It Started with Some Smoke…

I think we all remember our first no hitter; mine was June 29, 1990. I was 15 years old sitting in my room going through baseball cards as I always did during games and watching the Oakland Athletics play the Toronto Blue Jays at the Skydome. Dave Stewart got the ball for Oakland, and I never expected that he would throw a no hitter that night, so the game was on more for the background noise. It wasn’t until the 8th inning or so that I noticed what was happening and stayed glued to the TV until that final out. I was focused in on the game to watch Tony Fernandez pop out to Dave Henderson who skipped over a few feet and caught the ball with his trademark smile to end the game. Baseball fans were blessed on that night as later that evening Fernando Valenzuela of the Dodgers threw a no hitter against the Cardinals becoming the first Mexican born player to accomplish the feat. Fernando-mania was long dead, but the memories remained and his greatness shined bright one more time.

I had been aware of other no-hitters. I recall Juan Nieves’ game in 1987, and Tom Browning’s perfect game in 1988, but I never actually watched a no-hitter until Stew’s. It would be 22 years later before I saw my first no hitter in person. I was at a summer college league game watching the Marysville Gold Sox. I don’t remember anyone who played that day except for Gold Sox pitcher Nick Hudson who threw the gem. In 2013 I also witnessed my kid throw a no hitter in a losing effort. Going into the final frame leading 1-0, The Kid gave up a couple of walks, followed by back-to-back errors by our shortstop and they lost in a walk off. I was still proud of The Kid, celebrated their performance, and kept the ball but man was that a tough one.

I started to cover the Sacramento River Cats in 2018, but long before that I had always been a fan going back to their inaugural season in 2000. I was still living in Boise on May 1, 2001, when Micah Bowie would throw the first no-hitter in River Cats history as he threw a 7-inning no hitter against the Tacoma Rainiers at Cheney Park in Tacoma. Since then, there have been two no-hitters thrown at Sutter Health Park, formerly known as Raley Field, but unfortunately none were thrown by the River Cats. In 2006, three Portland Beavers teamed up to no-hit the River Cats at Raley Field on June 9, 2006, in game two of a double header. Three years later, Sean O’Sullivan threw the first 9-inning no-hitter at Raley Field for the Salt Lake Bees. The closest game that I’ve ever seen come to a no-hitter for the River Cats was back in 2003 when Erik Hiljus took a no-no into the 9th. I don’t remember why the decision was made but after facing the first batter in the 9th, manager Bob Geren pulled Hiljus and brought in one of the A’s top prospects Joe Valentine who had recently been acquired in a deal with the White Sox. My heart sank. Valentine, in my mind, was not the reliable closer that he was hyped up to be, but here we were and there it went as Valentine gave up a hit to the first batter he faced. Its been 20 years since Bowie throw his no-hitter for the River Cats, but this past Friday night, September 4, 2021, that streak came to an end as four River Cats pitchers, Norwith Gudino, Conner Menez, Tyler Cyr, and Trevor Gott, combined to throw the first 9-inning no-hitter in River Cats history.

The game was special right from the start when I noticed that Norwith Gudino had struck out 7 of 9 through the first three innings, and he would end the night with a career high 9 in four. This had me so hyped up that I quickly picked up the only 5 baseball cards of his I could find. Menez, Cyr, and Gott would combine for an additional 6 strikeouts to give the River Cats 15 on the night. Gott would finish off the game by getting Bees second baseman Michael Stefanic to ground out 6-3, as Mauricio Dubon played it cleanly and tossed it to Jason Krizan to end the game. The River Cats will be on the road after this Labor Day series wraps up, and although I highly doubt there will be another no-hitter thrown before they get back to Sacramento in 10 days, can we try not to wait another 20 years?

Claws Up!

Who the Fook is THAT Guy??

I had my mind set for 2021 on making this blog focused on Triple-A West, and Low-A West baseball, but I find myself still focusing on the River Cats. I’ll try to work on that, but for now here is another update on the River Cats 6-game series against Las Vegas where they went 2-4 so there wasn’t a whole lot to get excited about. Joey Bart did return to action after having been out for about a week due to some tenderness in his groin. The real highlight of the series was Sam Long. Who? You might ask. Well, most people outside of Sacramento probably don’t know him, and to be honest being from Sacramento myself, I had already forgotten about him, but he is definitely worth taking note of after his first start here for the River Cats.

A Fair Oaks native and an alumnus of Del Campo High School, and Sacramento State where he played for three years, Sam was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 16th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball Draft. After spending three years in the Rays system before being released, and then considering leaving baseball, before signing with the White Sox after a six-month break. The Giants signed him and invited him to Spring Training this season. He opened some eyes with his 97-mph fastball, and he was assigned to Double-A Richmond to start the season where he was 0-1 in four starts with a 3.00 ERA, and 22 strikeouts in 15 innings of work. Having just been called up days before, Long was making his Triple-A debut for his hometown team, in front of a hometown crowd; and he didn’t disappoint.

