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!
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?
I’m able to keep the fangirling to a minimum when I am at games. I even try not to show much emotion when my team makes a great play or comes back to win it in the bottom of the ninth, but just below the surface I still have my moments. In 2018-2019 I was fortunate enough to be a part of post game interviews with then San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy, and although I’m not a Giants fan I knew that I was speaking to one of the best Major League managers of all time. Growing up, I watched Barry Bonds live his best life on a baseball field, so the day I walked right by him within arm’s reach in the bowels of Oracle Park blocked off to the public, I stiffened up and strained the limits of my peripheral vision staring as he walked by talking on his phone. Now, if this is how I feel at the times when I am lucky enough to be around and have access to professional baseball players on almost a daily basis, I totally understand how fans can get a little too excited around their favorite players. Getting excited is one thing, so when a “fan” is just rude to players, or feels entitled to their time thats when I feel there is a problem
Players understand that they are entertainers, celebrities, or anything else that you want to call them, but at the end of the day they’re just another person doing their job. Fans need to recognize that they are still humans with real lives, families, emotions and concerns like everyone else. Fans also need to realize that the event that you came to see are these players jobs. They worked harder and are better at what they do than either you or I to get where they are, which is why we watch them from our seats. It is this dedication and their work ethic that separates them from the beer league heroes who feel they can do better and don’t mind telling you how much these players suck. Players have boundaries and it is absolutely okay and necessary to maintain them. Players don’t want to be stalked and swarmed by people outside of their hotels because that’s their time to be alone and have some privacy, and as fans I feel that is something that needs to be respected. It can be argued that its a public place, but for these players on the road, its the only homes they have for half the season. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with someone approaching another person walking down the street or something like that, but it irks me to see people post online about how rude players are for simply turning down an autograph request even if they are kindly told that the will gladly sign at the ballpark.
On June 19th the Sacramento River Cats posted a photo of Jaylin Davis and Justin Bour on their Instagram with the caption “MANNERS”. According to a fan who witnessed the incident, there was a kid incessantly shouting to Bour to throw him a ball. Bour stopped and turned to the kid and said, “Hey could you at least say please”? The kid said please, and Bour and Davis continued to warm up a little longer. Once they were done Davis threw the ball to the kid who quickly turned and ran with his prize. As he left Bour called out in vain, “A thank you would be nice”. A similar incident happened to Joey Bart. Bart got frustrated at a bunch of fans being rude while trying to get autographs. While Bart was singing he said, “How about a thank you or hey how are you doing”? He signed a few more items in silence as no one said a word, and then he left. Eric Sagara, a lifelong autograph hunter told me, “I’m glad Bour said something. The amount of people asking for autographs and not saying thank you was horrible or maybe I’m just old fashioned”. Is he old fashioned or are we as a society that have forgotten what manners are? Is it oppressive to be polite now? “Don’t tell me what to do”, “You can’t talk to my child that way”; Judith Martin would have an aneurysm out here. It isn’t just how rude someone is that is turning off players, but also the intentions of many of those “fans” who are asking for the autograph.
Players get turned off by autograph seekers who continue to come back for more, so if you think you’re not being noticed, fear no more because you are. Having collected baseball cards for over 30 years, and having done my own share of autograph hunting, I’ve sadly watched the hobby I love turn into a cutthroat business. I’m not naive to the fact that there has always been a market for sports memorabilia and I don’t know if its just the openness on social media that we see the ugliness of it all now but its like we just forgot how to act as we come out of 18 months of lock down because of the pandemic. I was told by one collector that Joey Bart asked if the fan was from Sacramento because he won’t sign for those who are from out of town. After signing the card he told them, “Don’t sell it”. The same fan told me that not too long after that incident Bart told him “no”, that same day he was also snubbed by Tyler Beede, and Mauricio Dubon asked him how much he was selling his autographs for online. For those fans who cannot attend the games many collect their autographs through the mail (TTM).
