Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

Grizzlies Alumni Report: Joe Nathan

Who: Joe Nathan
When He Was a Grizzly: Joe played with Fresno for four seasons from 1999-2002. Despite his less than stellar numbers as a Grizzly, the San Francisco Giants 1995 sixth round went on to an All-Star career as a Major Leaguer.  
Fresno Highlights:
? Throughout the four seasons with Fresno, Nathan compiled just a 12-23 record with a 5.59 ERA.
? The right-hander put up his best numbers with the Grizzlies in his first season, winning six games against four losses in 13 starts. He finished the 1999 season with a 4.46 ERA. 
? Joe’s 2002 campaign with the club was also the first in which he saw time out of the bullpen. In 31 games, the Texas native made six relief appearances.

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Where He Went From Here: After making his Major League debut with the Giants in 1999, Nathan saw time with the Grizzlies’ parent club in 2000 and 2002 before pitching the entire 2003 season in San Francisco. All 78 appearances with the Giants that year were out of the ‘pen, and he compiled a 12-4 record with a 2.96 ERA in 79.0 innings. 
Where He Is Now:
Nathan was traded in mid-November of 2003, along with former Grizzly Boof Bonser and Francisco Liriano to the Minnesota Twins for catcher A.J. Pierzynski and cash. The right-handed reliever made his mark as one of baseballs top closers with the Twins since 2004, adding four All-Star appearances and two top-5 finishes in the AL Cy Young Award voting. In six seasons as a Twin, Nathan has gone 22-12-361 in 412 games, while yielding a minuscule 1.87 ERA. 
Career Highlights:
? Set a Minnesota Twins single season record with 47 saves in 2009.
? Went 7-0 with a 1.58 ERA, and a 0.79 WHIP in 2006.
? Tallied a career high 95 strikeouts in 2006, averaging 12.5 K’s per nine innings.
? At the plate, Nathan accumulated five hits with the Giants in 2000, four of which were for extra bases. Two of the four extra base hits were his only two career home runs in the Majors.

My First Thrill

By: Noah Frank

 

I moved to
California when I was three years old, the son of a single mother who was
raised a San Francisco Giants fan in the Bay Area. When I was four, my mom took me to my
first baseball game, a sunny, warm, matinee affair between the Montreal Expos and
the Giants at Candlestick. It was late May of 1987, and we were
headed to this specific game because– as a precocious four year-old– I had
decided my favorite player was Expos outfielder
Hubie Brooks. I had even
written to Brooks, and he had responded with a hand-written letter of his own
and an autographed photo to boot.

So there we
were at the ‘Stick, mother with son in tow, mom wearing the home 

expos hat.jpgorange and
black while her child, blissfully oblivious, sported the classic red, white and
blue Montreal hat.

I seem to
recall that we sat in the upper deck, though the only thing I can be sure of is
that we were on the first base side. When the starting lineups were announced,
I realized, to my dismay, that Brooks was not playing that day. No matter,
though, I would simply root on the Expos, since they were still Brooks’ team,
after all.

The Giants
scored first, something I remember only now when I look back at the box score.
Expos starter Floyd Youmans balked home a runner in the top of the first, which
I suppose explains why my normally meticulous memory of the event is fuzzy. Try
to explain a balk to a preschooler in the first inning of his first baseball
game.

The Expos
struck back for three runs in the top of the fourth, something I remember very
well. The Giants’ hurler, now broadcaster,
Mike Krukow allowed a two-run single
to Tim Wallach, who scored himself on an RBI-single 

candlestick_enclosed.jpglater in the inning. I was
in ecstasy, my beloved ‘Spos on top, 3-1. That’s when I was introduced to the
man who would shape my very perception of the game.

In the
bottom of the frame, with one out and nobody on, up stepped
Will Clark. With
one mighty swing, he took Youmans deep to cut the lead to one. It was the first
time I’d ever seen a home run, ever considered the thought of it really. This man had hit the
ball so hard that it had left the playing field entirely, leaving me shaken and
bewildered. The fans around me cheered, while I worried what would become of my
Expos, without Hubie Brooks to save them. Even with the score still 3-2
Montreal, I was upset.

Neither team
scored in the fifth, but then, leading off the bottom of the sixth, there was
that man again. Will Clark. The cheer of the crowd was louder this time,
reminding all– especially me– of what he had done the last time he batted. And
just then, sure enough, he did it again, sending another Youman pitch rocketing
past us through the California sunshine, into the unused seats over the outfield
wall.