Long struck out the first eight batters he faced before allowing a hit to Aviator’s outfield Buddy Reed. He then struck out the next batter for good measure. He had a 60-pitch limit and was pulled after strikeout number nine and had reached pitch 56. I couldn’t find any information on the Minor League record for strikeouts to start a game, but the Major League record is eight, which is the mark that Long reached. The feat was first done in 1986 by Houston Astros’ pitcher Jim Deshaies and matched by Jacob deGrom in 2014. While we may or may not have witnessed history that night in Sacramento, it was still an outing to remember. It will be interesting to see how Long follows up this performance when he toes the rubber this Saturday June 5, 2021, against the first place Reno Aces. There’s something amiss about Long’s season so far in my opinion as the Giants don’t seem to be stretching him out as is shown by his 60-pitch limit. I just find it odd that he had those four starts in Richmond, yet only has 15 innings under his belt so its probably safe to assume that 60 has been the high point for him so far.

The rest of the series saw Tyler Beede with his worst outing of the season where he simply didn’t have his control. Beede pitched three, and allowed 6 runs, 5 earned, while walking six, including two hit batters and only striking out one. I don’t know if these are numbers that we should be concerned about or if it’s the natural progression of someone who is going through Tommy John rehab as I’ve never watched another player’s return so closely. I realize the numbers don’t always tell the whole story and I wasn’t at this game to see it firsthand, but his control seems to be getting a little worse lately. The series did end on a high note though as newly acquired Braden Bishop, older brother of Giants top prospect Hunter, ended the series finale in style.  The back-and-forth game which found the River Cats and Aces tied in the bottom of the 9th started and ended with Bishop. On a 1-1 count as the clock struck 10:00pm Braden launched his first homerun off of Ace’s reliever Matt Milburn for the walkoff! This was Sacramento’s first walk off since August of 2018 when Gregor Blanco did, and was then called up the next day.

The River Cats start a 12-game road trip against Reno and Tacoma before returning to Sacramento on June 17th. That will be the first game since Covid in which capacity will be at 100% and I’m excited to see a full crowd!

Home at Last – A River Cats Round Up

Its been over 600 days since Sutter Health Park in Sacramento hosted a professional baseball game that mattered, and back then it was still called Raley Field. The 2021 season started with two weeks on the road for the River Cats that took them from Las Vegas to Oklahoma City. Coming into their first series at home with six games against the Reno Aces who are first in the West Division with a 9-2 record while the River Cats find themselves with a 6-6 record with four of those wins coming against OKC. Fittingly tonight’s starter for the home opener is Tyler Beede. This is his fourth rehab start since his Tommy John surgery back in the Spring of 2020. Beede has been looking really good in his outings, and although he is still on a limited pitch count he has a 3.18 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, with 10 strikeouts and two walks in 5.2 innings.

The Aces come into this series with only two of the Arizona Diamondbacks Top 30 prospects on the roster with Seth Beer (13), and Jon Duplantier (22) who will pitch game two of this series. The Aces also bring in a couple of familiar faces as former River Cats Ryder Jones, and Henry Ramos are on the team and playing in this series.

The River Cats were able to get on the board early as Jason Vosler put them on the board in the bottom of the second with a solo shot to make it 1-0. Beede would then come out after going 2.2 innings throwing 53 pitches. He looked good through the first 45 when the Reno team started to make some contact. I could not tell you the speed because the radar gun was stuck at 82 on the board all night.

The game was a bit ho-hum and as nice as it was to be back at the ballpark, something was missing. The crowd wasn’t bad considering it was a Thursday and there are still some Covid restrictions that are being dealt with but I’m still missing the energy of the game; maybe its just me.

The River Cats got their first home win of the series in Game 3 of the series and they did it with Bryce Johnson’s speed who after stealing third, took home after an errant throw to win the game. Johnson is the guy I think you need to keep an eye on this year. I’ve watched him play a few times in previous seasons during his time in San Jose, and I found him to be a pretty good fielder, and fast. Nothing really stood out to me though, but he has me taking notice this year. A sixth-round pick in 2017 out of Sam Houston State, Johnson is hitting .358/.476/1.013 with two homeruns, 10 RBI, and 7 steals.

The highlight of series was Game 5 when the River Cats broke out 14 runs in beating the Aces by a final score of 14-9. 22 of the games 23 runs were all scored before the bottom of the fifth. It was a seesaw battle until Jason Vossler capped a five run third with a three-run shot, and Drew Robinson added a solo shot in a four run fourth.  

The final game of the series was a day game, and it was pretty hot. Tyler Beede was on the mound and took the loss. He only lasted two innings and threw 53 pitches, giving up one and striking out three. It was probably his worst outing so far, but I wouldn’t call it bad in any way. He was getting squeezed by the home plate umpire on plenty of pitches, and his fastball was sitting around 95-96 on the day. Tyler’s overall consistency has been great in my opinion, and will be a huge asset to the Giants once he returns to the rotation.

Not going to lie, I don’t remember much of the rest of the game except for the Aces pulling Henry Ramos in a double switch after he half assed a ball that allowed the River Cats to score two. The only reason I even remember this was that those around me were joking about how poorly Ramos would misplay the ball during his tenure with the River Cats, and here we are. Ramos’ misstep aside the River Cats still lost and are now 8-10 going into their next six game series with Las Vegas which starts tonight.

