Results tagged ‘ Darren Ford ’

Presidents With The Grizzlies – or at least Presidential last names

Today is Presidents’ Day, or officially known as Washington’s Birthday. For some, it’s that second Monday they have off in February. In reality, though, it is a day that honors the 44 Presidents of the United States. The day was first celebrated as a federal holiday on the birthday of George Washington in the 1880s.

Thank the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill from 1968, though, for the Monday off. The bill moved a number of federal holidays to Mondays so workers had some long weekends.

To help get you through your day off – and in honor Presidents’ Day – here is a list of former Fresno Grizzlies who share a surname with past POTUS (or is it POTUSi?).

 

Tyler

Josh Tyler (1998, 2000-01)

Shares name with the 10th US President, John Tyler (1841-45)

Tyler was a utility player for the Grizzlies during their inaugural season in 1998 and again later in 2000 and 2001. Tyler even made three appearances for the Grizzlies as pitcher over the 2000 and 2001 seasons. He allowed three runs over four innings in the three games. In fact, during the 2000 season, Tyler played every position except shortstop. His last professional season was with Fresno in 2001. He batted .287 in 77 games with the Grizzlies in 2001, but he carried a .404 batting average in August, his final month in pro baseball.

John Tyler could be viewed as utility player for the United States government. Tyler manned many different positions, including state legislator, governor, US representative, US Senator, Vice President, and then, of course, President. Tyler was the first person to succeed as President of the United States due to the death of the incumbent as William Henry Harrison died of pneumonia while in office.

 

Johnson

Brian Johnson (1998)

Mike Johnson (2003)

Share name with 17th US President Andrew Johnson (1865-69) and 36th US President Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-69).

Two Presidents had the last names Johnson as did two former Grizzlies. First up is Brian Johnson. The catcher appeared in five games with Fresno on MLB Rehab. He had two home runs in his short time with the Grizzlies, including one of his homers being a part of back-to-back-to-back home runs to begin the fourth inning on August 4th. Among Giants fans (and Dodgers fans for that matter), Brian Johnson is remembered for this.

Mike Johnson spent parts of five seasons in the Majors (1997-2001) with the Baltimore Orioles and Montreal Expos. He was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 17th round of the 1993 Draft. The native of Edmonton spent all of the 2003 season with Fresno, making 30 appearances (including four starts) and going 4-3 with a 3.72 ERA. Mike Johnson closed out his career pitching in Korea and independent leagues, including his hometown club Edmonton in 2007, 2009, and 2010.

Andrew and Lyndon were Presidential relievers as both took over as President due to their predecessors’ assassinations.

Lyndon has a more direct tie to the game of baseball: he played in high school.

 

Wilson

Brian Wilson (2005-07)

Shares name with Woodrow Wilson, 28th President (1913-21)

Brian Wilson’s time with the Grizzlies was pre-beard; some fans might not be able to recognize the tenure in more ways than one. Wilson was a standard arm out of the bullpen in his first season with Fresno in 2005, making nine appearances and going 1-1 with a 3.97 ERA and no saves. In 2006 and 2007, however, Wilson’s role as a closer began to take shape as he saved 18 games for the Grizzlies over the two seasons.

Woodrow Wilson is recognized for being a leader of the Progressive Movement, helping see legislation pass such as Federal Reserve Act, the Clayton Antitrust Act, Federal Farm Loan Act, and an income tax. While Brian isn’t necessarily a leader in baseball’s progressivism, his actions are seen as newer to the traditional ways of baseball (i.e. The Beard).

 

Ford

Darren Ford (2011)

Shares name with Gerald Ford, 38th President (1974-77)

These two Fords can be known for one thing: quickness. Darren was 10-for-10 in stolen base opportunities with the Grizzlies in 2011. He primarily served as pinch runner for the Giants in 2010 and 2011 due to his speed on the base paths.

Gerald’s time in office can be described as quick in that his 895-day presidency is the shortest of all US Presidents who did not die in office.

The two also share the bond of football. Gerald was star linebacker and center for the University of Michigan’s national championship teams in 1932 and 1933. Darren, meanwhile, was a standout in football as well as baseball – and track – at Vineland High School. Darren received his fair share of college letters for football, baseball, and track.

 

Bush

Evan Bush (2006)

Shares name with George H.W. Bush, 41st President (1989-93) and George W. Bush, 43rd President (2001-09).

The father-and-son presidential duo has direct ties to baseball. George H.W. played for the Yale baseball team and participated in the first two College World Series. George W. was part owner of the Texas Rangers, serving as managing general partner for five years.

Evan Bush was one-and-done when he came to his baseball career. After being drafted by the Giants in 2006 out of Alabama, Bush played in 32 games with Short-Season Salem-Keizer. He played in three games for the Grizzlies that same season as a late-season replacement while other Grizzlies were summoned to San Francisco for a round of September call-ups.

Evan Bush quit pro baseball after one season in 2006. Since, he has been a collegiate coach, earning top junior college and top assistant coach honors from the Alabama Baseball Coaches Association. He is currently an assistant baseball coach at the University of Alabama-Huntsville. Prior to UAH, Evan coached for three seasons at Bevill State Community College in Fayette, Alabama.

Where Are They Now?

Opening Day for the Grizzlies’ 2012 season is 35 days away (43 until the home opener on April 13th). While the next month will dictate how the Grizzlies roster shakes out, it is time to revisit the 2011 Opening Day roster. Some familiar faces may return to Fresno this season, but several players have moved on to other organizations. Check out the list below to see where they have landed.

