July 2011

Junior Grizzlies Display Talents at Chukchansi Park

By: Josh Jackson

July 10, 2011

FRESNO- Fresno starter Matt Yourkin may be one of the best starters on the Grizzlies staff this season. However Sunday afternoon marked a rough day for the veteran left-hander, as he was touched up by the Junior Grizzlies at Chukchansi Park.

A multitude of the Junior Grizzlies ballplayers got in on the action for a great session of day baseball in downtown Fresno. All afternoon, balls were being peppered all over the baseball diamond from every team. One of the more notable performances came from Arturo Camarillo of the black team. Camarillo hit a monster shot off of Yourkin that went deep into center field. Camarillo’s commitment to the Junior Grizzlies is undeniable. He is up early to take the bus to and from every practice and game. It is no surprise that he is considered one of the leaders of the organization.

Jarod Aust from the Navy team also displayed some good wood on the afternoon. Aust had one of the hardest hit balls of the game, as he roped a ball hard down the third base line, driving in a couple of runs in the process. Grizzlies pitcher Shane Loux had to duck out of the way to avoid getting hit by the well-struck ball. One could clearly see that Loux was impressed by Aust’s superb contact on the swing.

Junior Grizzlies pose with Grizzlies players following a well played contest

The Junior Grizzlies showed that they could do more than just hit, as certain players made some true web gems. Infielder Will Jones flashed leather all afternoon, putting on a defensive clinic for the black team. Jones, who is normally a catcher, played the infield all game and was not hesitant to swallow up some tough ground balls. He was definitely not afraid to get dirty, diving for grounders and line drives throughout the game.

Players from the red, green and blue teams had terrific days as well. Grizzlies players such as infielders Edgar Gonzalez and Brandon Belt were seen around the diamond giving Junior Grizzlies the credit they deserved, as they congratulated players from all the teams on their winning efforts. In the end, all of the Junior Grizzlies walked away from Chukchansi Park on Sunday afternoon victorious.

10-for-10: Brett, Meet Rhett

By: Ellen Ward

Ed. Note: The 10-for-10 series is a chance for us at the Grizzlies to celebrate 10 years in Downtown Fresno by thanking 10 of our great fans. If you know a deserving fan who has helped support Grizzlies baseball that you would like to nominate, simply email us at grizzliesmedia@fresnogrizzlies.com.

Rhett sitting on top of the Grizzlies dugout

Most would say that infielder Brett Pill’s biggest fan is his mother, but she has some recent competition. Eight-year-old Rhett Noblett began playing little league this year, which sparked his interest in the Fresno Grizzlies. He witnessed his first professional baseball game at Chukchansi Park earlier in the season and that is where he laid eyes on his soon to be favorite player, Brett Pill.

“Brett was the first player to acknowledge Rhett,” explained his father, David Noblett. “Since then he always asks to go to games so he can watch him play.”

A few months later, Rhett attended the annual Grizzlies Baseball Camp that is run by Grizzlies players, coaches, and manager Steve Decker. He sported a different Pill jersey almost everyday of camp, which caught the eye of staff members and players.

When asked what position Rhett plays in little league, his father chuckled. “Second base, just like Pill.”

“He seems so genuine,” admits David. “He is always one of the first players to sign autographs for kids before the game. Fans notice things like that.”

Even when the Grizzlies are away from Chukchansi Park, Rhett always asks his parents to check the game online to see how Pill is doing that night.

Pill knew exactly which kid it was when he was asked about his youngest fan.

Brett & Rhett at the jersey auction on July 9th

“I think his name is Rhett, which is close to mine,” Brett explained of how the two met. “[Rhett] was at the camp with the Pill jersey on and Decker asked me to come the last day. So the first time I met him was the last day of camp and then he bought my jersey that night at the jersey auction.”

When a fan purchases the jersey at an auction, they are escorted onto the field to pose for pictures with the player. Before Rhett and his father even approached him on the field, Pill was looking into the stands, trying to get his family’s attention so he could point out his young fan to them. Brett took a knee and posed for pictures with Rhett and his new, game-worn jersey.

“His dad said he had three jerseys with my name on it and always wants to know how I did,”  Pill reflected. “Its kind of cool because sometimes you get caught up playing everyday in the grind and you see something like that and it definitely inspires you to play harder.”

Rhett probably never thought that he would inspire his favorite player to run a little faster or dive for the ball a little harder, but that is exactly what he is doing.

Rhett sporting one of his custom made jerseys

“They come to most of the games and sit kind of by first base,” pointed out Brett.  “Hopefully he is there a lot so I can get to know him even more.”

Rhett and his family plan on attending as many Grizzlies games as they can to get a glimpse of Pill before he reaches the majors. It just  goes to show that even the smallest fan can have the biggest impact on a player, even one on the brink of the majors.