The River Cats will be playing six against Las Vegas with Jesus Luzardo taking the mound for the Aviators, and the Cats counter with Shun Yamguchi (0-2, 5.65). The Cats went 2-4 against Las Vegas to open the season, but they are both 8-10 coming into the series.

Jason Vossler was also called up after the last game, and by doing so was unable to enjoy a day off on Wednesday like the rest of the River Cats did since he had to be in Phoenix for a game against the Diamondbacks. Apparently, Jason didn’t seem to mind as he hit his first Major League homerun. I think he’d skip a day off for that any time; congrats Jason!

I have to say that I’m really disappointed with the new configuration of Triple-A West and its scheduling. Six-game series, and then a day off followed by another six-game series. I don’t think that this would necessarily be that bad, but there are only 10 teams in the League, and the River Cats only play eight of them. Sugarland and Albuquerque don’t play Sacramento this season.

On a side note, I’m thinking about doing a review on ballpark food. It will probably focus around the food in Sacramento and Stockton as that is where I intend to attend most of my games, but I hope to give you a little insight on what they have to offer. I need a cool hashtag though. Well, that’s all for this installment, see ya at the ballpark!

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!

I Was Going to Release My Book Today…

I was going to release my book today, but I took the big L; Life. I originally planned to release the book in Spring 2020 to coincide with the start of the Minor League Baseball season, but I learned real soon that editing was more difficult than I ever imagined. Hiring a professional editor was not in the budget so I resigned to editing this book myself, and then Covid hit. One would think that being locked up would give me plenty of time to finish the book, and that plan started just fine, but then it kept spiraling and my mental health deteriorated. I’m finally in a better space mentally so I’m pushing forward and completing this book. I’ve put a lot of time energy and money into the project so I hope that the final product will reflect that. In the meantime, please enjoy the current introduction of “Let’s Get It All”!!

I’m passionate about baseball. It’s in my blood. As far back as I could remember, I wanted to play baseball. Before I ever owned my own bat, I used to saw off the handles of broomsticks and hit rocks in the fields behind our home. There were electrical wires running across a small canal, and if I could hit the rock over them, it was a homerun. This was before we talked about launch angles so let me tell you, it’s pretty hard to elevate a rock about the size of a shooter marble 40 feet in the air, when you’re about 100 feet away and using a broomstick. Yes, baseball is my passion, but I never dreamed of writing a book, yet here I am, with a concept born of frustration in the Summer of 2017.

I finally finished my degree from Sac State at the ripe old age of 41 in the Fall of 2016 and like any good recent grad, I was sending out as many resumes that I could. I was getting interviews here and there but not many bites, when suddenly, the calls just stopped. I continued applying, and attaching resumes, and updating my LinkedIn and other online job sites, but nothing. One day my 16-year-old daughter came to me asking to see my resume so that she could get an idea on how to do hers. When I pulled up my resume for her, I discovered that all the info had been deleted except for my name and contact information; the rest of the page was completely blank. I don’t know how it happened, or for how long I had been sending out blank resumes, but it left me feeling frustrated. After kicking myself for a few hours, I realized that the River Cats would soon be approaching their 20th Anniversary in Sacramento; and from there the dream was born.

I had just moved to Boise, ID in 1999, a year before the River Cats relocated to Sacramento. I had never cared about Minor League Baseball at the time and was quite content following the Dodgers and Red Sox. It was in Boise that I developed a love for the minor league ball and the small intimate parks of the Northwest League. I fell in love with listening to games on the radio and feeling a bit nostalgic about a time I never lived through where families sat around enjoying their time together and listening to the greats from years ago play the game I love. The crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, and hanging on every word as the broadcaster described everything down to the pinstripes on the team’s uniforms. While living in Boise, I was excited to hear that the River Cats would be going to play back home. Sadly, I was unable to attend any games that year because the few times I came home to visit, the River Cats were out of town. I followed the team a little, but my hometown team were now the Boise Hawks.

I moved back to Sacramento in the Summer of 2001 and just days after moving back, I found myself experiencing my first game at Raley Field sitting in the right field lawn. Grass seating in a ballpark? $5 tickets? What wasn’t there to love!! Plus, they used to shoot real hot dogs out of that cannon back then. I remember thinking “this isn’t Boise anymore” as I walked around the ballpark that night. It would be a night to remember as not only was it my first time at Raley Field, but Matt Williams, the former Giants slugger who was now playing out his last years with the Diamondbacks, was on a rehab assignment with the Tucson Sidewinders. Boy, what a night it would be as Matt would hit two homeruns that night, and I was hooked. For me, Raley Field was The Show, and it solidified my love for this team that very night. I’ve had many experiences at Raley Field over the years since that first game; the players I’ve met, the games I’ve seen, the jobs I’ve held, and most importantly the memories that were created. Looking back, I may have never dreamed of writing a book, but I was destined to write THIS book. The River Cats will be playing their 20th season in Sacramento in 2019, and I’m fortunate to be documenting it.