The Grizzlies line up for the National Anthem at Opening Day 2011 (Don Davis)

Pitchers

RHP Josh Banks – signed with the Baltimore Orioles. Banks was without a job until February 28th when he signed with the Orioles on a Minor League contract. The right-hander is local to the Baltimore area as he is from Severna Park, Maryland.

RHP Casey Daigle – unsigned. Daigle pitched in 36 games with the Grizzlies last season. He did not pitch in a game after July 10th, however, as he ended the season on the disabled list.

RHP Steve Edlefsen – on the Giants’ 40-man roster. The right-hander made his Major League debut in 2011, pitching in 13 games with the Giants. The 26-year-old, who has pitched in Fresno for parts of the last three seasons, may once again start the year in Fresno this season, but he may also see significant time with the Giants.

LHP Alex Hinshaw – signed with the San Diego Padres. The left-hander was released this past offseason, before he was signed by San Diego. The 29-year-old attended San Diego State University, so the transition to America’s Finest City should be an easy one if he pitches for the parent club. Hinshaw was invited to the Padres’ Major League Spring Training as a non-roster invitee.

RHP Andrew Kown – re-signed with the Giants; invited to San Francisco’s Major League Spring Training as a non-roster invitee. Kown is a candidate to once again pitch for the Grizzlies, depending on how he performs in Spring Training and what types of opportunities open up at the big league level.

RHP Marc Kroonretired

RHP Shane Loux – re-signed with the Giants; invited to San Francisco’s Major League Spring Training as a non-roster invitee. Similar to Kown, Loux will more than likely start the season in Fresno if he sticks with the Giants organization.

RHP Doug Mathis – signed by the Boston Red Sox. Mathis appeared in 13 games with the Grizzlies in 2011 before joining the Oakland A’s organization midway through the year. The University of Missouri product is in Boston’s big league camp this spring. Former Giants farmhand Tony Pena Jr. is also with Mathis in Boston’s Spring Training as a non-roster invitee.

RHP David Mixon – retired midseason last year. After appearing in seven games with the Grizzlies, the right-hander was sent to Double-A Richmond before joining High-A San Jose. In July, Mixon decided to step away from the game and step into a post-baseball career.

RHP Henry Sosa – traded to the Houston Astros midseason last year. Sosa is on the Astros’ 40-man roster and figures to contend for a spot in Houston’s pitching staff at some point this season. The Astros are a young team, and Sosa has only made 10 Major League starts in his career, all of which occurred last season.

RHP Ryan Vogelsong – re-signed with the Giants on a two-year deal. In case you didn’t hear, the right-hander had a good season last year.

LHP Matt Yourkin – re-signed with the Giants; invited to San Francisco’s Major League Spring Training as a non-roster invitee. Once again, Yourkin is in the same boat as Kown and Loux in terms of where he starts this season. If Yourkin pitches for the Grizzlies in 2012, it will be his third-straight season in Fresno.

Hitters

Left to right: Emmanuel Burriss, Conor Gillaspie, Brett Pill and Ryan Rohlinger (Don Davis)

C Chris Stewart – on the Giants’ 40-man roster. Stewart is competing with Eli Whiteside for the backup catcher role with the Giants.

C Jackson Williams – still within the Giants organization. Williams is attending big league Spring Training camp for the fifth straight season as a non-roster invitee.

INF Brock Bond – still within the Giants organization. Bond missed most of the 2011 season with an injury. He will be looking to bounce back in 2012, possibly putting up numbers similar to 2010, when he was named a Pacific Coast League All-Star.

INF Emmanuel Burriss – on the Giants’ 40-man roster. Burriss is competing for a role with the Giants full-time, either as a starter or as a utility player off the bench.

INF Conor Gillaspie – on the Giants’ 40-man roster. Gillaspie appeared in 15 games with the Giants last season as a September call-up. He first appeared with the Giants in a limited role during his first professional season in 2008, all of which was part of his contract. Gillaspie will more than likely start the year in Fresno with his play and opportunities opening up at the Major League level determining where he finishes the year.

INF Edgar Gonzalez – signed by the Chicago Cubs. Gonzalez was one of the mainstays in the Grizzlies lineup in a year filled with plenty of roster turnover. He signed with the Cubs organization entering the 2012 season and is participating in the Cubs’ big league Spring Training camp as a non-roster invitee. Plenty of competition exists for Gonzalez in the Cubs’ camp, but Grizzlies fans might have the opportunity to watch him play again in May when the Iowa Cubs pay a visit to Fresno. All of this, of course, depends on Gonzalez staying with the Cubs organization if he does not make the big league club breaking Spring Training.

INF Brett Pill – on the Giants’ 40-man roster. Pill is competing for a spot on the Giants 25-man roster breaking Spring Training camp. After primarily playing first base for his first five professional seasons, Pill gained some experience at second base with the Grizzlies in 2011. In addition to playing a handful of games at third in the minors, as well as taking some fly balls as an outfielder in Spring Training, Pill is adding versatility to help him make the Giants’ Opening Day roster.

INF Ryan Rohlinger – signed a Minor League contract with the Cleveland Indians. Rohlinger was traded to the Colorado Rockies in early June of last season, where he played in 70 games with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox to end the year. The 28-year-old will attend the Indians’ Minor League camp after his deal with Cleveland did not include an invitation to the big league Spring Training.

OF Terry Evans – unsigned. