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. 

My Jackie

Every April 15th, Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day but due to Covid, that celebration had been moved to August 28th, and it couldn’t have fallen during a more appropriate time.  Although the date itself is significant in Jackie’s history as the day that he met Branch Rickey in 1945 to discuss joining the Dodgers, it proved to be a day when racial injustice was again the main topic of the day and fitting that it was also the 65th anniversary of the lynching of 14 year old Emmett Till. Protests have sparked across the county this week after the August 23rd shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rioting began that night as the Kenosha County Courthouse, and the violence continued into Tuesday, when an armed “militia” arrived to “protect their city”. Video shows that the police department encouraged the vigilantes while the department publicly said that they were not invited and not welcomed. The violence would lead to 17 year old Kyle Rittenhouse from Illinois shooting three protestors, killing two. It has been reported that after the shootings Rittenhouse tried to turn himself into police, and even approached them with his hands up. The police did not stop or question him even as other witnesses were telling them that he was the shooter.

Outraged, players from the NBA and WNBA protested by not playing their games scheduled for that evening as a sign of solidarity with black communities, by using their platforms to raise awareness to this ongoing problem, and demand change. Six Major League Baseball teams, the Reds, Brewers, Mariners, Padres, Giants, and Dodgers also decided not to play. Although the Oakland Athletics would decide to not play their Thursday night game, it did not go unnoticed that the team from a city with such a large black population, and historically known for its vocal and demonstrative fights for social justice, did not postpone their game on Wednesday night.

On Friday Jackie Robinson day was celebrated across the league. Every team wore the #42 on their jerseys as a remembrance, and even more so players told their stories of racial inequality and injustice. I personally learned about Posy Lombard, mother of Dodgers first base coach George Lombard, and her civil rights activism throughout her life until her tragic death in 1985. Oddly enough the Athletics found themselves not playing again as the Astros, whose previous two games had been postponed due to Hurricane Laura, chose not to play their game Friday night as it was their first opportunity to show their support for the Black Lives movement. In a memorable pre-game ceremony, the two teams went on to the field and placed an Astros and an A’s #42 jersey in the batter’s box with a Black Lives Matter shirt on home plate as they observed a moment of silence before exiting the field. Coincidentally Jackie Robinson Day came to a close with the news that actor Chadwick Boseman died after battling colon cancer for four years. Boseman will be most remember for his role as Black Panther, but he is also known for portraying Jackie Robinson in the 2013 Brian Helgeland film, “42”.  All of this took place while Rittenhouse, who was charged with first degree intentional homicide, first degree reckless homicide, and two counts of first degree recklessly endangering safety, and possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under the age of 18, had his extradition hearing originally scheduled for Friday the 28th pushed back to September 25th.

On Jackie Robinson Day, La Vida Baseball (@lavidabaseball) asked in a tweet, “What does this day mean to you”? I had never considered the importance of this day and how it affected me. I kept the question in the back of my mind as I went about my day when it finally hit me that Jackie Robinson was bigger than breaking the color barrier in baseball. I replied to the tweet in this manner, “As we approach the 50th anniversary of the death of Ruben Salazar, Jackie Robinson reminds me that there are many more Jackie Robinsons in many different fields. As a Mexican-American striving to be a journalist that matters, I’m remembering Salazar and his contribution for us”. Ruben Salazar was a Mexican-American writer for the Los Angeles Times, and today, August 29th, marks the 50th anniversary of his death while covering the National Chicano Moratorium March in 1970.

The March began as a protest over the disproportionate number of Latinos who served and were killed during the Vietnam War.  Los Angeles County Sheriff Deputies were already on the scene for the rally after the march, and as the protest became more violent, Salazar went to take a break and get a drink at a local bar. As the rioting escalated, the Sheriff’s Department bussed in untrained cadets for backup, and a tear gas projectile flew into the bar striking Salazar in the head and killing him. The death was ruled a homicide, as many believed it was actually an assassination, but Deputy Tom Wilson was never prosecuted. Gustavo Arellano of the Los Angeles Times recently described Salazar’s writing as “the Chicano version of the Gnostic Gospels”. He was a pioneer in journalism for Mexican-Americans, our Jackie Robinson if you will.

