A Dugout Tale with Jessica Kleinschmidt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does AAPI Heritage Month mean to you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They Ain’t Just a Stephen King Novella Anymore…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Grow A Mustache…It’s Better For Your Health

Mustaches and baseball go together like mustaches and 70’s porn. There have been some great mustaches in the history of the game especially with the Oakland A’s of the early 70’s and most notably Rollie Fingers and his beautiful handlebar mustache which to me sets the standard for a quality baseball mustache. There have been a multitude of mustaches around baseball, but I think Dennis Eckersley, Rich Gossage, Don Mattingly, and Rod Beck set the bar pretty high when it comes to everyday mustache grooming standards; and of course, who can forget the “Mad Hungarian” Al Hrabosky’s mutton chop-like horseshoe mustache which had a life of its own.

Facial hair in general seemed to start to make a powerful comeback in baseball right around 2004 with the Boston Red Sox, but as of late I really see the mustache becoming the go to, especially in May for Mustache May. In my opinion the best mustache for current players hands down goes to Daniel Mengden of the Omaha Storm Chasers of the International League and Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. Mengden who pitched in the Major for the Oakland Athletics sports a classic handlebar mustache a la Rollie Fingers. Runner-up in the category would have to go to J.P. France of the Sugar Land Space Cowboys who also uses the handlebar.

Okay, okay, so why are we talking about mustaches? Well, because its May, and May is “Mustache May”! What’s Mustache May? Its basically a bunch of guys sitting around getting bored with nothing better to do besides be lazy and look for an excuse not to shave while giving the finger to “The Man”. That’s the simple version of it really, and too the best of my knowledge, that’s how it started back in 2001 when a group of river guides in Moab, Utah were annoyed that their employer required them to stay clean shaven. The loophole though was that they were allowed to have mustaches, and so, Mustache May was born.

While Movember was designed to specifically raise awareness for men’s health issues during the month of November, Mustache May was just a thing to do. Mustache May appears to have less of an impact than Movember, but it continues to follow suit for the last decade, and that is that reason that I will be participating in Mustache May this year.

I have selected “Beauty 2 The Streetz”, an organization run by Shirley Raines who provides makeup, showers, and hair color for the homeless women of Skid Row in Los Angeles, California. Shirley was named the 2021 CNN Hero of the Year for the work that she does for her “Queens” and “Kings”. Shirley has been able to expand her services beyond the hygiene needs for those who lack resources and provides food, clothing, and safety to thousands each week. For more information and to donate please go to Beauty 2 The Streetz

As a bonus, for anyone who donates between May 1-31, 2022, please take a screenshot and DM me a receipt to be entered into a drawing for a special prize which will be announced later. The winner will be announced with my post on Monday, June 6, 2022.

There are so many good causes to choose from that I was overwhelmed, but grateful for Ella Stone-Kerr who is an advocate for the marginalized, unseen, and unwanted populations in our communities who pointed me in Shirley’s direction, so a big thank you to her for this inspiration.

Wearing a mustache means something different to everyone who participates, but for those who do, celebrate that fine ‘stache by taking a stand for something and wearing it proudly.

Where it started……
Mustache May – Day 1

He Does It All!

The 2022 Oklahoma City Dodgers are a vibe.

They are the most exciting team I’ve seen in a while with an energy that makes it easy to understand their record coming into this series in Sacramento. From the nonchalant too cool for school attitude of Omar Estevez, the slick laid back demeanor of Andre Jackson, the swagger of Miguel Vargas, or the cool professional leadership of veteran Kevin Pillar, it creates an energy in the dugout that is making baseball fun for this team and exciting for their fans.

Eddy Alvarez, shortstop for the OKC Dodgers had this to say about what he feels creates the ball club’s energy,

“I think the roles that a lot of us have, [as] a lot of us are…veterans now, [with] a lot of big-league experience in our clubhouse, and we’ve taken the roll as it comes. The big-league team is obviously a video game kind of lineup, we understand that. I think the Dodgers on their end have done an unbelievable job in just getting and meshing a great group of guys together; if you can tell what its like as an outsider, it only gets better once we’re in the clubhouse”.

The last time the OKC Dodgers played in Sacramento was in 2018 with a team that featured the likes of Alex Verdugo, Tim Locastro, and Donovan Solano. This year the Dodgers roll in with an 8-4 record and atop the Pacific Coast League East. The River Cats, at 7-5, are in a three-way tie for second in the West.