Fans who don’t have access to live baseball games will send cards, baseballs, jerseys, or whatever they want to autographed to players homes, or to ballparks in hopes that their favorite players will sign them. Some players return your items in a couple of weeks, while others may take a couple of years depending on the amount of mail they get, and sadly sometimes you never see your item again. Sutter Health Park in Sacramento is notorious among collectors for not having TTM requests returned. Although this practice is risky for various reasons, fans who I’ve spoken with at the ballpark have said that they never have gotten an item returned by a player. A quick look at http://www.sportscardforum.com, a website that tracks TTM autograph requests, also failed to confirm any players returning items sent to this ballpark. I reached out to the Sacramento River Cats and asked the protocol for fan mail. I was informed that all mail is delivered to their On Deck Shop (team store), separated, and then a team representative comes and picks it up and must sign for it daily. What happens after that is still a mystery but according to a former River Cats player the items sent to him were never distributed and that he had to ask if he got any mail before he got it.
In my own personal experience, I limited how many times I asked a player for his autograph. I probably never asked anyone for more than 2-3 in a season. My main focus was getting a team ball signed, but if there was a card I really liked then I’d also try to get that signed. I made it a habit to only ask for one autograph from any player on any given day. I’ve had pretty good luck with my approach and was able to get team balls from the 2001-2007 Sacramento River Cats. Having the ability to speak Spanish once got me Felix Hernandez while he was standing in the outfield, and learning a bit of Japanese helped me get the attention of former Japanese star So Taguchi. Maybe that was a little extreme on my part but it worked. I will say that most players, regardless of how famous they are, are willing and grateful to sign for fans. I know that some will mainly sign for kids, but at the end of the day they’re still signing. So next time you don’t get an autograph just remember that this is their job, and they’re taking a moment of their time to give back to their fans. Maybe you get passed over when someone next to you got an autograph, but it was probably because the player was trying to give as many people as they could along a long line of people shoving things in their face without so much as a please or thank you. Appreciate the experience, be polite, respect their time, and always remember that they owe you nada, nada, nada, not a damn thing.
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!
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!
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, 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.
There is not a day that goes by on social media where I do not see someone making a comment about wanting to change something about their life. This is not to say that their lives are miserable, but simply that they would like to change something about it, their weight, their looks, and often their jobs. Yet it seems as though most people do not actually do something about their situation. It can be scary to leave the things you are accustomed to, but what if the thing you love and have been doing your whole life isn’t where your passion lies? Do you remain static, or do you throw caution to the wind and follow your heart? This is a story of one man who followed his heart. A story of a man who reached the pinnacle of his profession by the time he was 24 but knew there was something else waiting for him.
Adrian Cardenas, the son of Cuban immigrants grew up in a home that can be described as a house of love, and a house of learning. Adrian was an only child, whose parents exposed him to the things that they loved such as reading, watching movies, and music. This developed a love for the arts in Adrian who started to play piano at the age of three. Like other children Adrian wanted to be around his friends and sports was a way to do that, so when he was five his parents signed him up for baseball on a team coached by his uncle. It would not take long for Adrian’s natural skill set to start to separate him from the crowd, which in part he credits to his ability to play the piano, and with that his love for the game began to grow, all with the support and encouragement of his parents. By 13, Adrian would find himself on the U.S. Junior National Team which took him to Cuba for the first time in 2001. It would also be the first time that his father returned home to his native land after escaping thirty-one years before.