Candlestick
exploded in joy, and I lost it. It was all too much for a poor little Expos fan
to take. Normally a quiet and well-mannered child (according to my mom’s
accounts of my youth), I threw myself on the concrete beneath our seats,
crying and wailing away as Clark circled the bases. How cruel was this, to 

WillClark(4).jpghave
my team take the lead only to watch this Giant of a man rip it away from me?
What had I done to deserve this? I hated this game, and all I wanted was to
disappear.

My mother
grabbed me off the ground, sat me in my seat, and spoke words that I will never
forget. Remember, this was still years before
A League of Their Own and the famous Tom Hanks quote that “there’s
no crying in baseball”. My mother looked me in the eye and threatened that if I
did not stop crying right then, right there, that she would never take me to
another baseball game again. I pulled it
together, thankfully, and made it through the end of not only that game, but
hundreds if not thousands since. Looking back at the box score, I chuckled upon
discovering that the Expos had actually rallied against Krukow for three in the
eighth inning, going on to win by a count of 6-4. Clearly that memory had been
superceded by the other, of the Giant man with the left-handed swing that sent
baseballs screaming, lost, into the recesses of the concrete bowl.

My Hubie
Brooks infatuation was gone by the late ’80s, but I would never forget Will
Clark. I would see him again over the years,
single-handedly crushing the Cubs
in 1989 on my television set to lead San Francisco to the World Series. Then, most
notably, watching Game 1 of the Series in Oakland in person, where he had two of
the Giants’ five hits, including the only double off Dave Stewart in a 5-0 defeat. But
I will always remember him for that first thrill, the first time I’d ever seen
a man transform the landscape of the game, of an entire generation of San
Francisco baseball fans.

Will Clark will be a special guest at the 50th
Anniversary
Hot Stove Gala
taking place Thursday, February 3rd at
the Fresno Convention Center.

“Really?” I
asked him, skeptically. He smiled, shrugging his shoulders.

Having grown
up in California and knowing only the slogan of the Anaheim branch of the
Disney Empire as “The Happiest Place on Earth”, this was a new one to me. But I
thought about the deeper meaning it might hold for those in baseball. See, the
Winter Meetings rotate locations around the country, stopping every five years
or so in Orlando. Because of the setup of the hotel, everyone working in Major League and Minor League Baseball as well as those looking for a job were all under the
same roof. As such, certainly dreams came true for some last week.

They did for
Jason Werth, who landed a larger-than-expected contract from the Washington
Nationals. They must have for Carl Crawford, who will spend his next seven
years
as a highly-paid outfielder for the always competitive Boston Red Sox.
But what of the other 

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players, teams, general managers and, of course, job
seekers?

For those
who don’t know, the other side of the Winter Meetings is a massive cattle call
of a Job Fair that draws hundreds upon hundreds of young folks looking to break
into the business of baseball. Many of us who work in the game were ourselves
in that position just a few years prior. They mingle with the rest of us for
the week, soaking in everything that the offseason baseball event of the year
has to offer.

Here is a
basic breakdown of my crazy, wonderful, stressful week that was the Baseball
Winter Meetings.

Sunday

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After a few
hours of socializing, my old intern (who kindly let me crash with him for a few
nights near the hotel) showed up and we retreated back to try to catch some
sleep, but not before a nice meal of Orlando’s finest delivery pizza and hot
wings. It’s always nice to start a busy week with a night of massive
indigestion.

Monday

Monday is
where the “meeting” half of the Winter Meetings begins in earnest, with the Bob
Freitas Business Seminar in the morning and a series of roundtable discussions
about the various departments of a baseball organization in the afternoon. In
the middle is the annual awards lunch, where the Giants took home Organization
of the Year honors. Ho hum.

Following
the afternoon session, and a quick stop in on the PCL travel meeting, every
Giants minor league affiliate met with the big league club for an hour, then
headed upstairs for our private, organizational dinner. Four different tables
of food, including fresh sushi, and an open bar are a nice way to say thank you
for a season of hard work that ended with the Commissioner’s Trophy headed to
San Francisco. I was even lucky enough to sit at the same table with Giants
manager Bruce Bochy and former manager Felipe Alou (sorry, no photo for that–
you’ll just have to take my word for it).

After
dinner, as it was every night, I headed back down to the lobby, this time with
the always entertaining staff from the Richmond Flying Squirrels, our Double-A
affiliate.

Tuesday

I grabbed
lunch with a couple of the minor league broadcasters I met on the trip, one of
whom expressed his anticipation for Wednesday, when, as he put it, “the bright
eyes and bushy tails of Monday turn into the boulevard of broken dreams” at the
Job Fair. While this characterization may be a bit melodramatic, the difference
in mood is palpable. Once bustling hallways abuzz with the excited gasps at the
myriad possibilities of exciting future career paths, is replaced by the
treacherous silence of hundreds of young people waiting anxiously for their
phones to ring.

