. I’m a Reno Aces girl and I hated interviewing the pitchers after those games, but I also know that you have to give them the benefit of the doubt. You look at Christian Pache, when Olson was traded, a lot of baseball fans who are Braves fan said, “you got so spoiled”, not one person said you guys overpaid with Matt Olson. With Langeliers who you mentioned, the guy is just solid. I’ve watched him hit, and I think he can do a really good job with transitioning. With Pache, his defense is second to none. He’s a lot like Ramon Laureano where if the ball is near him, runners are not going to run. His offense hasn’t been great, but I talked to Kotsay about it yesterday and the ones that stood out to everybody were his hard-hit balls. He’s getting unlucky, hitting them where everybody is, which is difficult, but at the same time, when it comes to that he’s going to figure it out. He’s still young, he’s so important to this organization, just from a flashy player perspective, and that’s the diving catches, and the fact that he’s very approachable, and he loves the young fans. He’s very imperative to the success of this place.

Kevin Smith has been doing a fabulous job as well. He was acquired in the Chapman trade, and I think he’s trying to get a feel for the actual foul space right now, and I asked Kotsay about him today and he said he’s becoming a more natural third baseman, he’s usually a shortstop so its good to see him transition from that. His hitting has been really good…and he carries himself well. I think the [fans] just need to have faith. The front office always knows what they’re doing with the budget that they’re given, and I’ve been very impressed so far.

The Oakland A’s did their part in celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islanders Heritage Month this weekend but it was extra special in that Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Angels rolled into town. Jessica tells of the Saturday double-header that included a walk off home run by Luis Barrera in Game 1, and Shohei Ohtani’s 100th career home run in Game 2.

From a journalistic perspective, it was great, but in a different way. Like I love a walk off and I love the Shohei home run, but one of our communications assistants, Sergio, it was his time to shine. He went on TV and got to be the interpreter for Luis [Barrera] and that made me like a happy big sister. I’ve been covering Luis Barrera for years, he got his big-league debut last season, so it was emotional to see him not only do well, but he had a crappy couple of innings…and we forgot about that because he had a walk off home run. That’s the beauty of baseball is that you get a chance to redeem yourself every time. I try to look at that from both a career perspective and life perspective. You can fuck up, but you’re going to have another chance to make it better. Then of course there is Shohei Ohtani who I think every home run he hits is a big deal but for him to do it here is great and I love how even the fans embrace how much of a superstar he is because he is so important to the game. A two-way player is going to help kids too…and I think that’s important as well. He’s done amazing things, and I love to see the culture he brings, he’s an international superstar and that’s important to the game.

Sitting down with Jessica was an amazing experience. She talks about wanting to connect with the players, and with her audience, and I can attest to that during my time in the dugout with her. On a superficial level, she comes off like your best friend that you can sit down with to enjoy the game and eat nachos while sipping on your favorite adult beverage, but Jessica’s like an onion, she has layers. She is an advocate for understanding diversity and ending hate, she’s a role model to women, she’s Filipina and she’s proud; but at the end of the day, and for as much as I’ve hyped her up, Jessica Kleinschmidt is still a human who embraces her “silliness” and “stupidness”, and once accidentally said “fart” live on the air.

So, what’s next for Jessica Kleinschmidt? She loves being in front of the camera, on the radio, in podcasts, and producing content, and wants to be, in her own words, “The Mike Trout of baseball media”. She’s no longer wet behind the ears in her journalism career, but her star is only beginning to shine. You can follow Jessica on Twitter @KleinschmidtJD or Instagram @jessicakleinschmidt.

They Ain’t Just a Stephen King Novella Anymore…

The Langoliers was a novela by Stephen King as part of the Four Past Midnight collection released in 1990. The plot was basically a pilot finds out his wife was killed in an accident, so he flies out to be with her and a bunch of crazy stuff happens on the flight and landing. Turns out these Langoliers are eating everything to get rid of the evidence. I don’t remember how or if the Langoliers are described in the book, but in the horrible movie adaption they’re these horribly done graphics that are like big rock looking things that fly around and have sharks’ teeth. I didn’t say I was recommending the book, I just thought I’d mention because of Shea Langeliers, catcher for the Las Vegas Aviators who is the Oakland A’s #2 prospect behind Tyler Soderstrom,.and to be completely honest, I think that needs to be reversed. I’ve now had the opportunity to have watched Soderstrom and Langeliers play in person, and with all due respect to Soderstrom, Langeliers is my choice as the A’s Top Prosepect.