Game 1 featured a pitching matchup between Sean Hjelle of the River Cats, and Andre Jackson for OKC. While the River Cats would lose by a score of 10-4, which included a six run eighth, the fireworks started early on when Dodgers’ second baseman Eddy Alvarez knocked in a run in the first, and then blasted a monster solo homerun in the third.  

After rounding the bases and giving high fives to his teammates lined up across the front of the dugout, OKC Dodgers pitching coach Dave Borkowski said, “He does it all”, and that is no exaggeration, as Eddy indeed, does it all.

Eddy Alvarez is not your typical professional baseball player. A native of Miami, Florida, Eddy was born to Cuban immigrant parents, and while baseball was in his blood, he fell in love with another sport, inline speed skating. Eddy learned that to compete on the international level he needed to be skating on ice. That decision, determination and hard work led to Eddy being selected for the 2014 U.S. Olympic Short Track Speed Skating team which earned him a Silver Medal in Sochi.

I mentioned earlier that baseball was in Eddy’s blood, and that was manifested in his brother Nick, thirteen years his senior, who spent seven years in the Dodgers’ organization making it to Triple-A. Nick was a power hitter, and unbeknownst to me until recently that the two were brothers, I actually followed Nick’s career for a time. I live and write about baseball in San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s country, but on the inside, I bleed Dodger blue through my Red Sox. After the 2014 Olympics, Eddy decided to hang up his skates for cleats due to the punishment his body was taking and the surgeries he needed to maintain at just 24 years of age.

Signed as an undrafted free agent, for nothing more than a chance by the White Sox, Eddy toiled in the Minor Leagues for five years before being traded to his hometown Miami Marlins in 2019. Eddy made his Major League debut on August 5, 2020 for the Marlins and would go on to get his first Major League hit off Jacob deGrom a few days later. Eddy credits his brother Nick in helping him transition to baseball.

“Nick’s career was kind of a steppingstone for me. He passed a bunch of information down to me when I made the decision to transition to baseball. He was the first one that I went to, to ask for help. Now he has three kids, two boys that are heavy in the baseball world. He has his own baseball academy…his own training facility that he runs the academy through; 25,000 square feet and that place is booming. He’s doing good, he’s doing really well, and the kids are doing extremely well, and we know he’s a basher right? He hit some far home runs that probably haven’t landed yet but he’s an unbelievable dad now, and it’s incredible to watch”.

In May of 2021, Eddy was named to the roster of the 2020/21 United States National Baseball team at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, and would once again wear the Red, White, and Blue on the international stage. Eddy’s experience in Tokyo was much different than Sochi.

“It was a lot different, the 2020 Olympics, compared to the 2014 with everything being shut down with Covid, and no crowds in the stands. The 2014 experience was my first taste of accomplishment, something that my whole life I sacrificed for, but either way, I was so honored to be named one of the flag bearers, next to Sue Bird, and to be able to walk out the Flag, knowing that it’s a symbol of liberty and freedom. It’s something that my family came over to the United States in search of, so I waved that Flag proudly for them”.

Team USA Baseball would fall to Japan in the Gold Medal game, which earned USA Baseball, and Eddy Alvarez the Silver Medal. This would be Eddy’s second Olympic Medal, in a different sport, making him one of six athletes, and only the third American, to have medaled in both the Winter and Summer Olympics. He is also the first Winter Olympian, and first non-baseball Olympian to have played Major League Baseball since the great Jim Thorpe in 1913, after getting Gold in 1912.

Eddy isn’t the only Olympian on the OKC Dodgers roster; he is joined by Team Israel infielder, and U.C. Davis alum, Ty Kelly. One thing I was dying to find out though was about the beds in Tokyo. All over social media last summer, athletes from around the world shared videos of the beds as they were tried, tested, and sometimes destroyed for views. The one thing that none of them ever mentioned, was how comfortable they were, so having the opportunity, I asked Eddy and with a laugh he said,

“They weren’t bad; they were a little stiff, the cushions were a little hard, but I slept really good. Then again, it was like sleeping on an arts and crafts model of a bed frame, but it was perfectly fine. [They were] really easy to move, and really easy to clean under”.

Its hard not to root for Eddy and wish the best for him. Eddy is also known for his backflips, and one of his goals is to bring the backflip back to the game of baseball a la Ozzie Smith, which he says he’s saving for when he’s back in the Major Leagues. So, a tip of the hat, and a raise of the glass to Eddy’s success in making it back to the Majors, so that we can see that flip.