Wednesday

My favorite
highlight involved one of the baseball entertainers looking to get booked for
promotional days around the country. He would stand perfectly still in front of
one of the apparel stands, in full uniform with a catcher’s mask on, waiting for
passersby. When someone would casually approach too closely, he would make a
sudden move towards them, usually scaring their socks off. I had the pleasure
of watching Omaha Storm Chasers broadcaster Mark Nasser get duped by a colleague into a false
sense of security, then get frightened so badly he nearly fell over on the
Trade Show floor. Good times.

Wednesday
night brought the Gala, the chance for everyone to come together one last time
before we all headed home to our respective corners of the country. After meeting
up with some friends from the Tacoma Rainiers, we ended up departing to the
karaoke bar in the 

rule5draft.jpg

hotel and closing the place down. The last thing I remember from
the night was heading to the 24-hour cafeteria for pizza at 3am, then waking up
to the sound of my alarm…

Thursday

My main
reason for going to the Draft was to see if our southpaw reliever Joe Paterson
would survive the process. Any player not on his team’s 40-man roster with a
certain amount of service time is eligible to be selected, and Paterson fell
into that category. There was a difference of opinion amongst the baseball
operations folks at the Giants organizational dinner a couple nights prior
about whether or not he would be selected, but I had a bad feeling.

Surely
enough, Paterson was snatched away by the division-rival Diamondbacks, going
third overall
in the Major League portion of the Draft. I was really looking
forward to having him back in Fresno this year, and we still may see him, as
Arizona must keep him on their Major League roster or else he will be returned
to the Giants, per the rules of the draft.

As the
masses retreated from the draft back to the lobby, gone were the bars that had
been set up there for the week, as well as the crowds that accompanied them. A
mass exodus was checking out and heading for the cab lines to the airport. That
left me the chance to talk with the godfather of baseball, Peter Gammons of
ESPN, who was just wrapping things up at that point, no longer running from
executive to executive, looking to break the next piece of hot stove news. If
you ever get the chance to speak to Gammons, make sure you take advantage. I’ve
been lucky enough to do so twice, and it’s always worth the time.

All in all,
it was quite a week. I learned a lot, met a ton of people from all around
baseball, and hopefully will be able to use all of that to help get ready for
April 7th, 2011. After all, there are just 61 days until pitchers
and catchers report to Spring Training.

(Photos: Top- The bustle of the Job Fair; Middle- ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian, one of the many faces of the Winter Meetings; Bottom- The Rule 5 Draft. I know it’s a bit fuzzy, but it is an accurate reflection of how it looked through my eyes. All photos courtesy of my best friend and worst enemy, my iPhone)

Kindling The Hot Stove

By: Cody Turner

For many baseball fans, the excitement of the baseball
season doesn’t end after the World Series; it begins again. Following the
anticipation of the postseason awards, fans eagerly await the fate of some of
the key players from their organization, as well as what newcomers might become
significant contributors next spring. 

At the minor league level, while many spectators suspect a
vacant ghost town for a stadium, front office staffs across the country have
begun the diligent preparation for the six-month marathon of a season that lies
ahead. Similarly to fans, many members of the Minor League Baseball family
enthusiastically await offseason transactions, and how those moves affect which
exciting young talents they’ll get to feature come Opening Day.

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The most examined teams during the winter are often those
coming off postseason runs. The expectations of a defending champ are particularly
high, and the value of available top performers from such an organization is
increased. It’s always interesting to see how the chemistry of a championship
caliber team may be altered, especially a clubhouse that meshed as well as the
2010 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants.

In their first month since their World Series victory, a lot
has happened in the world of baseball. The activities thus far have had an
affect on multiple levels. What most don’t realize is how the re-signing of a
free agent, or loss of another, can change not just the outlook for a league or
a division, but also an entire organization from the top down.  While the elite of baseball’s top
prospects participated in the Arizona Fall League and the Giants focused on
some of their higher priority free agents in November, the fortune of the
Fresno Grizzlies’ 2011 Opening Day roster awaits.

Each time the Scottsdale Scorpions took the field in
Arizona, and every negotiation made in San Francisco shifted which developing
players Fresno fans were likely to see come April. With the young talents of
Brandon Belt, Charlie Culberson, and Conor Gillaspie making their cases for a
shot at the next level with an exceptional display of development in the AFL,
the eventual home of Giants free agents will play a crucial part where these
prospects land.  