Baseball would be good to Adrian. He would be drafted in the first round of the Major League Draft by the Phillies, along with high school teammate Chris Marrero who was the first pick of the Washington Nationals that year. His amateur and professional career would make him teammates with such superstars as Clayton Kershaw, and Anthony Rizzo, and in 2009, as a member of the Sacramento River Cats, Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics, he would be reunited with Gio Gonzalez with whom he played baseball with in high school at Monsignor Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens, Florida. During his days in Sacramento, Adrian decided to begin taking classes at New York University to study creative writing and philosophy, while in his free time he found himself honing his photography skills on the banks of the Sacramento River and in Old Sacramento. Adrian played 236 games in Sacramento, by far the most of any team during his professional career and still carries fond memories of his time here. Whether it be the Doskow sandwich, named after River Cats announcer Johnny Doskow, or the cold night in which he was a homerun shy of the cycle, and in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded he laced a ball that everyone thought was going to be a walk off grand slam for the cycle, “I remember hitting it, and I thought it was gone by forty feet over the fence, so I drop the bat and swag over to first base and sure enough the right fielder just goes and barely reaches over and catches it” Adrian recalled. The Athletics took him off of the 40-man roster after the 2011 season, which allowed the Chicago Cubs to claim him off waivers and finally gave him his shot in the Major Leagues. Adrian found himself going between Chicago and Triple-A Iowa, getting his first Major League hit off of Jose Veras and breaking up A.J. Burnett’s no hitter in the 8th inning, but he was blocked by Gold Glove winning second baseman Darwin Barney that year. Adrian ended the 2012 season as Major League baseball player, but when 2013 rolled around, he quit. He was 25 years old, and in the prime of his career, but baseball became a business, and his heart longed to express itself in other ways. Adrian Cardenas still loved baseball, but his passion for knowledge consumed him.
Having been away from the game for eight years now Adrian can look back and realize that he appreciates the game much more now,
“I feel like I’m so much more in love with the game now than before, and I think that’s just the product of being away from it. I was a bit ahistorical about the game, and to my detriment I would say, when you don’t have an understanding of the game and its history, it can be hard to appreciate it on any given day especially because you’re just constantly playing. Once I was no longer playing, I got a greater sense of what it meant to be a baseball player”.
Looking back, Adrian sees that baseball, through his own experience is not as popular as it once was. The younger generations continue to gravitate toward other sports, and in essence, baseball appears to no longer be American’s Pastime. One solution in Adrian’s eyes would be to give fans more access to players in ways such as mic’ing them up.
“I think that it would definitely be something that would get people to tune in a bit more. The game is a beautiful game and I think there is a big misconception regarding the fast-paced nature of baseball. Most people think its slow, and boring and nothing happens but if people really understood what went on between the forty seconds it takes for a pitcher to release the ball and then throw the next pitch, there is so much going on there. There are so many permutations that are being calculated…and if there is a way to understand that a bit better, I feel like there would be a greater appreciation of the game regarding the masses”.
The waning interest in baseball led Major League Baseball to decide to contract the Minor Leagues by 42 teams in 2020, yet once Covid-19 shut down all of Minor League Baseball, that left many more teams wondering how they will stay afloat until the revenue they need to maintain their ball clubs returns.
Having put baseball behind him, Adrian embarked on following his new career path as a filmmaker and enrolled at New York University. His student films Rocinante (https://vimeo.com/220024689), and Tabaquero (https://vimeo.com/157092382) can both be found on Vimeo. In discussing these films, Adrian says,
“Those were assignments for class, an OCS is what we called it, an observational character study. The assignment was to find a person that interests you, and then follow them for a while and craft a story around it. The rule was that you couldn’t use talking heads. So you couldn’t interview. The goal was essentially to learn how to how to be able to recognize, I wouldn’t say drama but sort of where there’s tensions, what’s engaging, what is not engaging, in a way that if you have someone just giving an interview is, you know, a lot, a lot harder to do or a lot easier to create. This makes you, the filmmaker be a bit more proactive”.
Upon graduating Summa Cum Laude from NYU, and then completing his M.F.A from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Adrian found himself with a lot more time on his hands.
“Once I finished grad school, I realized for like the first six, seven months, it was this bizarre experience where, I had nothing to do. I dictated what to do, no one was telling me what to do, and for my entire life, since I can remember that was never the case. You know, I had baseball, piano all throughout my childhood, plus High School. Then I was playing baseball professionally, and that was extremely rigorous. Then I was balancing baseball and school. Then I went and did my masters. And now I have all this free time. And for me, I’m a big believer in the constraints, and I think they’re necessary. And luckily I feel like I’m a pretty disciplined person. So I had to create a routine for myself but the way it works now is I carve out four or five hours, maybe a day to work on the primary things that I’m doing. So like, in this case, now, it’s editing the short film and working on my feature. And then the other, like, two or three hours is spent sort of just, learning or reading or just doing something intellectually to sort of feed into my work”.