My New Classroom

By: Josh Jackson

Anybody who is involved in Minor League Baseball knows that there is a certain theme affiliated with the sport. It does not matter if you are a player, a coach, a front office employee, or a lowly intern such as myself. Everyone is trying to push themselves to the next level, however possible. This concept especially pertains to me, as a recent college graduate currently seeking full-time employment, as the competition in the industry doesn’t exclusively take place on the baseball diamond. Of course, this is what I expected when I started my internship back in February, but I did not get to fully experience the fluidity of the industry until taking a trip with the team to Sacramento.

Twilight at Raley Field

The June 17th game against the Sacramento River Cats marked the beginning of the 2011 edition of what is known as the Highway 99 showdown series. It also represented my first experience on the road with a professional baseball team. I sat in the press box during the game and really tried to take everything in. It was a beautiful day at Raley Field, and I was admiring the performance of Grizzlies starter Matt Yourkin, who was having another solid outing. At a certain point during the game, River Cats Media Relations Director Rebecca Brutlag peered through her binoculars as she saw an unfamiliar figure warming up in the Sacramento bullpen. “Who the heck is that warming up in our bullpen?” she asked to the press box at large. I turned to my boss, Director of Media Relations with the Grizzlies, and he jokingly replied, “It’s probably Doug Mathis.”

Doug Mathis had opted out of his contract with the Fresno Grizzlies just two days prior. Despite six quality starts in 13 appearances as a Grizzly, Mathis was never able to find the win column for a variety of reasons. Anyone who paid any attention to the season that Doug Mathis was having in Fresno would be understanding of his frustration and the decision he made. Mathis needed a new start in order to get to where he wanted to be.

So as it turns out, we looked through the binoculars and confirmed that the right-hander warming up in the home bullpen was none other than Mathis himself. We eventually found out that Mathis had been signed by the Oakland A’s and was set to be placed on the Sacramento roster. Mathis made no appearance that day, but the sighting of one of our best pitchers in a rival uniform served as a wake-up call. It showed me just how quickly things could change on a day-to-day basis.

The situation became even more of a reality when we were down in the River Cats clubhouse the next day. As I waited for my boss to finish an interview with Major League rehabber Mark Ellis, I stood just a few feet away from Mathis, who was wearing a Sacramento River Cats warm-up shirt. He sat there quietly as he ate the food provided to the players. Guys were coming up to him and introducing themselves, which drove home the fact that Mathis was still a stranger in the clubhouse. None of it seemed out of the ordinary, though. It was evident that scenarios like this are played out on a constant basis.

Portrait of former River Cat Barry Zito who made two MLB rehab starts with the Grizzlies in 2011

After the near no-hit performance put on by the Grizzlies pitching staff that day, we headed back to the hotel in downtown Sacramento. As we walked into a lounge area near the lobby, we noticed a few of the Grizzlies players and coaches sitting at a table, sharing food and cocktails. It took me a second to realize it, but Mathis had joined the group. This was not shocking to me by any means, however being a witness to the scene reminded me of my recent college experiences.

The baseball world is just like one big fraternity- everyone seems to be connected to each other in one way or another. In fact, we ran into Grizzlies reliever Geno Espineli and River Cats reliever Joe Bateman at a local Irish Pub later on that night. The two pitchers had played together at Double-A Connecticut when Bateman was still with the Giants organization. We sat and talked about baseball in general and what it was like to work in the sport from each of our own perspectives.

At one point in the conversation, Espineli made a statement that I felt was really representative of what playing at the minor league level is all about. “It’s crazy how much players move around. Everywhere I go, I’ll run into people I used to play with and I’ll be like, ‘Wow, you’re playing here now?’ It’s just crazy how often it happens.”

Bateman was also venting his frustration that comes with the strenuous environment of the minors. After a couple of drinks, it was hard for an athlete like himself to conceal his competitive nature. “I just feel like I deserve a shot. I should at least get the chance,” he explained. Bateman got off to a good start in the beginning of the year, but has struggled as of late. He did, however, strike out four Grizzly batters over two innings the previous day. Bateman seemed overly eager throughout the conversation, and at one point he had inquired to see if we had heard his name get brought up in any trade rumors. We laughed and joked about it even though his request was somewhat serious.  The conversation eventually ended and I returned back to the hotel having gained a new perspective on the world of baseball.

In business school, we always talked about the importance of developing good contacts and maintaining healthy professional relationships along the way. I saw over that weekend that this is not a foreign concept in professional sports, regardless of how you are affiliated with the industry. What I learned and experienced could not necessarily be achieved in a classroom setting, I had to see it for myself. I don’t know if there is any real conclusion to a baseball story, but I am excited to say that my story is just beginning.

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