By the end of Belt’s steady rise through the system in 2010–
culminating in the Scorpions’ AFL Championship– talks of the lefty starting the
upcoming season in San Francisco
began to surface. The small glimpse of the heaving-hitting
first baseman in Downtown Fresno at the tail end of last season left fans eager
to see the rising star lead the Grizzlies into 2011. Little did we know that
despite a championship lineup in San Francisco, Belt might end up with the
Giants without stepping foot in Chukchansi Park again.

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The immediate future of the Giants’ fifth-round selection of
the 2009 First-Year Player Draft was highly dependent on whether San Francisco
would sign Free Agent first baseman Aubrey Huff. Even after the news of the deal
that would keep Huff in orange and black
for two more seasons, the possibility
of Belt being a Giant this spring was not necessarily diminished.

Huff’s experience in the outfield, his willingness to do
whatever it takes
to help the team win, and his desire to be an everyday player
didn’t count out the possibility of Brandon Belt starting the 2011 season in a
Giants uniform. The Huff signing inched Belt closer to an assignment to Fresno,
but it wasn’t until San Francisco’s latest signing of Pat Burrell that made Belt’s
immediate future in a Grizzlies uniform seem more probable than that in a Giants
one. Nevertheless, the winter has just begun. How the next four months play out
will determine where we see Belt come Opening Day.

Similarly to the starting first base job, the rest of the
Giants infield is in question for the spring as well. The immediate decision-making
rested on the free agent status of World Series hero Juan Uribe. With the
sure-handed infielder headed to Southern California after signing with the
division-rival Dodgers
(and the Giants’ concern with the fitness of Pablo
Sandoval
), the opportunity for a young upstart from the minor league system
making an impact appeared as conceivable as ever.

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Whether the Giants looked to a more established player like
Emmanuel Burriss or Ryan Rohlinger to step up, or the fresher faces of a
Gillaspie, Culberson or a lesser-known Brandon Crawford to emerge, infield
opportunities were seemingly wide open. However, shortly after Uribe’s
departure, the Giants acquired veteran shortstop Miguel Tejada, who helped
boost San Diego in the divisional race last year.

While the return of Freddy Sanchez and Mark DeRosa to the
Giants infield, along with the attainment of Tejada and re-signing of backup
infielder Mike Fontenot will help fill some vacancies with some veteran
assurance, there are still some questions to be answered this winter. With the uncertainty of Sandoval and the increased progress and
productivity of Culberson and Gillaspie, each offseason move dramatically
impacts what baseball fans in the Central Valley can expect to see in Fresno.

The outlook for Triple-A baseball in Fresno seems bright
with the likelihood of some impressive young talent making their way though at
some point in 2011. As always though, the length at which they stay may vary.
With the recent immediate success of Rookie of the Year Buster Posey and lefty
hurler Madison Bumgarner, the urgency to see a Brandon Belt as a Giant sooner
rather than later will be astronomical.

(Ryan Rohlinger and Madison Bumgarner Photos: Don Davis; Aubrey Huff Photo: AP)

Prospect Watch: Joe Paterson

By: Noah Frank

Most of our
Prospect Watch pieces focus on a player who has spent little or no time in
Fresno to this point in his career. But it seems a safe bet that 24-year-old
Joe Paterson will be a returning face to the Central Valley in 2011. Besides,
he’s such a nice guy that we just couldn’t help ourselves.

Paterson
spent the 2010 season spent shuttling back and forth between Fresno and San
Jose
, posting solid numbers in the former and excellent ones in the latter.
Largely used as a situational southpaw or LOOGY (lefty one-out guy), he
dominated lefty swingers, fanning 36 of the 112 that faced him. He also held
left-handers to a .216 batting average between the two levels. Overall he
finished 5-3 with three saves, a 3.03 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 65.1 innings
pitched, earning a trip to the Arizona Fall League.

Since
arriving in Scottsdale, the congenial Oregonian made it look more like his
Single-A stomping grounds, holding opponents scoreless in nine of his 10
appearances. He struck out 

at least one batter in every outing, compiling 17
against just four walks in 11.0 innings pitched. He continues to dominate
lefties, allowing just two hits while striking out 11 of the 21 left-handed
batters he faced.

Perhaps the
most encouraging number in that bunch– small sample size aside– is that he had
just a single walk through his first nine appearances. If there was a knock on
Paterson in the times he struggled with Fresno this past season, it was that he
issued too many free passes and dug himself into his own holes. He walked 24 in
54.1 innings with the Grizzlies (4.0 BB/9.0 IP) including five multi-walk
outings in his first 20 appearances. But he has fanned 50 while walking just 12
since then, in 40.1 innings between Fresno and Scottsdale.

