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!

Stone to Mayeux to Nakken

The love of baseball spans generations and with that ethnicity, social status, and gender. Alyssa Nakken was added to the San Francisco Giants staff in January 2020 making her the first woman to be named as a full time coach for a Major League team. She further made history on July 20, 2020 when she replaced Antoan Richardson as the first base coach for the San Franciso Giants becoming the first woman to coach on the field of a Major League Baseball game. This is the most recent chapter for women in baseball as women have been playing baseball for years, but it feels like no one seemed to notice until Penny Marshall made, “A League of their Own” in 1992.

The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), which is featured in the film, existed from 1943-1954 and came into existence during World War II when men were being sent to war, and Major League team owners were looking to try and replace their lost income by keeping baseball fresh in the public’s eye.  The AAGPBL paved the way for women’s professional sports, but the Negro Leagues turned out to be much more progressive as the boys came back from the war. Two years prior to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, Toni Stone suited up for the San Francisco Sea Lions of the West Coast Negro Leagues, and in 1949 the New Orleans Creoles until before finally getting a break in 1953 to play second base for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro League, who interestingly enough featured a man by the name of Henry Aaron as their second baseman the year prior.

Twenty years after the AAGPBL, and Toni Stone played their last professional games, the Little League Federal Charter was amended in 1974 to finally allow girls to play Little League baseball. Many women have come through the Little League system, and while most seemed to be steered away into fastpitch softball there are a few who kept pushing forward such as Victoria Roche who in 1984 became the first girl to play in the Little League World Series (LLWS), Krissy Wendell who also played in the LLWS and went on to Captain the U.S. Women’s National Hockey team to Olympic Silver and Bronze Medals.

There of course have been other trailblazing women in baseball such as the Colorado Silver Bullets who played from 1994-1997 barnstorming against men’s amateur and semi-pro teams. The team was managed by baseball Hall of Famer Phil Niekro and included Julie Croteau who was the first women to play and coach at the collegiate level. Ila Borders would go on to become the first woman to pitch in a Men’s NCAA/NAIA game, as well as one of the first women to pitch in professional baseball after Mamie “Peanut” Johnson who also played in the Negro Leagues. Justine Siegal would get the honor of being the first woman to throw batting practice for a Major League team as she did for the 2009 Cleveland Indians, and in 2015 the Oakland Athletics hired her as a guest coach for two weeks during the Arizona Fall League. Justine’s accomplishments would not be the only major accomplishment for women in baseball in 2015.

Melissa Mayeux a 16 year old girl from Trappes, France burst onto International headlines by becoming the first women to earn a spot on Major League Baseball’s International Registry and becoming eligible for the Draft. Growing up playing baseball, Melissa first caught the attention of Major League baseball scouts while playing in a showcase tournament in Barcelona, Spain. “The first time I got noticed I was playing in Barcelona, and I got a base hit off a pitcher who was throwing 91…I hit the ball hard, but I was just being me. I wanted to be a smart player and try to hit in the hole all the time”, Melissa said. Ultimately the International Draft came and went, without Melissa being selected by any team. She continued to play baseball for the next two years and even spent time at International Baseball Camps organized by Major League Baseball for elite prospects abroad.  Looking back on the experience Melissa said of the attention that she got, “I was just playing with the guys. For me it was just like too many people talking about it when it really wasn’t a big deal”. Melissa is grateful for her experience, but she feels that women still have a long way to go in breaking into baseball and being accepted as equals, “I think (women have) come a long way but there is still a long way to go in baseball. I remember when I was in the academy no girls were allowed to play baseball at first but with the advancement that we have seen with American women, in France we now have a Woman’s Baseball National Team”. Melissa discovered how hard it was to break into baseball as she looked for scholarships in the United States, “I had always wanted to come to the United States when I was done with high school, and I was looking for a scholarship in JUCO (Junior College) Baseball and a lot schools told me that they couldn’t give me a scholarship because I was a girl. So my goal since I was young was to always come to the States and the only way I could do it was by getting interest through softball”, which is what brought Melissa to Miami-Dade College.