The River Cats finished 2018 with their worst record in franchise history at 55-85. Starting the 2018 season the team didn’t look so bad, as they were only 2.5 games out of first in the Pacific Northern Division by June 1.  Sadly, they ended the year 27.5 games behind the first place Fresno Grizzlies, finishing last in the division for the third straight year. Who can you blame though when you’re at AAA? The players are ruled by the big club, and everything is based on their needs. It’s a revolving door that leaves manager’s heads spinning and it is what it is.

In a way this is just another baseball book, except for everyone who was there to see it happen. No one expected much from the Sacramento River Cats in 2019; I didn’t either except for the fact that it was their 20th anniversary. I came into this project planning on writing more of a historical book that covered all 20 seasons of River Cats baseball, but something magical happened that changed the book entirely. Now, for your reading pleasure, here are your 2019 Sacramento River Cats.

Latin Roots (Don’t Fence Me In Pt. 2)

Welcome to Hispanic Heritage Month where Major League Baseball continues to exploit Latinx players in an attempt to reframe its history from their egregious sins and now pander to the Latinx community for profit. Let’s just cut to the chase and say that its time to stop using inclusivity to make money and not to actually try and understand any lifestyle, heritage or culture. I’d like to point out a few things before I start my breakdown of the program. First you will notice that most of my figures and observations come from my experience attending Sacramento River Cats games. I’d like to make it clear that my use of the River Cats was in no way an attempt to harm the reputation of this team or their ownership, but simply a matter of convenience because they are my hometown team, and from where I drew most of my opinions of the Divertido program instituted by Minor League Baseball. The River Cats Baseball Club’s ownership and front office have shown over the last twenty years how much they value their community, and their fans. I would also like to point out that a person can be Hispanic, and not Latinx, or vice versa. For this piece I will be referring to Latinx players as this term refers to a geographical area and not a language or culture.  

In 2016 Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez teamed up with a Texas PR firm called LatinWorks to start the “Ponle Acento” movement, when translated means “Put an accent on it”. This was a push to have Latinx players put accents and tildes on the back of their jerseys. Teaming up with Major League Baseball their goal was to showcase the history of Latinx players in MLB. Later that summer MLB introduced its biggest push toward the Latinx community when they made a huge push in celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month which included adding an accent mark to their silhouetted batters’ logo.  They focused on a national marketing campaign and 23 of the 30 teams hosted Hispanic Heritage games. These games were infused with a “Latinx” fan experience that included themed entertainment, food, and giveaways coupled with the home team wearing the special “Ponle Acento” t-shirts for batting practice. This would lead Minor League Baseball to introduce “Es Divertido Ser Un Fan” (Its fun to be a fan) for the 2017 season.   

Christened to “Copa De La Diversión” (Fun Cup) or at times “MiLB es Divertido” (Minor League Baseball is Fun) starting in 2018 this program is an attempt to reach out and build a fan base out of the Latinx communities around the country. When the program started in 2017 there were four cities selected for the program’s debut with a nationwide rollout for 2018 with 33 teams. In 2019 the participating teams grew to 72 and had the Minor League season not been postponed due to Covid that number would have jumped to 94 in 2020. Minor League Baseball called the campaign a “massive success” citing numbers per their website of 1.8 million fans attending nearly 400 Copa games in 2019, donating more than $400,000 in cash and “gifts in kind” to local Hispanic philanthropies, as well as averaging nearly 20% more attendance per Copa game vs the average per game attendance. That sounds great on paper but lets look at these numbers a little closer.  

1.8 million fans over 400 games comes to 4,500 fans per game. Of the 16 teams in the Pacific Coast League the average seating capacity per stadium is 10,603, which includes the outliers of 6,200 in Wolff Stadium in San Antonio and the 15,334 of Smith’s Ballpark in Salt Lake City. As a comparison the Short Season Northwest League had an average capacity of 4,249 within its eight teams. The Minor Leagues boasts that Copa games averaged 20% more attendance than the average per game attendance but do not mention that most of the Copa games were held on weekends. The $400,000 in cash and “gifts in kind” I will say is a nice influx for whichever charities received the donations as it averaged $5,500, but I was unable to find how the money and gifts were divided up.  

I first started to think about this promotion on Cinco de Mayo 2019 when the Reno Aces played as Los Corazones de Reno against the Los Dorados de Sacramento (River Cats). Initially I thought that it was pretty cool that this event fell on Cinco de Mayo, and I was excited about the whole Divertido campaign. Over the season it was a nice idea that just fell short, at least here in the Sacramento market which in January 2020 was ranked the third most diverse city in California behind Stockton and Oakland according to U.S. News. The River Cats play in West Sacramento, Yolo County, California on the Sacramento River. Yolo County is made up of 30.3% Hispanics/Latinx, while the City of Sacramento which lies just across the river is 28.7% Hispanic/Latinx. I did not use Sacramento County’s demographics (21.2% Hispanic/Latinx) because of the overall size of the County itself which does not necessarily make attending a River Cats game the most convenient option as the most Southern end of Sacramento County may find themselves closer to a Stockton Ports game.  
 
