Viva Las Vegas!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.