The transition to softball did not come easy for Melissa as she and her coaches worked for days on end teaching her how to properly throw and catch a softball, but she never gave up. After spending two season at Miami-Dade the time had come for Melissa to transfer, and although she was having a good season with the Sharks, and there were plenty of teams showing interest in her playing for them, she wasn’t happy with the offers that she was being given. Luckily she had an in with Louisanna-Lafayette, “We had an American coach for the international team one year and he was a good friend of the coach at Louisiana and he just showed him videos and that’s how I came here”. One of Melissa’s teammates on the Rajin’ Cajuns softball team was also no stranger to baseball. Sarah Hudek, daughter of former Major League pitcher John Hudek, has been a member of the United States Women’s National Baseball team and won Gold at the 2015 Pan American Games.

Melissa came out swinging in her 2020 debut with the Rajin Cajuns going 2-2 with 3 RBI including a homerun against Texas-San Antonio during a nationally televised game, she showed everyone that the hype around her was real. Unfortunately, the pandemic shut down the season, and like so many of us she is left in limbo, “Right now its hard because all the fields are closed, so my roommates with me at the house are trying to stay healthy and in shape but its really hard because we just don’t know, we’re waiting for something, anything”. Melissa lost more than her softball season as the worldwide pandemic forced the Tokyo Olympics to be postponed until 2021, and the qualifying European Championships which Melissa had intended to participate in were also cancelled.  

Melissa will be a senior next year and decisions will need to be made about her future, “I want to keep playing after college” Mayeux says, “but it all depends on the opportunities that I’ll be given. Its hard for several players here and its getting harder, the level of play is just much better than in Europe. You have to get better every day if you want to be on the field. I know if I don’t have any opportunities, I’ll go back to Europe and find an opportunity there, but I would really like to stay in the states because I would really like to make my life here”. The difficulties that all college students face have been compounded by Covid-19, but even more so for student-athletes like Melissa who are here on visas. Early in July the Trump Administration required that International students must take classes in person to stay in the country legally this fall despite the global pandemic, and schools opting to deliver their classes through online video services. This would cause an extraordinary hardship on Melissa, “Its stressful because we don’t know what’s going to happen. I have been here since before the virus started and I don’t understand why, it just doesn’t make sense to me. So basically when school was cancelled, I thought about going back home straight up, just to do something, but then the whole virus got crazy, and the school wanted me to sign some paperwork that said if I’m leaving, I’m willing to leave my scholarship, and I couldn’t do it”. Luckily for Melissa, and the thousands more like her, after this interview had been conducted the Trump Administration has walked back its controversial decision to force International students to take at least one face to face class to remain in the country.

Melissa’s story is just one woman’s experience with baseball, but day in and day out young women are fighting to show that they belong in baseball, the board rooms, and the front office. Women continue to make strides in baseball, yet when they suit up to play ball, the resistance faced by early pioneers like Toni Stone are still faced today 70 years later, and girls are told that they can’t or shouldn’t play baseball solely based on their gender. On the subject, Melissa shared part of a discussion she had with Sarah Hudek, “I asked her what she liked better (baseball or softball), and she said, softball because she wasn’t looked at like an object”. Society needs to change how girls are seen in the game of baseball especially as they continue to excel on the field. A new generation of women playing baseball has arrived, and the U.S. National team has stars in Kylee Lahners, Danae Benites, and Megan Baltzell, among others who blaze the path and face obstacles head on. These obstacles don’t phase Melissa either as she looks ahead she sees herself, “Living in Miami Beach, playing in a professional softball league, and maybe training people in baseball and softball, but I was thinking about this the other day, and I’d love to get into MLB and be a coach”. Well Melissa, you’ve been knocking on the door for 5 years, and Alyssa Nakken has just opened it.