Baseball’s attempts to attract a Latinx fanbase is offensive. Stereotypes are abundant in the MiLB es Divertido plan; mariachi bands on the concourse, Mexican dancers, and special menu items that focus on Mexican cuisine with a side of gentrification. This program is not to attract new Latinx fans, but a program for Minor League Baseball clubs to put on a face of inclusivity. The River Cats are fortunate to have a fan base that is already diverse. Those who attend come from all different socioeconomic backgrounds and the team is a draw all on its own which makes focusing on a culture to exploit for financial gain in the name of community outreach disheartening. Last summer I asked the (now former) River Cats Manager of Communications and Baseball Operations if he would be able to get me the number on how the Divertido program has affected attendance, if it reached its target market, and what exactly the market was. He did not have the numbers available and they were never given to me later. I was told that originally Divertido was introduced by Minor League Baseball in cities who had a high number of Hispanics in its population, but this year (2019) they were expanding it to everyone. There is no doubt that profits were the focus of this campaign from the beginning, and I am not blaming MiLB for doing this, but it needs to stop being pushed as community outreach and inclusivity because it’s not. 

Maybe I’m wrong though. Maybe I hear that MiLB is reaching out to the Latinx community and I assume they are talking about the migrant workers and lower income families who would not typically attend a ballgame. If this is indeed the target audience, Major and Minor League Baseball does not seem recognize that those they are trying to reach through this program do not necessarily have the disposable income, and more importantly time, to bring their families to a game. Even with a family pack that supplies 4 tickets, 4 hats, 4 meal vouches, and watching the fireworks on the field, that is going to be $100 for a family of four. This is a great package available to anyone but the Latinx population who go to the games are people who have disposable income, more often than not are fluent in English, and assimilated to American culture. We are going to the games whether these events take place or not. If Minor League Baseball really wants to bring in more fans from the Latinx community reduced prices need to be offered for Divertido events. There are no reduced prices in Sacramento, in fact tickets bought on the day of game go up in price, which would be when an immigrant family would attend and without having bought tickets in advance.  

Race relations continue to be at the forefront of our society and in continuation of my blog post “Don’t Fence Me In (Part 1)” with filmmaker, and former Major League Baseball player Adrian Cardenas, I asked about his experience as a Latino in professional baseball, and whether he found himself facing any discrimination during his career.  

“Although I’m Cuban-American, and consider myself Cuban-American,  I definitely pass as white. I’m fair skinned with light eyes, I in essence was very privileged relatively speaking. When I got drafted, I was 18, (and) definitely  feeling very self-conscious about my accent. Every time I’d speak someone would be like, oh where are you from, you’re definitely not American. Things like that affected me and for a long while there growing up I was so self-conscious about my accent that I wanted to not learn Spanish and sort of forget Spanish and just try to perfect my English so that no one could detect an accent. It wasn’t  until I started playing professionally where I noticed the value of knowing both languages”.  

While understanding his privilege, Adrian still faced some adversity but was able to find a way to grow and be accepted by his teammates.  

“On one hand I was never Hispanic enough for the Hispanics, or American  enough for the Americans. I served in many cases as a mediator for discussions that someone who didn’t know Spanish would have with someone who only  knew Spanish, and that was a beautiful experience, it allowed me in.  It allowed  me to see how I’m similar and see how I’m different”. 

Adrian’s bilingual ability have also been exploited by teams.  

“It also brought along some not so nice experiences to where I had to at one point, fire a Latin player for a manager who didn’t know Spanish. I was called into the office, and he said look, I don’t know how to tell you this but I don’t know a word of Spanish and I  want to make sure that he understands me, but we’re firing him. Can you do this for me?  So I had to go to the office and fire him. Its hard for a lot of people to put themselves in a minority. The things that minorities have to overcome, talking specifically about being  Hispanic, black, or just non-white really. Its unfortunate that people just don’t take the  time to empathize and understand what it means to be an immigrant. The obstacles that  need to be overcome and how resilient we are”.  

So what is baseball doing for these players? A new trend in baseball is paying the players while they are young and unproven as opposed to paying them when they are older and declining in their abilities. I get the reasoning and it makes complete sense that this would be done, but how much revenue will these young players lose? Yes, its much better to guarantee this money now because anything can happen, and one could argue how much money does one person really need? Well that answer will vary of course, but I feel that players born outside of the United States will still get the short end of the stick. If a player like Ronald Acuña Jr can get shafted by his agent in taking a $100M ten year contract what does the future hold for players who aren’t of Acuña’s caliber. Acuña has made it very clear that he is happy with the contract, and honestly, who wouldn’t be? $100M is life changing for anyone but even more so for a poor kid from Latin America. An even greater injustice was the contract of Ozzie Albies who inked a deal for $35M over seven years. Rumor has it that these contracts came about because the players’ agents were worried about losing the players before they were paid the top dollar they would have deserved down the road. The Braves were happy to get these deals done, but this set baseball back. Where do signings go from here? It seems like teams are securing younger players early with large contracts but potentially much smaller investment than what they would have earned had things not changed. How will this affect players born in the United States? Carter Stewart a top prospect of the 2017 draft class who was taken 8th overall by the Atlanta Braves turned down their offer when he was shown a contract below slot due to an injury and then later bolted to Japan for a guaranteed $7M. That is great for Carter, but the international born player will still suffer. More than three quarters of Latinx players who are signed will drop out of baseball within four years, and less than 3% make it to the Major Leagues. Americans face the same odds, but nearly 70% will advance at least one level and are four times as likely to reach the Majors. 