Adrian now has four short films under his belt which include Rocinante, The Artisan, The Fisherwoman, and Canoe Poems which was a selection for the 2018 Miami Film Festival. Adrian’s desire to learn more about his heritage led him back to Cuba in hopes of being able to film there.
“Because my parents are Cuban I’m able to go there a lot easier than someone who is not….that was a big misconception unfortunately…anyone if you’re an American through and through, could have gone to Cuba legally. I also have a lot of family there, so I go to meet my family and when I started going to school I wanted to go back more and more just to sort of see for myself some of the stories, some of the places that my dad and mom spoke of. I wanted to see where they grew up and where they lived, and then eventually I wanted to explore other parts of the country that seemed interesting to me or friends that were Cuban.
It was through a friend that Adrian discovered the town of Gibara, which is a small fishing community about 12 hours east of Havana. Of Gibara he says, “I fell in love with that place and spent a lot of time there and decided I wanted to write a story that took place there”. It would be a story that would take Adrian much longer than anticipated to complete. Adrian’s desire to cast the locals for the roles meant that he spent a lot of time scouting locations and trying his best to find genuine stories that would tell the tale of Cuba after the Revolution, but without it being the at the forefront. “The oppression is real. I just had a strong inclination to tell stories that didn’t avoid the politics….and focus more on the everyday conflicts of certain people. I think that’s sort of my subtle way of wanting to get people to lean in and be curious about Cuba”. Filming in Cuba presented its own difficulties as all films need to be approved by the Instito Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematograficos (ICAIC).
“Filming there was a bit trickier because when you film there, censorship for example is a thing. So when I first tried to film in Cuba I was just like this no one for them. I’m just an American, and I’m not Cuban to the government. I had to contact so many people and I was just basically getting either no response or the runaround. This was my second year in grad school, and your second year of grad school revolves around one big project. That project for me was going to be in Cuba. I had a certain slot in which I had to shoot that film [to] get everything done and approved to shoot that film there”.
During this time, Cuba was still on the list of state sponsors of terrorism but have since been removed by President Barack Obama in 2015. This caused further troubles for Adrian as NYU made it more difficult for him to go there and he was unable to get his visa on time forcing him to wait a year to film in Cuba. It turned out that was not the only reason that Adrian was unable to film in Cuba that year.
“Part of the reason why, I learned, they weren’t paying me much mind was at that time a year prior, a film that the ICAIC approved ended up getting censored once it came out. And so they were sort of like in this we’re not letting anyone show up here for a while. Priority number one was figuring out who the hell approved this film. So coupled with the fact that I didn’t have any contacts there it was just an impossibility”.
During his stay at NYU, Adrian became close friends with someone whose father is a well-respected director in Cuba who was able to put Adrian in contact with the ICAIC. It was from that point that Adrian was able to submit his script for approval and obtain the proper permits and authorizations to film The Artisan in Cuba.
Although having had a set back the previous year in regard to filming in Cuba it was during that time that Adrian was able to film his Miami Film Festival selection.
“Canoe Poems was the result of the film that I wasn’t able to shoot in Cuba. I had to make something up quickly, very quickly, and shoot it. The story centers around this guy who is in an open relationship with his girlfriend, or at least is trying that out, and as the relationship spirals to an end in one long sleepless night, he continues to romanticize daydreams of a better time between him and her, and sort of like his deceased father who shows up in these dreams….I wouldn’t say its experimental because it’s not but it was in film school and what that means for me is there was just learning and trying, just like the minor leagues all over again, learning how to perfect your skill”.