The six-game series would end with a split between the teams but was much more meaningful for Giants and River Cats fans as the Dodgers were knocked out of first place in the East, and the River Cats would take sole possession of first place in the West.

Key highlight of the series included a Game 4 pitching matchup between Michael Plassmeyer for the River Cats and Ryan Pepiot who is the Dodgers’ #2 pitching prospect. The Dodgers would beat the River Cats by a score of 1-0 with the Dodgers lone run coming in the first off a double by Andy Burns that scored Miguel Vargas. From then on out it, it was lights out. Plassmeyer, and reliever Wei-Chieh Huang combined for 15 strikeouts in the loss. While Pepiot struck out eight in five innings of work.

The tables were turned in Game 5 when the River Cats exploded for 12 runs against the Dodgers. Heliot Ramos went oppo-taco, newly assigned Luke Williams continued his hot streak by going 3-4, and LaMonte Wade Jr started his rehab assignment, but the story of the night was Austin Dean. Dean went 3-5 with two runs score, and four RBI, as he fell a double short of the cycle. Things got so bad that infielder Ty Kelly came in to pitch just to save the bullpens arms. Kelly was really zipping them in there as he even touched the low 80’s on his fastball.

The River Cats are off to Albuquerque next for a series against the Isotopes, the Triple-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. If you’d also like to know more about Eddy Alvarez, and in his own words, check out Episode 8 of the podcast Sax in the Morning, hosted by five-time Major League All-Star, and 1982 National League Rookie of the Year, Steve Sax. Sax in the Morning can be found wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Launch Codes Activated

I am going to be honest; I am a little disappointed with myself this week because I did not fully think through how my plan for the blog this year was going to work. Initially I was planning to write a piece every Monday talking about the River Cats series from the previous week and keep you posted about other things around the league; and while I still plan to do that, I think I must change things up a little. I think focusing on the River Cats while they are out of town simply is too much for me to take on this season with my own personal schedule. Yes, I can regurgitate the nightly re-cap of games, but you too can read a box score, and there simply is not any passion in me to do that. I wrote a book this way, and I love it and hope that you will too, but my goal has always been to grow, and bring you more.

Going forward I will write my posts in the following manner. During the weeks in which the River Cats play in Sacramento, my stories will focus on that series and the players. Yes, there may be a story that comes up that I feel is a more relevant story to write, but in general that is the plan. The weeks in which the River Cats are not in town, I will write a more special interest story in which I try to merge life with baseball, because what is baseball, if not a metaphor for life? Each week I will still try to have updates about the River Cats and other goings on in the Pacific Coast League as the focus of the blog is the Pacific Coast League with a River Cats slant.

The River Cats end their series against the Reno Aces with a record of 7-5 after splitting the six-game series. Game 1 saw the River Cats take a loss in a game that included a controversial grand slam that broke it open for the Aces in the bottom of the fourth. Aces second baseman Camden Duzenak hit a ball that appeared to the umpire to have hit above the yellow line on the outfield wall that constitutes a home run. River Cats manager came out to discuss the call and would end up being ejected from the game. Video replay would later show that the ball did in fact hit below the line, but there was nothing that could be done. 4-0, Aces. Matt Davidson would also hit two home runs in the game for Reno as they beat the River Cats 11-4. Davidson, some of you might recall, is one of only four players to have hit three home runs on Opening Day when he accomplished the feat in 2018 for the Chicago White Sox.

In Game 5 of the series on Saturday night, it was like watching a home run derby as the River Cats unloaded for five of the eight home runs hit on the night. David Villar, and Luis Gonzalez each hit two for the River Cats, and Matt Davidson hit his seventh home run of the season, which is the most in all of baseball at the time of this writing, in a game that ended with a River Cats victory by a score of 18-8. The Cats were 22-50 (.440) at the plate with 18 RBI, five doubles, five home runs, and six walks.

The River Cats could only muster up three hits on Sunday’s series finale after last night’s hit parade and would drop the final game of this series by a score of 1-0 on a home run by Arizona’s #1 prospect Alek Thomas. Thomas has a six-game hitting streak going right now and has hit safely in 10 of 12 games the Aces have played this year. Sunday was also Heliot Ramos’ return to the River Cats lineup after a brief call up to the Giants last week, and he goes 0-4 on the day.