“In my experience, it was always clear that although there were so many teams of so many players, very few had a chance of making it to the Major Leagues. Not because they were not capable of playing or weren’t talented enough, more so because of the investment given to the very few players. Coming to terms with that as a player was a big deal for so many. They’d have incredible years and just not get the chance; they’d have incredible years and get demoted. They were way more consistent, which is arguably one of the most important qualities you can have as a baseball player, than a highly touted prospect and still never get the shot over him, and that was the reality of it”.  

I’m sure someone will point out the number of Latinx players that fill rosters up and down professional baseball to discredit ant bias toward them, but baseball’s exploitation of the poor Latinx player starts in their home countries. They are put into baseball camps/schools and taken from their homes, separated from their families, and then those who are “good enough” are brought over to a new country where they don’t know the culture or the language and if  they don’t produce for their owners, they are cast aside.  To get an understanding of what these players go through, please take the time to watch the 2008 Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck film Sugar. This film features Andre Holland, best known for his roles in 42, Selma, and Moonlight, in a supporting role about the life of a professional baseball player from the Dominican Republic nicknamed “Sugar”.

So, is Major League Baseball doing anything to improve baseball for the Latinx player? Inadvertently the answer is yes. Major League Baseball’s decision to contract the Minor Leagues is far better for the game and may reduce some of this exploitation of foreign-born players. I don’t know if contraction is actually going to make this better but it does seem like a promising idea and one that I fully support going forward as it seems like it will reduce the amount of players who are simply filling roster spots. I recognize the hardship that communities will face by losing a team, although Major League Baseball plans to set up collegiate wood leagues or independent league teams.  
As you read this you may be thinking, “at least they’re trying”, “you can’t expect things to be perfect”, “baby steps”!! Well, of course I don’t expect things to be perfect, but I do feel its time that businesses do not take advantage of other’s differences. I’m all for these clubs making a dollar any way they can, this is America and more power to them if they can squeeze every hard-earned penny from your cold dead hands. The problem I have is doing so in the name of inclusivity. The goals of these promotions are to make money, and not to understand or educate on any heritage or culture, if anything the stereotypes make it more offensive.  

I do not hate everything about the Divertido program. I’m a huge fan of the artwork on the alternate jerseys and hats, especially when done by local artists. I like when teams put some thought into their alternate names to be the historical aspects of their community, and I hope that teams continue to do this without out the rest of the fanfare. If there was one team that I saw who seems to be getting it all right, it had to be the Fresno Grizzlies of the Pacific Coast League. Whether it be a Copa game or a regular game they have been able to incorporate an atmosphere of inclusivity that looks and feels like their community. From the on-field entertainment, to the fans in their seats, something worked. 

River Cats Recap: May or Maybe Not 2019


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.

Mom

Mom died 14 years ago this past April. Born in what is now the heart of the Sacramento Delta wine country, Clarksbourg, CA on August 8, 1939. I don’t know what Clarksburg was like at the end of the Great Depression or as World War II rolled in, but the wine grapes were in their infancy as Bogle led the way during my childhood. Clarksburg was surrounded by sugar beets, tomatoes, corn, and alfalfa as well as the great pear orchards of Courtland  across the river.

Mom was the second of five children which included three sisters and their baby brother. I don’t remember stories from Mom’s childhood except that she loved to play volleyball and softball in what sounded like a church league at St. Joe’s and graduated from Clarksburg high school in 1957. A few years after Mom graduated Clarksburg High School would be renamed Delta High School. Mom’s childhood home was maybe 200 yards from my childhood home. I can barely remember it from my youth as it was torn down in the early 80’s to make room for a horse corral.

Mom’s life was difficult as she spent over thirty years with Dad and his textbook machismo, and later in life diagnosed with scleroderma. Mom had five boys and sadly buried one shortly after birth. I was the last, it was a difficult birth, and I arrived eight years after her last child. Mom hoped that I would be the daughter she had longed for, and was planning to name me Hope; as it turned out my name is David for my dad’s best friend.

Being the youngest, I don’t know exactly when Mom was diagnosed with scleroderma or how bad her condition was. That was just like Mom to keep things to herself so that she wouldn’t be a burden. Mostly Mom suffered in silence. This is what made Mom so special; though she dealt silently with her own pain she bent over backwards for her children, especially me. I was told that Mom almost died during my birth, but I was lucky enough to have her for 31 years: sadly I didn’t appreciate her as I should have. The scleroderma was hard on Mom and I still remember the last meal we had together at the Olive Garden. She didn’t suddenly die after that meal but swallowing food became more difficult as her condition worsened. As an aside, as we were pulling up to the Olive Garden, Mom noticed the Hooters across the street and suggested maybe we go there. Luckily she settled for Olive Garden. Can we say awkward??

Fourteen years is a long time and I’m saddened to have taken Mom for granted. I can barely remember her voice but I’ll never forget her laugh. Mom thought she was funnier than she actually was but that’s what made her laugh wonderful. It was a dorky laugh, if you will, and a little high pitched but soulful. My oldest daughter has her laugh and Mom would have loved that.