Coming out of college, Langeliers was considered the second-best catcher in the 2019 draft behind only #1 overall pick Adley Rutschman. The Braves selected Langeliers with the ninth overall pick that year out of Baylor University. Atlanta’s MILB Player of the Year in 2021, and a key piece in the Matt Olson deal that also included Christian Pache. While Pache is already making his mark with the Oakland A’s, Langeliers has been assigned to Triple-A Las Vegas for 2022.

Langeliers and the Las Vegas Aviators flew into Sacramento to begin a six-game series tied for first in the Pacific Coast West Division with the River Cats as both teams are 13-11. This week should be a good week of baseball with the Division lead on the line as well as the River Cats having three Major League rehab players on this roster in Lamonte Wade Jr, Tommy LaStella, and Evan Longoria in the lineup.

The River Cats started the six-game series with a win, and the games were played out with everything you could expect from the top two teams in the division until the River Cats went off the rails over the weekend. Although the series had been split 2-2 through Friday, it was all downhill from there for the River Cats.

There were plenty of highlights for both teams, but Oakland A’s fans were treated with a stellar pitching performance from Parker Dunshee who tossed six shoutout innings, striking out six, and only giving up a walk and a hit, it was Star Wars Day, and the Force was definitely with him. The performance also earned Dunshee Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Week.

Sacramento finally was also able to see the home debut of Tristan Beck who made his Triple-A debut the previous week in Albuquerque. Beck came to the Giants as part of the deal that sent Mark Melancon to Atlanta back in 2019, and he was the Braves fourth-round pick in 2018 out of Stanford. He had a rough outing in his Triple-A debut but pitched better than the numbers show in the box score this night as he struck out five in 5.1 innings of work in a loss.

On a side note, it was nice to see former River Cats pitcher Sam Selman come into the game for Las Vegas to pitch an inning and say hello. While on the mound Sean Hjelle commented to the Aviator’s dugout, “He’s one guy I don’t understand how we let go”. Unbeknownst to us all, that would be Hjelle’s last night in Triple-A as the Giants called him the next day where he made his Major League debut against the Cardinals in an inning of relief and throwing a perfect 1-2-3 inning and also getting his first strikeout by way of Corey Dickerson.

One of the best pitching performances of the season was also turned in by River Cats pitcher Raynel Espinal on that same Friday night who went a solid five innings, striking out a season high nine batters while the River Cats as a team had fourteen; all I want to know is where did this guy come from??  The Cats would win on a combined 4-0 shutout.

Saturday night was nothing short of a disaster for the River Cats as they lost by a score of 13-0. The Aviators simply dominated behind lefty Jared Koenig and his 10 strikeouts in six innings. Koenig would allow only two hits and one walk in his outing as well.

This series ended on a beautiful Sunday afternoon for Mother’s Day. While the skies were overcast, the weather itself was perfect. River Cats’ pitcher Taylor Williams’ wife even threw out the first pitch as the couple celebrated their first Mother’s Day with their son Nolan. The River Cats would drop this by a score of 3-1 and fall into third place in the Division.

The aforementioned Langeliers really shined and was the highlight of the series where he hit .320 with two home runs and three RBI. He also showed off his catching skills behind the plate which were impressive, and the arm is a cannon. Langeliers now leads the PCL with 11 home runs on the season, and Sacramento’s David Villar sits in second place with eight. While I loved Matt Olson and I know the pain that A’s fans endure as their beloved players keep getting shipped off instead of paid, Langeliers is a star in the making, so enjoy him while you can.

The Aviators took the series by winning four of the six and gained sole possession of first place in the PCL West, while the River Cats dropped to third behind Tacoma.

One common theme during the first three games were the complaints about the pitch clock violations and how arbitrary they appeared to be. There were at least three called during that Game 3 alone. I had one pitcher with Major League experience, tell me that it was “the dumbest rule in baseball”. Another interaction between bench players and an umpire contained comments like, “You can’t just reset it whenever you want”, and “You stopped him! Someone is going to get hurt”! The cohesion on this matter was clear to me when the opposing team’s first base coach who also now has Major League experience commented, “They don’t give a shit about us. If they want to do this, they shouldn’t do this at Triple-A, they’re messing with people’s livelihoods”.