Around the league we see River Cats third baseman David Villar sitting second in the PCL leader board with five homeruns behind Davidson, and third in the Minor Leagues behind Memphis’ Nolan Gorman who has six to lead the International League. Villar’s 16 RBI also lead the PCL but fall second over all in Triple-A behind Worcester’s Franchy Cordero who has 18. Bryce Johnson, who led the PCL in steals in 2021 has five on the season, just one behind the stolen base leaders Bubba Thompson and Forrest Wall. River Cats’ pitcher Matt Carasiti is tied for most wins in the league with a record of 2-0, and Raynel Espinal leads the River Cats with 13 strikeouts in 7.2 innings.

The Dodgers have most of their best prospect talent in the lower levels, but come in to this week’s series against the River Cats with three of their Top 30 on the Oklahoma City roster who are #5 Miguel Vargas, a power hitting corner infielder who is the son of longtime Cuban star Lazaro Vargas, #6 Ryan Pepiot a right handed pitcher whose change up is considered the best in all of the Minor Leagues and is among the leaders in the various pitching categories in the PCL. The Dodgers #11 prospect Andre Jackson, who made his debut with Los Angeles last season will be on the mound to start the series for Oklahoma City on Tuesday and is scheduled to pitch against Sean Hjelle for the River Cats.

The OKC Dodgers also have players who River Cats/Giants fans will be aware of starting with outfielder Kevin Pillar, pitcher Reyes Moronta, and coach Emmanuel Burriss who played for the Giants from 2008-2012. While there are other players of note on the team, U.C. Davis alum and Olympian from Team Israel baseball, Ty Kelly has come out of retirement and is playing for OKC, as well as Eddy Alvarez, Olympic silver medal winner in both speed skating and baseball has been leading off for OKC this season. Alvarez is only the sixth person ever, and third American to medal in both the Winter (2014) and Summer (2020/1) Olympics in different sports. This will no doubt be an exciting week of baseball in Sacramento as the Giants and Dodgers affiliates face off against each other accompanied by the same intensity and rivalry by their fans at any level of the game.

Some people call us the Space Cowboys, Some still call us the Skeeters

Maurice has left the building.

The first series of 2022 is in the books and the River Cats start their season 4-2. This series marked the debut of the Sugarland Space Cowboys, formerly known as the Skeeters since their inception back in 2012 while they were a part of the independent Atlantic League. While the Skeeters did come into the Triple-A West/Pacific Coast League in 2021 as part of Major League Baseball’s realignment and management plan, the deal also involved the Houston Astros purchasing majority ownership of the team. The name change, and rebranding was announced after the 2021 season to better align the team with the Astros, Sugar Land’s proximity to the Johnson Space Center, and of course, cowboys because Texas.

People keep talkin’ about me, baby.

Game 1 started with Sugar Land first baseman making history as he hit the first home run in Space Cowboy’s history. A two-run blast off Sacramento starter Jakob Junis, and yes, it was reported that the ball made is safely back to Sugar Land when it landed. J.J. would end the six-game series hitting .313 with two home runs, and five RBI, with a 1.200 OPS.

Heliot Ramos and David Villar have been the talk of the series because of their bats, and for Ramos’ call up this weekend, but it all started on Opening Night. The River Cats jumped all over Sugar Land starter J.P. France on Opening Night. After walking leadoff batter Luis Gonzalez, France gave up a two-run home run to Ramos who knew it was gone as he shuffled hopped a few steps down the first base line enjoying the moment. France would last only 0.2 innings before the River Cats chased him to the clubhouse.

In the second inning, David Villar would crank out a three-run home to put the Cats ahead for the night, and then walk it off with a single in the bottom of the ninth to seal the Opening Night victory for the River Cats. Villar would end the six-game series only batting .188, but his two home runs, and seven RBI over the series were literal game changers.

On the pitching side, Sean Hjelle was almost perfect in his 2022 debut going 3.2 innings having only given up a walk, with no-hits, and five strikeouts. Raynel Espinal who put in 3.2 innings on Saturday night where he scattered three hits, allowed zero runs and struck out seven. The performance kept the River Cats in the game in the pitchers dual, but Sugar Land’s Chad Donato was just too much and he handed the River Cats their first loss of the season. Other notable River Cat performances were put in by former Texas Rangers top prospect and first round draft pick Luis Ortiz, as well as Wei-Chieh Huang.

Well, don’t you worry, don’t worry, no, don’t worry, mama.

Sunday’s final match of the series was all Sugar Land, and J.P. France who simply dominated the River Cats and redeemed himself for the poor outing on Opening Night. The Cats would take their second loss of the season on a windy Sunday afternoon by a score of 8-1. Matijevic would hit his second home run of the season, and France would throw four complete no-hit innings and strike out eight, until allowing two hits and one run before being taken out in the fifth.