Upon Canoe Poems selection to the film festival and the experience he gained from it Adrian said,
“They put [Canoe Poems] on the big screen and it’s nice, it’s a nice event to sort of see it played in front of a big audience and have them react to it in ways that you may or may not have intended but it’s nice to have those discussions which, for me, that’s what filmmaking is like; an opportunity to discover things about me, my family, sort of how I like to view the world and what I make of it. It’s a grueling process, but it’s a rewarding one. It’s definitely one that I can see why ultimately, it took me away from baseball. Oftentimes people say, or asked me, did you not like baseball? No, I love baseball. I just like this more or I felt a stronger urge to begin this journey of mine. I understood that I just won’t become a filmmaker overnight. I need to put in the time just like I did with baseball, and I wanted to do that sooner rather than later”.
Adrian is just getting started with his film career and grateful for his film’s inclusion into the film festival but realizes he hasn’t reached “the Majors” in filmmaking. That dream will be realized when he makes his first feature film. Adrian has just wrapped up work on another short film, a fictional story that stars his parents, grandmother, and best friend. Incorporating archival footage shot by his dad.
“I shot it, it was just me and my girlfriend who was the cinematographer and we spent 27 days, which is ridiculous, like more than a lot of features take to fill. But yeah, it was two people and it was at my parents’ house and you know, within consecutive days I had to work around their schedule. Also, they’re not actors. So one scene probably took, could have taken up to two days, ridiculous, but it was just this passion project of mine that I wanted to craft the story around them”.
Adrian has also started work on his first feature film which is set in a fictional town based loosely on Gibara, Cuba. Already with a draft of the film done, Adrian plans to apply to writing labs to polish off his work before he submits it to production companies, and finds the financial backing for the film in hopes to begin filming in 2022, “that would be my cup of coffee”.
Adrian is also working on his father’s escape story from Cuba. Although originally intended to be a film, before he understood what it took to make a film, the period piece, which he considers to be a big story would be better as a novel so that he could explore and develop it with much more meaning. In the back of his mind, Adrian dreams that once published his book could be adapted into a film, and considers that similar to being selected for the All Star team, as he feels there would be nuggets with which he can expound upon and run with.
There is no end to Adrian’s talents. I was fortunate enough to watch him play baseball for the Sacramento River Cats on many occasions and he was a fan favorite for what he was doing on the field. I can now say that I’ve watched his work as a filmmaker, and highly recommend both Rocinante and The Artisan. Adrian is a storyteller. He once told a story with a bat and ball and has grown into a storyteller who tells his stories with his heart and mind. Although one might think that baseball and the arts are on two separate planes, they are woven together by passion. It can be a blinding passion and Adrian once said that “the American Dream forgot to tell you to step back and enjoy the smell of burnt wood”, well he is definitely doing that now.
“I love my parents. My parents have been such great role models. I’ve been able to travel with my dad and dad a lot, but my dad sort of has the bug to travel. I’ve been able to like, sift through all these videos and digitize them. I’ve been able to craft the story centered around them and record them. That for me is everything really like that’s what it’s about for me. I don’t think I’d be able to do any of that stuff if I were playing baseball. It’s not that its impossible. just for me personally, who I was, I was so focused and so competitive and chasing this relatively meaningless goal; relative to the things that I just mentioned. that I felt I forgot to step back and enjoy the smell of burnt wood. You know, many players were able to do that. Many players were able to do that and have this other life or felt fulfilled just playing baseball. For me, there’s just so much more. I don’t know if it’s this sort of nature, I’m an only child. I’m an introvert at heart, I’m constantly struggling with existential thoughts. And that was sort of like a way to feel, acknowledge, my presence in this in this world and really relate to it, and react towards it and engage with it, and then ultimately discovered things. I feel like that was sort of the goal. and that’s what I’m doing now. I just need to make a little money”.
This story started out about baseball, but as I dug deeper into Adrian’s life, it became a story about a second-generation immigrant looking to discover himself through that which he is most passionate about. I was moved by Adrian’s family story, and I was intrigued by how familiar it felt. His families’ story in many ways is mine, and then I realized that this story is the story of us, the story of the United States of America.
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.
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.