Mom always wanted a daughter and the “Hope” she had for me paid off on July 4, 1998. Mom was right there when her first grandchild was born; a girl. I always thought it fitting that her last son, who she hoped would be a daughter, finally gave her the little girl she dreamed of. I can still see Mom’s joy as she held her granddaughter for the first time.

My oldest memories of Mom are oddly the ones that drove me crazy about Mom. After a long day at work, and also being a mom, Mom would fall asleep on the couch, head tilted back, and begin to snore while we watched TV. As a child I would feel offended and wake her up to tell her she was snoring or ask why she wasn’t watching TV. She never got upset with me for doing this and would simply reply with, “I’m just resting my eyes”. It’s only now that I know parenting is hard, she was tired, and it was love, not boredom that kept her there instead of going to bed. Mom is getting the last laugh now as I often fall asleep and start snoring on the couch while watching TV with my daughters. They’re not as “nice” as I was to Mom; they poke, prod, and try to balance things on my head, or put things in my ear while taking embarrassing pictures. Damn smartphones, but Mom always did have a great sense of humor and she is finally getting me back.

My favorite memory with Mom took place in May 2004. I don’t remember the exact date but it was the Tuesday or Wednesday following Mother’s Day. I was working as the mascot for the Stockton Ports, Single-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers at the time. Living in Sacramento, Mom had never seen me perform so I treated her to a day at the ballpark. Upon arriving at old Billy Hebert Field in Stockton she was whisked away to her VIP box seats behind home plate but a little down towards third base, right in front of the Ports’ on deck circle. I checked in on her before the game to make sure she had her hot dog, nachos, and drink, and asked if she liked her seats. She was content but Hebert Field was an old ballpark with hard seats, no shade, and it was a hot day. After checking on Mom, I suited up in the walk-in fridge beneath the third base bleachers, and then started up the ATV that I would make my entrance on. The voice of the Stockton Ports introduced me at 6:50pm, fifteen minutes before game time. I shot out onto the field just past third base, raced around the outfield warning track, and sped up coming down the first base foul line and coming to a stop just in front of the Ports on deck circle, and Mom. I jumped up on the seat of my ATV and waved to Mom and the crowd. The PA system started to play my intro music, “Just Because” by Jane’s Addiction, and on cue I jumped off the ATV doing the splits in mid-air before landing on my feet and going into my dance routine. My performance ended with a cartwheel and then running the line giving the Ports players hgh-5’s. While they threw gatorade and bubblegum at me. Mom watched it all while laughing and smiling. Mom was proud. Her “baby boy” was dressed as a smelly wharf rat, but she was proud. I stood shoulder to shoulder with the team during the National Anthem, and Mom was proud that I was doing what I loved.

Mom is gone, my memories are fading, but it’s funny how my love grows stronger. So whether you bred them, bought them or stole them, whether they have two legs, four legs, or no legs, Happy Mother’s Day.

For Mary Lucy Espinoza (nee Davalos)

8/8/1939-4/12/2006

Darth Dinger

May the fourth be with you… and also with you. Wait, are we in a galaxy far, far away or at church? Nevermind that, Happy Star Wars day everyone!! Who else agrees with me that Episode IX, The Rise of Skywalker, was the best film of them all? Pew! Pew! I’m glad your shooting is as good as a stormtroopers, that was close. Really though, I love Episode IX.

One month of what would be 2020 baseball season is in the books, and virtual baseball games just don’t cut it for me. This week I decided to turn back time to what was April 2019 for the Sacramento River Cats.

Opening night 2019 would start the season with a wild extra inning game. It would be the first time in River Cats history that the home opener would go into extra innings, and ended with catcher Aramis Garcia sliding head first into home to just beat the tag and walk-off the game! Little did we know that this would be the making of an amazing season, especially as the Las Vegas Aviators would dominate the entire Pacific Coast League in April.

The first homerun of 2019 would come the next day off the bat of Stephen Vogt, and Carmichael native Zach Green, who came in to replace an injured Ryder Jones on opening night, would get off to a blazing start by hitting .500 with two home runs in the first four games. April would also start to put the name of some guy named Yas… Ya… Yaz… Uh… Yastrzemski in the minds of River Cats fans, and although many could say it, not a whole lot could spell it… for now.

Despite the hot offensive start in all of baseball, River Cats pitching was ice cold. Six of the first seven starting pitchers would fail to pitch more than four innings. Then there was Tyler Beede whose dominance was overshadowed by a bullpen that couldn’t hold a lead, and players who couldn’t field or throw a ball.

Halfway through the month of the River Cats were a dismal 6-7, and four of those losses were to the Aviators who were an amazing 10-2 at this point of the season. April would also mark the return of Mac Williamson to the River Cats lineup after being sent down early by the Giants to make room for Kevin Pillar. Williamson was a favorite of manager Bruce Bochy and barely made the Giants roster out of Spring Training. Although the writing was on the wall that the front office no longer wanted Williamson, Mac would go on a tear that would force the Giants’ hand to bring him back to the big leagues.