The River Cats begin their second series today with a 1:05pm start in Reno against the Aces who come into the game with a 3-3 record after opening the season in Las Vegas. The Cats will be seeing some familiar faces as Caleb Baragar, and Braden Bishop who have played with the River Cats in 2019, and 2021 respectively and are now with the Aces.

Mondongo

I wasn’t planning on writing about mondongo today, but life happens, and you adjust accordingly. Mondongo is a stew made from tripe and vegetables with different variations throughout Latin America. Growing up in a Mexican household I knew it as “menudo”. While I’m more of a pozole guy myself, I was looking forward to trying a Columbian style mondongo until the San Francisco Giants ruined my plans.

Heliot Ramos, one of the Giants’ Top 5 prospects started the season in Triple-A Sacramento as the 2022 season got underway this past week, and today he made his Major League debut. So, how does any of this have to do with mondongo? Well for that let me take you back to last weekend…

I had the opportunity to talk to Heliot last week about his Spring, and what his goals were for 2022. We got a little sidetracked and as usual with me the topic food came up, and he was telling me about who a group of the guys would go out to eat mondongo before every game. He couldn’t remember the name of the place, and said that he would get back to me. Well, I guess that’s not happening any time soon because after his debut performance in San Francisco, I don’t think he’ll be putting on a River Cats jersey any time soon.

Heliot said that when he’s at the plate he tries to keep his mind clear, stay patient at the plate and look for the best pitch he could hit and put his best swing on. That patience paid off five days later for the 22-year-old. Originally drafted with the 19th pick of the 2017 Major League Draft at just 17 years old out of Puerto Rico, Ramos quickly ascended through the Giants’ minor league system and reaching Triple-A Sacramento at the end of 2021.

Over the last two Spring Trainings, Ramos continued to show the Giants’ brass that he would be an impact player, and when he started this season in Triple-A, it was on his first swing of the season that he unloaded on a 3-0 pitch that was sent over the left field fence for a two-run home run. In just four games this season Ramos had one home run, four RBI, and a .950 OPS, impressive enough for the Giants to call and he came out of Saturday night’s River Cats game after the third inning.

Today’s River Cats and San Francisco Giants games both were scheduled for 1:05pm start times which really put a damper on watching Heliot’s debut, but thankfully cell phones were tuned into the Giants’ game all around; including inside of the River Cats dugout where in a touching moment of humanity the entire bench circled around to watch Heliot get his first Major League hit, in his first Major League at bat against Marlin’s ace Trevor Rogers. I don’t know Heliot on a personal level, but he seemed to be a nice and humble young man, but to those who know him, he must really be special. In a cutthroat business like professional baseball, to have your very professional Triple-A manager, Dave Brundage, and your teammates, break concentration and take a minute away from their jobs to cheer you on 90 miles away speaks volumes about Heliot’s character.

Ramos was given a standing ovation by the Oracle Park crowd as he came to bat for the first time in the bottom of the second wearing a pair of leopard print orange and black cleats given to him by Brandon Crawford to which Ramos said, “I got flow now papi”. Ramos shined in his debut going 2-3 with a run scored. After the game Giants’ manager Gabe Kapler said,

I don’t think you can draw up any better. A hit in your first at-bat kind of creates a little bit of confidence and swagger. He maintained that swagger throughout. He’s been driving to this moment his entire life. He got here and took advantage of it.

(AP)

As of his own performance Ramos said,

Best moment of my life. It was great. After I got the first hit, I was more relaxed and it was pretty good, honestly. I’ve been waiting for this moment, so I just went out there and played and do what I do.

(AP)

Yes, keep doing what you do Heliot, you got the flow now, and I can’t wait to watch you pimp those home runs in The Show like you did on Opening Night in Sacramento.

Anyway, you didn’t think I’d leave you without giving you a recipe for mondongo did you? Enjoy!
https://www.mycolombianrecipes.com/mondongo-colombiano-pork-tripe-and-chorizo-soup/

Hot Diggity Dog!!

Happy New Year!! No, you’re not in some alternate universe, for me the new year starts on baseball’s Opening Day, and that time has come for the Minor Leagues. The green freshly cut grass, the bright white uniforms, the smell of hot dogs and beer lingering in the air amid the hustle and bustle of the fans, yes, this indeed is another happy new year.