According to Jeff Passan, Minor League games have been shortened by an “average of twenty minutes”, but at what cost to the players? What is baseball trying to do when they don’t listen to the fans who don’t want this and more importantly the players who find it both inconvenient and dangerous? While baseball can be a long game, not knowing when it will end is part of the beauty of it.

This week the River Cats start a series against the El Paso Chihuahuas, Triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres. They will be facing a rehabbing Blake Snell in the opening game of the series. The Chihuahuas are third in the Pacific Coast East with a record of 17-13, the same as the Aviators who lead the West. Round Rock has the best record in the PCL as we start the week at 19-11.



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!

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.

Stone to Mayeux to Nakken

The love of baseball spans generations and with that ethnicity, social status, and gender. Alyssa Nakken was added to the San Francisco Giants staff in January 2020 making her the first woman to be named as a full time coach for a Major League team. She further made history on July 20, 2020 when she replaced Antoan Richardson as the first base coach for the San Franciso Giants becoming the first woman to coach on the field of a Major League Baseball game. This is the most recent chapter for women in baseball as women have been playing baseball for years, but it feels like no one seemed to notice until Penny Marshall made, “A League of their Own” in 1992.

The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), which is featured in the film, existed from 1943-1954 and came into existence during World War II when men were being sent to war, and Major League team owners were looking to try and replace their lost income by keeping baseball fresh in the public’s eye.  The AAGPBL paved the way for women’s professional sports, but the Negro Leagues turned out to be much more progressive as the boys came back from the war. Two years prior to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, Toni Stone suited up for the San Francisco Sea Lions of the West Coast Negro Leagues, and in 1949 the New Orleans Creoles until before finally getting a break in 1953 to play second base for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro League, who interestingly enough featured a man by the name of Henry Aaron as their second baseman the year prior.

Twenty years after the AAGPBL, and Toni Stone played their last professional games, the Little League Federal Charter was amended in 1974 to finally allow girls to play Little League baseball. Many women have come through the Little League system, and while most seemed to be steered away into fastpitch softball there are a few who kept pushing forward such as Victoria Roche who in 1984 became the first girl to play in the Little League World Series (LLWS), Krissy Wendell who also played in the LLWS and went on to Captain the U.S. Women’s National Hockey team to Olympic Silver and Bronze Medals.

There of course have been other trailblazing women in baseball such as the Colorado Silver Bullets who played from 1994-1997 barnstorming against men’s amateur and semi-pro teams. The team was managed by baseball Hall of Famer Phil Niekro and included Julie Croteau who was the first women to play and coach at the collegiate level. Ila Borders would go on to become the first woman to pitch in a Men’s NCAA/NAIA game, as well as one of the first women to pitch in professional baseball after Mamie “Peanut” Johnson who also played in the Negro Leagues. Justine Siegal would get the honor of being the first woman to throw batting practice for a Major League team as she did for the 2009 Cleveland Indians, and in 2015 the Oakland Athletics hired her as a guest coach for two weeks during the Arizona Fall League. Justine’s accomplishments would not be the only major accomplishment for women in baseball in 2015.

Melissa Mayeux a 16 year old girl from Trappes, France burst onto International headlines by becoming the first women to earn a spot on Major League Baseball’s International Registry and becoming eligible for the Draft. Growing up playing baseball, Melissa first caught the attention of Major League baseball scouts while playing in a showcase tournament in Barcelona, Spain. “The first time I got noticed I was playing in Barcelona, and I got a base hit off a pitcher who was throwing 91…I hit the ball hard, but I was just being me. I wanted to be a smart player and try to hit in the hole all the time”, Melissa said. Ultimately the International Draft came and went, without Melissa being selected by any team. She continued to play baseball for the next two years and even spent time at International Baseball Camps organized by Major League Baseball for elite prospects abroad.  Looking back on the experience Melissa said of the attention that she got, “I was just playing with the guys. For me it was just like too many people talking about it when it really wasn’t a big deal”. Melissa is grateful for her experience, but she feels that women still have a long way to go in breaking into baseball and being accepted as equals, “I think (women have) come a long way but there is still a long way to go in baseball. I remember when I was in the academy no girls were allowed to play baseball at first but with the advancement that we have seen with American women, in France we now have a Woman’s Baseball National Team”. Melissa discovered how hard it was to break into baseball as she looked for scholarships in the United States, “I had always wanted to come to the United States when I was done with high school, and I was looking for a scholarship in JUCO (Junior College) Baseball and a lot schools told me that they couldn’t give me a scholarship because I was a girl. So my goal since I was young was to always come to the States and the only way I could do it was by getting interest through softball”, which is what brought Melissa to Miami-Dade College.