Saturday April 20, 2019 was one of the most memorable nights of the young season. The River Cats celebrates 20 years of baseball with throwback jerseys which featured the classic pinstripes they wore from 2000-2002. This was also the first locally televised game of 2019 and the fans in the stands and at home were treated with a total of eight home runs between the two teams which included six River Cats home runs between five different players. This would be the most homeruns the River Cats had hit in a game since June 17, 2009 when they hit eight! The best catch I’ve ever seen at Raley Field happened that night as Mike Yastrzemski climbed the wall in right centerfield on the run and extended his body halfway over the fence to rob Salt Lake’s Matt Thaise of his second home run of the night. It was a catch that should have been on sports center. The fans also got their first look at Sam Selman who worked two innings and struck out four. 2019 would become a dream season for Sam that would include a Triple-A all star game appearance and his Major League debut later that summer.

There were some promising moments in April, but there was also a lot of bad. How bad you might ask? On April 27, 2019 the River Cats FINALLY ended a 10-game streak in which they committed at least one error, which included a game with three errors, and a league leading 30 errors. The game on the 27th was only the fifth time that season in which the River Cats had not committed an error. To make matters worse, the River Cats were 4-1 in those games.
The River Cats ended April 2019 atop the Pacific Coast League Pacific Northern Division, two games ahead of the Fresno Grizzlies, with a record of 13-12. Tyler Beede was without a doubt the team’s best pitcher as he was 7th in the league in both ERA with 1.99, and WHIP with 1.06. Mac Williamson was the team’s hottest hitter and ranking 10th in the league with a .373 average, and leading the team in both home runs and RBI.

I hope you enjoyed our little trip down memory lane. It was a tough start to 2019 but in the end it was a dream season. On a side note I attended the May 4, 2019 game as both a journalist, and a fan. My Aunt Francis, and cousins Florence and John came out to enjoy the game with me as the River Cats took a no hitter into the fifth inning. It was an interesting insight to view a game from both perspectives in the same night. Look for my book in the fall to see how it all played out.

Happy Birthday, River Cats!

“It was 20 years ago today.” The River Cats officially turn 20 as their first game was played April 6, 2000 which started a month-long road trip of 37 games in 40 days as Raley Field had not been completed due to bad weather.

The Cats were scheduled to open their season this Thursday in Reno against the Aces; unfortunately the COVID-19 pandemic has put baseball on hold. While we await to hear “let’s play ball” for the first time at Sutter Health Park, here is a look back at opening night 2019.

The River Cats started their 20th season under an overcast sky. The crowd of only 8,820 was cold, and the energy was low and gray like the clouds above them. Prior to the game there were rumblings from the fans about the extended netting to protect people from foul balls, and how it took away from the atmosphere that made Raley Field great. It’s Opening Night. Yet it felt like no one wanted to be in Triple-A.

Andrew Suarez was given the ball and would be making his second opening day start for the River Cats. Tacoma’s Eric Swanson, one of Seattle’s top prospects, would keep the Cats quiet with a strong start as the Rainiers took an early 2-0 lead. The crowd finally came alive when Carmichael native Zach Green hit a stand up triple in the bottom of the sixth, and then knocked in by Henry Ramos to finally put the Cats on the board. The Rainiers would add a run in the eighth, and the score was 3-1 Tacoma, going into the bottom of the ninth.

The Cats were down to their last three outs and the fans started to file out of the ballpark anticipating a loss, and in hopes of making a quick exit from the parking lot. Mike Yastrzemski had other plans. The Cats had two runners on when Yaz came up clutch with a double scoring Henry Ramos and Breyvic Valera; game tied. This would be the first time in River Cats history that Opening Night would go into extra innings.

This would also allow everyone to see the newly implemented “inherited runner”, better known in softball tournament play as the international tiebreaker rule. The object was to speed up extra inning games in Minor League Baseball by having a runner at second base at the start of each half inning. Having raised two daughters who spent over 20 combined years on softball fields, I was familiar with this rule. I found it to be exciting, and it proved to be just that on Opening Night.

The Rainiers would pull ahead to make it 4-3 in the top of the 11th and it felt like a punch to the gut; but the few remaining fans who stayed saw some exciting baseball in the bottom half of the inning. Henry Ramos would start the inning on second base, and Aramis Garcia knocked him in with a double to tie the game and bringing up Breyvic Valera. All eyes were on Valera, and the anticipation was high, but Valera stayed focused at the plate and hit a ball hard to the outfield.

Garcia, with the speed of a catcher, raced home and as the ball came in from the outfield, Garcia dove headlong into home scoring the winning run! The team rushed the field in celebration on what became an electrifying Opening Night! Little did we know that it would be the first sign of things to come.

I miss baseball and the 2019 River Cats season was a dream come true. Opening Day has come and gone without a single pitch in 2020. I miss the game, the players, the fans, and the friendships that develop over the course of a full season. Most of all I miss the stories that the game creates. We may be without baseball this year but it’s not gone forever. The memories remain, and the hope for the “next year” will always be alive. World Wars, strikes, and now the coronavirus have stopped baseball, yet the game endures.

Stay safe out there, and I hope to see you all at the ballpark this summer.