Much like
fellow bullpen lefty Geno Espineli, Paterson steps well across his body with
his right plant foot as he delivers the ball, his throwing arm sweeping at a
flat angle out towards first base. This means he actually is releasing the ball
behind a left-handed hitter as he digs into the batter’s box. That allows
Paterson to keep the hitter off-balance and set them up, bailing out on inside
fastballs, then chasing frisbee sliders that float off the plate outside. All
of that has led to a career record of 20-12 with a 2.63 ERA (67 ER/229.0 IP)
and a 9.8 K/9.0 IP rate.

It has been
said that if you can throw left-handed and have a pulse that there is a place
for you in baseball. Joe Paterson can do much more than just that, and is well
on his way to a spot in the Giants bullpen in the next couple of years. More
than likely, though, JoePa (as his teammates affectionately refer to him) will
begin the 2011 campaign with fellow Oregon State alum, College World Series Champion,
and future subject of Prospect Watch, Tyler Graham, right here in Fresno.

(Photo Credit: Don Davis)

Legends Of The Fall

By: Noah Frank

The Arizona Fall League will wrap up this Saturday, as the Scottsdale Scorpions take on the Peoria Javelinas for the league title at 12pm PST on MLB Network. Most of the national media attention paid to the Scorpions when the roster was announced was to the Washington Nationals‘ uber-prospect, Bryce Harper. Now, if you know anything about the Giants prospects participating in the AFL, you may be asking yourself “Isn’t Scottsdale the Giants’ team?” The answer to that is simple: Yes, and no.

See, this is how the AFL works. The prospects from the 30 Major League teams are divided up into six, five-team squads. The Giants are grouped with the Colorado Rockies, Baltimore Orioles, Arizona Diamondbacks and, as mentioned before, the Nationals. San Francisco has a total of seven prospects on the roster, none of them with the same kind of branding as baseball’s answer to LeBron James. But while Harper has certainly helped, living up to the hype so far (in a very small sample size), it has been the trio of Giants hitters that have keyed Scottsdale’s run to the championship game.

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Past features of our Prospect Watch series Charlie Culberson and Brandon Belt share the league lead in doubles (11) and triples (5), respectively, earning them some national attention. Meanwhile, Conor Gillaspie has had his best showing as a professional to date, batting over .300 while sharing the league lead in home runs (5). Belt’s line, though, has been the most eye-catching so far at .372/.427/.616 (AVG, OBP, SLG), as he tries to put a cherry on top of his magnificent 2010 campaign with another championship.

The Giants have stocked the team with a few arms as well, lending 2009 Grizzly Dan Runzler and 2010 Grizzly Joe Paterson as well as lower level prospects Jason Stoffel and Ryan Verdugo (interestingly, all but Stoffel are southpaws). This is just the beginning of a whole new campaign for Runzler who, after making the Majors in ’09, was injured this season and may now being groomed for a move into the starting rotation. With the starting five in San Francisco as stable as any in the Majors, it would not be a surprise to see Runzler begin 2011 back in Fresno as he adjusts to his new role. Paterson is likely to return as well, and Grizzlies fans may get a look at Verdugo, who struck out 94 batters in just 62.2 innings while going 8-1 with a 1.87 ERA this season between Augusta and San Jose.

While the AFL is a great way for Giants fans to get a sneak preview of the players that will end up in San Francisco in a couple years, it’s an even better way to see those who will be in Fresno next year. So check out the game on MLB Network at noon on Saturday. It’s your last chance to see some of this top talent until Grizzlies Opening Day on Thursday, April 7th, 2011.

(Photo of Brandon Belt courtesy of Joe Pun/AZGiants.com)

The Once And Future King

By: Noah Frank

As a kid
growing up, I remember watching Patrick Roy, goalie for the Colorado Avalanche,
and reflecting upon his last name. Having learned French at an early age, I
recognized his last name as being close to the French word for “king” (roi),
hence his nickname: King Patrick. The rabid baseball fan that I am, I always
saw the same thing whenever the Rookies of the Year were announced in the
acronym for the award: ROY. So this season, when the Giants’ Twitter fan site
@SF_Giants began their ROYPosey hashtag push, I could think of only one thing:

King Posey.