The transition to softball did not come easy for Melissa as she and her coaches worked for days on end teaching her how to properly throw and catch a softball, but she never gave up. After spending two season at Miami-Dade the time had come for Melissa to transfer, and although she was having a good season with the Sharks, and there were plenty of teams showing interest in her playing for them, she wasn’t happy with the offers that she was being given. Luckily she had an in with Louisanna-Lafayette, “We had an American coach for the international team one year and he was a good friend of the coach at Louisiana and he just showed him videos and that’s how I came here”. One of Melissa’s teammates on the Rajin’ Cajuns softball team was also no stranger to baseball. Sarah Hudek, daughter of former Major League pitcher John Hudek, has been a member of the United States Women’s National Baseball team and won Gold at the 2015 Pan American Games.

Melissa came out swinging in her 2020 debut with the Rajin Cajuns going 2-2 with 3 RBI including a homerun against Texas-San Antonio during a nationally televised game, she showed everyone that the hype around her was real. Unfortunately, the pandemic shut down the season, and like so many of us she is left in limbo, “Right now its hard because all the fields are closed, so my roommates with me at the house are trying to stay healthy and in shape but its really hard because we just don’t know, we’re waiting for something, anything”. Melissa lost more than her softball season as the worldwide pandemic forced the Tokyo Olympics to be postponed until 2021, and the qualifying European Championships which Melissa had intended to participate in were also cancelled.  

Melissa will be a senior next year and decisions will need to be made about her future, “I want to keep playing after college” Mayeux says, “but it all depends on the opportunities that I’ll be given. Its hard for several players here and its getting harder, the level of play is just much better than in Europe. You have to get better every day if you want to be on the field. I know if I don’t have any opportunities, I’ll go back to Europe and find an opportunity there, but I would really like to stay in the states because I would really like to make my life here”. The difficulties that all college students face have been compounded by Covid-19, but even more so for student-athletes like Melissa who are here on visas. Early in July the Trump Administration required that International students must take classes in person to stay in the country legally this fall despite the global pandemic, and schools opting to deliver their classes through online video services. This would cause an extraordinary hardship on Melissa, “Its stressful because we don’t know what’s going to happen. I have been here since before the virus started and I don’t understand why, it just doesn’t make sense to me. So basically when school was cancelled, I thought about going back home straight up, just to do something, but then the whole virus got crazy, and the school wanted me to sign some paperwork that said if I’m leaving, I’m willing to leave my scholarship, and I couldn’t do it”. Luckily for Melissa, and the thousands more like her, after this interview had been conducted the Trump Administration has walked back its controversial decision to force International students to take at least one face to face class to remain in the country.

Melissa’s story is just one woman’s experience with baseball, but day in and day out young women are fighting to show that they belong in baseball, the board rooms, and the front office. Women continue to make strides in baseball, yet when they suit up to play ball, the resistance faced by early pioneers like Toni Stone are still faced today 70 years later, and girls are told that they can’t or shouldn’t play baseball solely based on their gender. On the subject, Melissa shared part of a discussion she had with Sarah Hudek, “I asked her what she liked better (baseball or softball), and she said, softball because she wasn’t looked at like an object”. Society needs to change how girls are seen in the game of baseball especially as they continue to excel on the field. A new generation of women playing baseball has arrived, and the U.S. National team has stars in Kylee Lahners, Danae Benites, and Megan Baltzell, among others who blaze the path and face obstacles head on. These obstacles don’t phase Melissa either as she looks ahead she sees herself, “Living in Miami Beach, playing in a professional softball league, and maybe training people in baseball and softball, but I was thinking about this the other day, and I’d love to get into MLB and be a coach”. Well Melissa, you’ve been knocking on the door for 5 years, and Alyssa Nakken has just opened it.

Don’t Fence Me In (Part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This story contributed to by K.Bria