While I patiently waited all off-season, and even endured the 99-day lockout imposed by Major League owners, there’s one thing I’m looking forward to the most this year, and it’s not watching the best prospects. Yes, I’m still excited to watch Heliot Ramos, Sean Hjelle, and Michael Plassmeyer work their way to the Majors, and there will be veterans like Carlos Martinez trying to make it back for one more run, but this year, this year is different. This year I’m looking forward to hot dogs.

The ever famous $2 Dog, Dinger Dogs, Green Chili Queso Dogs, the Diablo Dog, and my oh so favorite Greek Dog. These specialty dogs use locally produced Miller’s Hot Dogs who are based in Lodi, California, and topped with an amazing combination of flavors that will keep your mouth watering, your wallets thin, and you belly bulging. Here’s a quick description of the three gourmet dogs:

Green Chili Queso Dog, topped with white cheddar queso, hatch green chiles, and hickory smoked bacon. It’s a south of the border twist on an American classic that goes well with a Modelo beer.

Diablo Dog, smeared with cream cheese and topped with a house-made jalapeno relish, raspberry jam, and bacon. Its sweet, salty, with just the right amount of kick from the jalapeno relish. Oh, and the raspberry jam goes surprisingly well, so come with an open mind, and an empty belly because your tastebuds will thank you for it.

Greek Dog, topped with Tzatziki, tomatoes, cucumbers, and feta. You get a piece of the Mediterranean at Sutter Health Park, and make sure you class it up with a glass of wine from Bogle Chardonnay. Yes, this is what I’m having for dinner tonight.

If you’re not a hot dog fan, don’t worry, Sutter Health Park has a wide array of food options from ballpark classics, pizza, barbeque, tri-tip, and Mexican just to name a few. You’re bound to find something no matter what you’re craving. Of course, Sutter Health Park has more than food to offer, it is a Triple-A baseball park too.

The start of the new season brings opportunities. Opportunities to try new food, opportunities to watch the stars of tomorrow today, the opportunity to make new friends, and more importantly create memories. Those memories are not just for the fans who come out to the games, but players make their own memories as well. Heliot Ramos reflected on his time in Sacramento and the memories that he created for himself last year. From going out to eat “mondongo”, Columbia’s version of what many of you might know as “menudo”, every day with coach Jolbert Cabrera to playing against his brother, and 2019 River Cats alum, Henry Ramos in a professional game to which he said,

“Honestly that was one of the best experiences. I’ve watched my brother since I was like ten years old play professionally, and I look up to him a lot, he’s my role model. So, seeing him and playing against him, he hit a lot of homers playing against us, so its cool seeing him play like that. To me, he’s a superstar”.

Of course, not every athlete has a chance to play with or against their brother at the professional level, and their memories can be as pedestrian as the ones we make at work every day. Bryce Johnson shared his memory about when Mike Tauchman joined the team last year in early August,

“Mike Tauchman, came to us in Salt Lake, and he ended up coaching first base over there in the box, and [the pitcher] picks off over there [at first base] and I kid you not, like 45 seconds after the ball was already thrown back to the pitcher by the first baseman, he screams, “Back”!! telling the runner to get back. Of course, the runner’s already standing back on first base, but Mike Tauchman has a bunch of memories I can take from, I love that guy. He’s a character and he’s always got some trick up his sleeve that makes everyone laugh; he’s a great guy”.

What memories are you looking to create this year? Or what are some of your favorite memories from the past 22 seasons of River Cats baseball? I’d love to read what you have to say in the comments. If you’re looking for more memories from the Sacramento River Cats, check out my new book, “Let’s Get It All”, a memoir of the amazing 2019 River Cats run to the Triple-A Championship. Part One is available now for FREE on this website at https://dugoutblog.com/lets-get-it-all/

I’m finished!!

Writing my first book has been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done but I can finally put it away and say I did it. I took a lot away from the experience, and it took a lot out of me, but my growth as a writer shows. What started off as a history of the River Cats, evolved into a chronicle of the 2019 Championship season. The book’s ebb and flow is much like a full baseball season, and my emotions are reflected in my writing, but there are also flashes of brilliance; moments in which you feel as if you were living that moment again for the first time. This is my second rewrite over the last three years, but closest to what I had originally written when I took on this endeavor.

I thought that I would be able to have this book done by the start of the 2020 season but editing became a chore I was not prepared for. I would put the book on hold when the Covid pandemic hit as my mental health was pushed to the limits over some personal life experiences, and baseball took a backseat to what was going on in the world. I was just about complete with the book by the time the 2021 season opened, but then it was through an online discussion with Walter Beede that made me trash what I had written.