That was a
far cry from my first impression of the young man carrying the burden of all 

the hopes of a long-suffering fan base. I first met Buster Posey at our annual Hot
Stove Dinner
, last February 4th. On a brisk Thursday night in
downtown Fresno, he strolled into 

the banquet room at the Holiday Inn. Clad in
a modest dress shirt and slacks, no tie, a modest sport coat and a closely cropped haircut,
he might as well have been a member of the military on leave. I have stood next
to some of the most imposing legends of the modern era: Randy Johnson, Roger poseyhotstove.jpgClemens, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi. This kid did not have that same striking
presence as legends like those. He was just that- a kid.

Standing
behind the row of speakers who were seated up on stage that night, I could see
his hands shake under the table as he addressed the crowd. His even, mild tone
was much softer than that of his fellow athletes that night, retired Major
Leaguers Dave Dravecky, Steve Decker and Mark Gardner. One could forgive a
young man in his early 20s for not having the same composure as those twice his
age, much less those with public speaking and minor league managerial
experience. But this was supposed to be the chosen one, not only the offensive
savior but also the overseer of the talented young pitching staff expected to
help push the Giants into contention for a World Championship.

Two months
later came the blitz of a highly anticipated media day and an even bigger
Opening Day. Joining Posey on the media rounds was an even younger, even
greener prospect, fireballer Madison Bumgarner. By now Posey seemed more
comfortable, perhaps more at ease and back in his element wearing a jersey and
cleats instead of street clothes. I guided Bumgarner, Decker and him through
the row of television cameras lining the terrace behind the right-field seats.
He handled himself capably, and with a walk-off win in front of nearly 14,000
fans that night
, the questions that followed were mostly softballs.

The team’s record-setting start certainly helped as well, as the Grizzlies stormed out to
a 32-16 start with Posey on the team. As anyone who works in baseball knows,
though, the season is long and tiresome, and certainly has its ups and downs.
The Giants were off to a good start as well, but questions about their offense
lingered. Suddenly, they dropped five straight, culminating in a weekend sweep
at the hands of the cross-town rival Oakland Athletics
in which they managed just a
single run total, dropping their record to 22-21 on May 23rd. Posey
responded the next day, an off-day for the Giants, by going 4-for-4 against the Memphis Redbirds.

The constant
media pressure will begin to grate on anyone as the season progresses, especially
when you have to answer the same question over and over: “Why aren’t you in San
Francisco yet?” Ever the even-keeled diplomat in front of the camera, he gave
all the right answers. But after that Oakland series, the cries could be heard
all the way from San Francisco. The local beat writer asked me what I thought
the chances were of Posey still 

being a Grizzly when the team returned from its
next road trip, an eight-game swing 

Bumgarner Posey.jpgthrough Salt Lake City and Las Vegas that
would not return them to the Central Valley until June 5th.

“90
percent,” I remember saying. Oops.

That Friday
night the Grizzlies polished off an 8-0 pasting of the Salt Lake Bees to open
that trip, with Posey going 2-for-3 with a walk, a double and an RBI to back
Madison Bumgarner’s 7.2 innings of four-hit, shutout ball. Life was about as
splendid as it could be for a Grizzlies fan, sitting 10.5 games up in first place. About an hour later I received a
text from the Giants’ V.P. of Baseball Operations that Buster was being called
up the next day.

In addition
to being sad about losing Buster from our lineup, I was more worried what the
pressure of a media market the size of San Francisco’s, combined with all the
national attention focused on him, would do to his calm, collected demeanor.
What would happen if he didn’t get off to a good start? How much patience would
an antsy fan base be willing to show for this 23-year-old with just 172 games
of minor league experience?

SI-World-Series-2010.jpgWell, when
you go 3-for-4 with three RBI in your first game, it takes a bit of the
pressure off. Another three-hit game the next day and a record-setting July
later on cemented his place in baseball history as the first Giant to claim
Rookie of the Year honors in 35 years.

Sure, the
expectation was there. Sure, he was named the top prospect in the system, fifth
overall in the minors by Baseball America before the season. But this? All of
this? With a World Series title to boot? I guess that this is what people mean
when they say they have watched someone grow up in front of their very eyes.

I wonder
sometimes how it feels from Buster’s perspective. It must all seem a bit
surreal, like some winding, lucid dream. Judging by how many orange-clad fans
stormed the streets of San Francisco for the victory parade, there are a lot of
people hoping he never wakes up.