Salazar’s headlines could fit into any news story we read today, and while much has changed since his death, we are still dealing with the same problems we faced as a nation 50 years ago; war, police brutality, racial tension, and civil unrest, it all remains the same. The 70s would go on to produce a new wave of Mexican-American activists who challenged our values of the past. The Chicano Power Movement was strong leading to many more Mexican-American voices joining forces to be heard, to include the Brown Berets who were inspired by the Black Panthers to bring attention to police brutality against Latinos. So why aren’t more people today talking about Latinos killed by police? They represented 16% of those shot by police in 2016, second only to blacks at 25% according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. I’m not trying to cry foul, but to point out that Latino civil rights issues are too focused on immigration issues, and mainly that of the undocumented. Unfortunately, immigration only makes the issue of police brutality that much more difficult for Latinos as the media seems to only focus on black and white incidents. This in turn takes the focus away from all other cases of police brutality, and if the focus is small, that can only mean that the attention given to other injustices will also be small.

Baseball, with all the good its trying to do now by supporting Black Lives Matter, and their programs to make the game more accessible to inner city kids, still has a problem with minorities. On August 9, 2020, Jim Passon (@PassonJim) tweeted stats showing the teams that had the lowest percentage of plate appearances by players born outside of the United States. While teams like the Yankees, Padres, and Giants boasted numbers over 30%, the Rockies had 3.9%, while the Mariners had 0% as of August 9, 2020. Some speculate that this is intentional by Mariners ownership and cite the gender and racial discrimination case filed by their former high-performance director Lorena Martin.

Minorities all have a right to equal justice, and if you have a problem with what is going on in our country, think about this quote by Ruben Salazar, “The point is that whatever one may think of the merits of either side of these cases, grassroot movements such as the school walkouts bring out these important overall issues. And that is what democracy is about”. Salazar is remembered as a martyr, but we must rediscover, and remember him as a reporter.

19,807

There are more pressing projects that I should be working on, even as far as my blog posts go, but today I wanted to talk about a few things we are all dealing with and that’s the month of August. The last two weeks of August to be more specific; the worst two weeks of the year. In a year that gave us Covid, a miserable heat wave, and the burning of the American west, everything is depressing about August.

Not only is summer coming to an end, but its doing so with thick smoke in the air and ash falling all around. Our grass is dying, our flowers are wilted, its tough all over.  There is no other time of year that makes you feel like time is going by than the dregs of hot August nights. You might say we have New Year’s, but that is filled with happiness, joy, and the hope of a new beginning. August is the end of everything; with Labor Day just around the corner, summer ends, school begins, and we all start to drag a little thinking about it being too hot for too damn long. For all the miserable things that 2020 has brought, and for the dog days of August that creep slowly by this year, here are some nuggets that might help brighten your day.

The Major League debuts of some of the baseball’s best prospects have happened this summer. Just last night, Joey Bart the top prospect for the Giants and #15 in all of baseball made his debut against the Los Angeles Angels going 1-4 with a double. Bart’s debut made it so that the top four picks of the 2018 draft have all made it to the Majors this year. Earlier this week Casey Mize the #1 pick in 2018 struck out 7 in his Major League debut, while the third pick Alec Bohm of the Phillies also debuted in August, and if we go back to July, Nick Madrigal rounds out the top four. Dylan Carlson of the Cardinals, Spencer Howard of the Phillies, Luis Patino of the Padres, and Jo Adell of the Angels have also set foot upon Major League fields this earlier month. There are so many players making their debuts this season that its hard to keep track of as there have been 66 debuts between August 1st-20th, and 128 in total; by comparison 2019 had 261 in a full season.

Joey Bart may have been the most anticipated debut of the night, but he wasn’t the only catcher from the 2018 Draft to debut, as Minnesota Twins second round pick Ryan Jeffers out of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington went 2-3 with an RBI and run scored. Jeffers is a plus defender with power who the Twins thought highly enough of to surprise everyone by selecting him in the second round when he had not even made the Top 200 amateur prospect list in 2018. He was taken 59th overall, and the fourth catcher taken behind Bart, Cleveland’s Bo Naylor, and the Yankees’ Anthony Seigler. He impressed the Twins so much that he made it to Double-A in his first pro season. So while his ceiling may not be seen as high, and the hype may not be as loud as Bart’s, Jeffers career is one that I’ll make sure to keep a close eye on.

So while I complain about the last two weeks of August, and the restrictions that keep us from enjoying baseball in person, take the time to watch a ballgame and catch these players now because time flies when you’re having fun.

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

EPISODE VI: Return of the “Good eye”

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

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

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

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

Mexican League: A Father’s Day Story

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

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

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

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

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

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