The preparation I took for writing this book included reading as many books on baseball as I could and trying to emulate them; it was a horrible idea and it showed, so I deleted it. I was so wrapped up in writing a “good” book, that it just didn’t feel right anymore. I was trying to impress some imaginary audience, when I should have been true to my own writing style and to those who already follow me for what I have to say and were looking forward to my insights on this memorable season.

I’ve slowly built this back together over the past year, and I’m finally ready to release it, with a catch. I will be releasing this book for free and because of that, I will be releasing sections of the book on the first of each month from April 2022-October 2022. My reasoning is simple; I want the continued engagement with my followers, and hopefully attract more in anticipation of “what’s next”. As an added bonus I will also be releasing previously unpublished photos from the 2019 season on my Instagram and Twitter and last but not least, the physical copy will be available in October/November for anyone who would like a copy for the holidays.

Thank you to the Sacramento River Cats for the opportunity and access you gave me to write this book, and thank you to every other team in the Pacific Coast League, as well as the Stockton Ports, and the Boise Hawks for allowing me access to their teams in helping fill out some sub plots to the main story, and most importantly, thank so much to all of the fans who have supported me and been patient while I worked on this project. Now, enjoy the first games of the postponed 2022 Spring Training, and come back here on April 1st as I drop the first section of my book, “Let’s Get it All”!

56-71

Minor League baseball is a bit of a weird animal. While one would expect a Major League team to be good or bad based on their previous season, Minor League teams never know what their rosters will be like from one day to the next. So, when the River Cats were introduced as “Your Tiple-A National Champions” before each game, it always was a little weird to me as only a handful of players from that 2019 Championship were still on this year’s team. That said, the River Cats ended their season last week with a record of 56-71, which includes their 4-6 record in this weird playoff thing that Minor League Baseball decided to do this year. It was a far cry from 2019, but so much in the world has changed since 2019, hasn’t it?


There were some good times and some bad, but worldwide pandemic aside, I should have taken my tweet from February 4th as a sign of what was to come. In response to the Minnesota Twins tweeting out the announcement that they had acquired Shaun Anderson from the San Francisco Giants for Lamonte Wade Jr, I replied, “You got the better deal I think”. While Wade would start the season with Triple-A Sacramento, he would become a valuable part to the Giants lineup this year, and even was named winner of the Willie Mac Award, awarded annually by the Giants to a player for their individual achievements, as well as competitive spirit, and leadership. Anderson found himself bouncing up and down with four different Major League clubs and a total of eight teams in eight months. While I was hoping for more of a season like Wade’s, my year ended up a lot more like Anderson’s.


I opened the 2021 Minor League Baseball season in Las Vegas. After writing about the River Cats 2019 championship season, I decided that it would be important to write about the first game post pandemic. Minor League Baseball had lost a season, teams were lost, but baseball endured. Game 1 of the 2021 season brought the return of Tyler Beede after undergoing Tommy John surgery the previous Spring, it showcased a piece of the future of the San Francisco Giants with Joey Bart hitting a homerun in his Triple-A debut. The Ballpark was electric, and although it was opening night and the first game since 2019, the game played second string to the return of Las Vegas native Drew Robinson, making his return to professional baseball a year after his attempted suicide which cost him his right eye. Drew had a rough night going 0-4 with four strikeouts in front of his hometown crowd, but the weird part for me was heading out to the Vegas Strip after the game and every channel had something to say about the River Cats and Drew Robinson. Robinson would have a memorable moment in front of his friends and family when in the final game of the series in Las Vegas, he hit a home run and the crowd erupted. Robinson didn’t find much success and saw his playing time dwindle until he ultimately retired during the year to take a new position with the Giants organization as a mental health advocate with their End the Stigma program.


Memorial Day marked a special night as local boy Sammy Long made his Triple-A debut and out of the blue we had a star. Tying a Major League record of striking out the first eight batters he faced, I couldn’t find a Minor League record, but I feel safe in saying this set the mark. Long, who had just a couple of years earlier been contemplating giving up his career now found himself on the fast track to the Majors and would spend the rest of the season going up and down with the Giants.


Sacramento was also the beginning of another Scott Kazmir comeback. After being out of organized baseball since 2017, although he did pitch for a Sugarland Skeeters developmental team Eastern Reyes del Tigre last season prior to Sugarland’s promotion into Triple-A baseball. Kazmir made his was way back to the Majors with the Giants as well as being a member of the Silver Medal winning USA Baseball Team at the Tokyo Olympics.


