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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Draft week is upon us and as the tension mounts let’s go back in time to an interview I had with former Yankees #1 pick Slade Heathcott. This article was originally published on Bridget Mulcahy’s “Cheap Little Swing” Blog:
Slade Heathcott was drafted in the first round of the 2009 draft by the New York Yankees and spent 10 years in professional baseball with the Yankees, White Sox, Giants, and A’s. He retired on January 15, 2019. Below is a transcript of this interview:
DE: When were you first considered a prospect and start having scouts get in contact with you about the possibility of being drafted?
SH: My junior summer after having lived in Dallas and playing for a travel team, teams started coming to see me that summer and throughout the rest of the year.
DE: You were as they say a “bonus baby.” How did that impact the life you knew, and how did it help shape who you are today?
SH: I was a mess right after being signed. I was bouncing in bars the first couple weeks after signing, staying out all night partying, and so many other opportunities all of which I am very thankful for because they were a part of the process to get where I am today. I think it definitely gave me a sense of entitlement that was quickly calmed due to all my injuries and surgeries.
DE: Who told you that you were first going up, and how did they do it?
SH: My manager Miley, I was holding my son feeding him late after a game one night. I didn’t have phone on me, so they actually called one of my roommates and relayed that I needed to call.
DE: Can you tell me about your first day up, and what your favorite memory is of your time with the Yankees?
SH: It was surreal, it happened all so fast. I packed overnight and was in DC the next morning. My time with the Yankees was full of so many incredible moments; my first roll call, first home run on Memorial Day of all days, and the home run to put us ahead in Tampa Bay.
DE: What was it about your Minor League experience that made you want to get involved with More Than Baseball?
SH: Jeremy and I had something in common, in that we wanted to make the lives of Minor League players better right now. Minor League players are in the top one percentile of their profession and get paid as a season intern title. Food and equipment are some of the biggest challenges when you are getting $7,500 a year before taxes and expenses. Other challenges are paying for an apartment at your affiliate, living on the road eating fast food because that is all players can afford, and the worst is guys having to retire because they do not have a bat to play with.
DE: Looking back at your experience, what advice would you give to this year’s and future draft picks, and would that advice change if they went in either the 1st or 40th round?
SH: Go to college, get prepared for life and then come out ready to tackle the world and to tackle the game of baseball. Baseball allows for an amazing opportunity for players to build their own personal brands and use connections around the game to make things happen on the entrepreneurial front. Take full advantage of that and use your platform to impact as many lives as possible.
You can follow Slade Heathcott at @heathcott_slade. For other projects that Slade is involved with and that support the betterment of Minor League Baseball and its communities, please check out and follow: MoreThanBaseball.org — @MTB_org
Thank you to Slade Heathcott for his time and cooperation. This interview was conducted by David Espinoza in May 2019. Published by Bridget Mulcahy on Cheap Little Swing.
April showers bring May flowers, but they didn’t bring baseball. Come to think of it, I really don’t remember any rain in April. May certainly had it’s wet days here in the Sacramento valley; that is until it got so hot to melt the butter on your biscuits come memorial day.
Writing a baseball blog is difficult when you don’t have any baseball to write about. There are plenty of stories to share but the excitement isn’t the same. The feeling to me is like being away from your family and friends when the only way to communicate with them is through pen and paper. Keeping in touch is nice, sharing stories of old brings a smile to your face, but none of that is like actually having them there with you creating new memories. When I sat down to write this week’s blog my intention was to recap the River Cats’ month of May 2019. I went through my notes picking out the vest highlights, and some of the low ones, that best captured the moments that made up May 2019. The month started with fans begging the Giants to bring up Mac Williamson’s powerful bat, but the Twitter storm began when Mike Gerber was selected instead. Days later Mac would force the Giants’ hand with a terrible three-homer game while Gerber struggled. There were also the Major League debuts of Shaun Anderson and Mike Yastrzemski.
Anderson’s debut was highly anticipated but prior to the first pitch the attention was on the Blue Jays lineup that featured baseball’s top prospect Valdimir Guerrero Jr. On the mound that day for the Jays would be veteran Edwin Jackson who with his very first pitch set the Major League record for the most teams played for, and amazing 17 over his career. None of that seemed to bother Anderson as he pitched like a veteran, and even collected a couple of hits.
Mike Yastrzmeski also blossomed in May and put the River Cats on his shoulders, yaz raised his batting average 115 points from May 1 to May 20 to .345 while batting over .400 during that span and earning his first promotion to the bigs. Mike continued his hot hitting in San Francisco leaving Triple-A behind.
Tyler Beede was the talk of the River Cats rotation, and if it weren’t for New Orleans’ Zac Gallen he would have been the talk of the entire Pacific Coast League. In Beede’s shadow emerged Sam Selman out of the bullpen with a 50% strikeout rate through May. Enderson Franco, after a horrific five weeks to start the season blossomed with two magnificent starts at the end of May. The River Cats, the fans, and even the Giants had just gotten a glimpse of the dominance Franco would have out of the bullpen for the playoff and championship run. The biggest story of the month came May 31, when Chris Shaw, the prodigal son returned to Sacramento after starting the year at Double-A Richmond. Chris went 0-4 that day while sporting a hideous mustache for “Mustache May”, sorry Chris, but with his return he brought a sign that things were about to change.
May 31, 2019 was a hot and muggy night in Sacramento and the Cats would be playing game 3 of a 5 game series against the Red Hot Las Vegas Aviators. Coming into the game the Cats had started the season 0-8 against Las Vegas. Enderson Franco got the ball that night and shut down the Aviators through three while striking out three and allowing only two hits to the powerful lineup. Sacramento would get things going to start off the bottom of the third with a solo homerun off the bat of Mike Gerber to put the River Cats up 1-0. Leading now, the Cats were about to take the field to start the fourth when it happened; the lights went out on Raley Field. During the delay I said to Chris Shaw, “Nice welcome back to town don’t you think?” To which he replied “I brought a power outage.” After a one hour and seven minute delay the game would continue. The gerber homerun was all the Cats would need to claim their first victory of the season over the Aviators, and set the tone for the rest of the year.
The River Cats ended May with a win and roll into June with a record of 28-28. This puts them in a tie for second place with the Fresno Grizzlies as they chase the Tacoma Rainiers who are on a four game win streak, and lead the Division by one and a half games. The Cats’ batting leaders were Mike Gerber and Mike Yastrzemski even as Yaz had settled with the Giants. Gerber’s .344 batting average ranks 7th in the Pacific Coast League, and his 11 home runs puts him one back of Yaz, but the most on the active roster. The inconsistent pitching that the team shows as relievers Steven Okert and Pat Venditte are tied for the team lead in wins with only three a piece; which is about half of what the rest of the league leaders have. Now that both Beede and Anderson are up with the Giants, Ty Blach leads the team with a 5.96 ERA and 1.68 WHIP, ouch! May also marked the end of an era as Mac Williamson elected free agency once he cleared waivers.
I didn’t think that this post would actually end up as a recap, but that’s the life of this baseball blogger who still longs for the day we hear “play ball” one more time. P.S. I wrote this blog at 3:30am after being inspired by Ricky Bobby overcome his demons and become “El Diablo”; It’s like spanish for a fighting chicken. Thank you sweet baby Jesus.