(Photo Credit for first two photos: Don Davis; Credit for final photo: Sports Illustrated)

Grizzlies Alumni Report: Matt Cain


Who: Matt Cain
When He Was a Grizzly: Made 26 appearances, all starts, during the 2005 campaign.
Fresno Highlights:
?       Led the PCL and established a Grizzlies franchise record with 176 strikeouts in his
                only season with the team.
? Held opponents to a .218 batting average in 2005, lowest amongst PCL starting
                pitchers.
? Won his last five decisions of the ’05 season, dating back to July 16th.
? Led the Fresno pitching staff by recording 10 of the team’s 68 wins.
? Recorded a season-high 11 punchouts in only 5.0 innings of work on July 28th, 2005.

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Where He Went From Here: Cain made his Major League debut at just 20 years of age on August 29, 2005 with the San Francisco Giants against the Colorado Rockies at AT&T Park. 
Where He is Now: 2010 marked Matt’s fifth full season with the San Francisco Giants after starting his big league career late in 2005. 
Career Highlights:
? Pitched a complete game in only his third start with the Giants, yielding a single run on two hits while recording eight strikeouts in a win at home against the Chicago Cubs on September 9, 2005.
? Led San Francisco pitchers with 13 wins in his first full season in 2006.
? Earned a win in six straight starts and seven straight decisions from May 7-June 14, 2009.  
? Was the longest-tenured Giant on the roster during the club’s 2010 Championship run.
? Did not allow an earned run in 21.1 innings over three postseason starts for the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants.

Prospect Watch: Charlie Culberson

By: Noah Frank

Every year,
as the bulk of the baseball watching populous turns its collective attention to
the playoffs– culminating in the Fall Classic– a handful of experts pack their
bags and head to Arizona. No, they are not flying south for the winter, though
the mild temperatures are certainly the reason that their destination is
situated where it is. These scouts and writers are headed to the Arizona Fall League, a post-season
prospect showcase of the best the minors has to offer. At first glance, this
was not somewhere one would expect to find Charlie
Culberson
.

culberson.jpg

Not only was
Culberson not among the top 30 prospects in the Giants’ system entering 2010,
according to Baseball America, he wasn’t even listed on the organizational
depth chart at second base, making his only appearance in their prospect
handbook as the fourth-string third baseman.

It’s funny
how quickly a professional baseball player can put his name on the map these
days. Let’s just say that whole anonymity thing isn’t going to last into next
year’s edition.

A career
.249 hitter with just a .312 on-base percentage through his first three
professional seasons, Culberson– still just 21– spent the year at High-A San Jose. After a lackluster April that
saw him hit just .212, he stormed out to bat .326 in May and a cool .400 in the
month of June. His overall average reached a season-high of .329 in late June,
but would tumble downwards in the second half, coinciding with the promotion of
top prospect and fellow right-side infielder Brandon Belt to Double-A Richmond.

Culberson
still finished the year at .290/.340/.457 with 28 doubles and 16 home runs, his
best season yet as a professional. The Giants liked what they saw enough to
give him a shot in the AFL, a talent-rich prospect zoo where he would be thoroughly
tested.

Even with
his improvements this year, nobody could have expected what Culberson
delivered. He hit safely in his first dozen games, batting .472 (25-for-53)
with eight doubles, two triples, two home runs, 15 runs scored and nine RBI. He
racked up eight multi-hit games over that stretch, including four of three or
more hits. As of November 5th he had settled down to a .417 average,
but still leads the league in hits (30), doubles (10), and extra-base hits
(14), while ranking second in slugging percentage (.694) and total bases (50).
Never mind that he’s doing all of this against the best competition available.

Culberson
may still have Brock Bond above him
on the organizational depth chart at second base, but he has likely passed Nick Noonan and may well see some time
in Fresno this year. A sandwich pick out of high school back in 2007, it has
taken Culberson a little while to achieve his potential. But with Belt flanking
him at first base, the Giants have a lot to be excited about in the future of
the right side of the infield.

(Photo Credit: Mills Fitzner)