In 2019 the River Cats celebrated their 20th anniversary, and 2021 would mark 20 years since the last River Cats no-hitter, a 7-inning gem pitched by Micah Bowie. There had never been a 9-inning no hitter in River Cats history, but that changed in front of 4,458 reported fans on a warm summer night in September. Four pitchers combined their efforts to accomplish the feat, most notably with Norwith Gudino who started the game by striking out the first 7 of 9 hitters. He would end the night with a career high 9 in four innings. Tyler Cyr, Connor Menez, and Trevor Gott would round out the relief pitchers for the rest of the night who shut down the Salt Lake Bees offense.


2021 may not have been the season River Cats fans were hoping for, but the future looks bright with up and coming stars like Marco Luciano, Luis Matos, and Hunter Bishop. For now, let’s be grateful that we have baseball back in the City of Trees and let’s look back at some of the players that brought smiles to our faces as the River Cats released their annual player awards.


Press release from the Sacramento River Cats by Maverick Pallack
The Sacramento River Cats, the San Francisco Giants’ Triple-A affiliate, finished off an exciting season on Sunday with the reveal of their team awards. Seven different River Cats were named the winners of eight awards, which were voted on by their teammates and coaches.
Offensive Player of the Year and Team MVP: Infielder Jason Krizan
Infielder Jason Krizan was a constant presence in the River Cats lineup, finishing the season as the Triple-A West hit king with 136 in 2021. Krizan hit .316 while leading Sacramento with 67 runs, 26 doubles, 73 RBIs, 38 multi-hit games, and 18 multi-RBI games. He was also second on the team with 16 home runs, and even threw 1.1 scoreless innings on the mound.
Pitcher of the Year: Right-Hander Kervin Castro
In his first season above Single-A, 22-year-old Kervin Castro forced his way to San Francisco with a great Triple-A debut. After a quick adjustment period, Castro impressed going 6-1 with a 2.86 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, a .197 opposing batting average, and 60 strikeouts over 44.0 innings. He also had Triple-A West’s longest streak of consecutive games with a strikeout, punching out a batter in all 30 games before his promotion.
Defensive Player of the Year: Outfielder Bryce Johnson
It’s one thing to make a full-extension diving catch, it’s another to do it twice in the same game, but outfielder Bryce Johnson did it on back-to-back batters twice this season. The speedy outfielder consistently flashed the leather and made highlight plays for the River Cats. He also had a great season with the bat, hitting .286 with 65 runs, nine home runs, 44 RBIs, 48 walks, and a Triple-A West leading 30 stolen bases.
Most Exciting Player: Infielder Thairo Estrada
Prior to his promotion to San Francisco on June 29, infielder Thairo Estrada was arguably the best hitter in Minor League Baseball, leading Triple-A West with a .385 batting average and a 1.057 OPS. Estrada continued to impress with the Giants, hitting .273 with 19 runs, seven home runs, and 22 RBIs in 52 games. Estrada is the second straight infielder acquired from the Yankees organization to win the Most Exciting Player Award, with Abiatal Avelino taking it home in 2019.
Most Versatile Player: Infielder/Outfielder Will Toffey
Will Toffey has done everything the team has asked, playing left field, right field, first base, second base, and third base. He even caught some bullpens when the River Cats were in need. Despite the many different gloves worn this season, Toffey had a .988 fielding percentage. The midseason trade acquisition from the Mets hit .270 with 15 runs, two home runs, and nine RBIs in 31 games for Sacramento, his first year at Triple-A.
Most Improved Player: Infielder Peter Maris
Infielder Peter Maris excelled when on the field for Sacramento. During his end-of-season call-up in 2019, Maris was 2-for-35 (.057) in 12 regular season games. In 2021, despite sporadic playing time, Maris became a force at the plate, hitting .289 with 23 runs, nine home runs, 29 RBIs, and a .847 OPS.
Best Teammate: Catcher Ronnie Freeman
If you don’t like Ronnie Freeman, you don’t like people. Freeman is absolutely beloved by his teammates and has played a major role in the River Cats’ success each of the last two seasons. Over his final seven games, Freeman had four runs, three home runs (including the Sept. 30 game-winner), and five RBIs. This is Freeman’s second Best Teammate award, having shared it with catcher Francisco Peña in 2019. (End)


Now the only questions left for the 2021 season is whether Ronnie Freeman retires and if a certain person I know says “yes” to a date with him?? Come back in 2022 for the answer. Until then, Claws Up!