Smaller Stadium, Enhanced Experience

For many natives of Fresno, it comes as quite a shock when they meet people who relocate to the Central Valley from preconceived “nicer” areas. Speaking from the perspective of a Bay Area boy, my response to many when they initially find out where it is I’m originally from is simple: “Fresno has its advantages”. 
As a young adult fresh out of high school, I was eager to take on the responsibilities and freedom that came with leaving the nest. Luckily for me, I was drawn to Fresno through opportunities of higher education. Little did I know that after just over six years in what I now consider home, there would be so many positives to outweigh any disadvantages.
Growing up, baseball was always top of mind. At first thought, moving three hours east to the Valley was only going to put distance between myself and the sport and teams I lived for growing up. With more consideration, the travel was actually going to be more of a baseball blessing than a letdown. 
Like most people in Fresno I was ecstatic at the thought of being able to watch young talented ballplayers before they advanced to the Majors, but took for granted how fortunate I really was. To this day I kick myself for not catching every game in April of 2007. After seeing the career that young Tim Lincecum has put together thus far from the comfort of my unenthusiastic living room, I can only imagine what Chukchansi Park was like as the dominant right hander mowed down opposing hitters in the PCL.
Following the first of back-to-back Cy Young Awards for Big Time Timmy Jim in 2008, I was certain I wouldn’t let another opportunity like that come through Fresno without being a part of it. Even though the circumstances were dramatically in my favor, I made sure I soaked up every bit of the Giants’ most recent highly anticipated prospects to come through Fresno. With Buster Posey breaking into Triple-A midway through the 2009 season, and starting the 2010 season with Madison Bumgarner, we were showered with the gift of future standouts in our own backyard.
Posey.jpg
What some people don’t realize is hat there are always other chances to see future household names, even before they show signs of stardom. A prime example from my experience in Downtown Fresno is the rise of Brian Wilson. After seeing Wilson grind through three seasons with the Grizzlies, he suddenly compiled a record-setting number of saves in San Francisco in the same amount of time he spent in Fresno. While he was just another arm in the bullpen for the Grizzlies from ’05-’07, now he’s captured the attention of millions who “Fear the Beard“.
Although it’s been recognized by some, there are still way too many Fresnans who are unaware of just how much connection the Central Valley had to the 2010 World Series. Not only did the Giants fill a 25-man roster with 15 players who wore a Grizzlies jersey at some point in there career, they were led to a Championship title by a majority of former Fresno Grizzlies.
There still may be several folks who will ask the clueless, “Wait, Matt Cain played in Fresno?” or “Buster Posey was here for two months this season?” questions. However, it would be my guess that the San Francisco Giants’ remarkable run to a World Championship, which sparked an incredible support from communities throughout Northern California, will be many peoples’ equivalent to the Tim Lincecum experience I had just a few short seasons ago. 
Whether a fan of baseball, an admirer of professional athletes, or just someone who wants to be a part of something special, the lesson here is simply not to let the future Giants like Brandon Belt, Darren Ford and Zack Wheeler breeze through Fresno without the chance to watch them play. Staying informed and involved will enhance the big league experiences you’ll encounter down the road.

Baseball Bringing Communities Together

It was instilled in me at an early age that baseball was not only a sport, or a game, but that it served as an event that brought people together at different levels. The togetherness can be experienced on varying degrees: from backyard catch with your family, to a nationally televised event capturing the attention of millions across the country.
As I drove through the streets of San Francisco on Tuesday, October 19th, I couldn’t help but take in the sights of the mid-day energy of the big city environment. The first whiff of the fresh, early-afternoon air had a certain positivity lingering, which only got stronger as we approached our destination.
AT&T Park was surrounded by city blocks draped in orange and black, representing the fellowship of a city and a region brought together by baseball. The enthusiasm radiated throughout the streets, with fans flocking to the stadium to enjoy the game the way many purists would say it was supposed to experienced; during the day, under the natural light of sun. 
After attending nearly all 144 of the Fresno Grizzlies’ home games over the past two seasons– and only a handful of regular season games at the professional level– I couldn’t help but be a fan of what was laid out before me, and truly be thankful for what I was able to experience in my two-year involvement with the Triple-A affiliate of the Giants.
Believe.jpg
To think that just four months ago, I had the privilege of watching the Giants’ most exciting young player, Buster Posey, hone his skills at Chukchansi Park– a stage nearly a quarter of the size of AT&T Park– is remarkable. To translate that into watching guys like former Grizzly Brian Wilson warm up before taking the mound in the ninth inning of the NLCS really puts into perspective the similarities of a minor league park compared to its Major League counterpart.
Having access to a minor league ballpark, to watch an almost equally high-quality level of professional baseball as the Giants is a huge advantage. The ability to watch young players develop into big league stars, just months before they become key contributors to a MLB playoff push, is a rarity. While having the potential NL Rookie of the Year, or a back-to-back reigning NL Cy Young winner may not come through a minor league park on a regular basis, watching them compete for a chance at a World Series ring sure opens your eyes to what kind of future superstars may make a brief appearance in your own back yard.
My experiences in a smaller venue compared to that of Major League Baseball have given me an immense appreciation for what I was apart of during Game 3 of the NLCS in San Francisco. To see how a team on a national arena can draw the support of such a large city sparks the inspiration of how the smaller backdrop of an affiliated team like the Fresno Grizzlies can do the same in their own community.
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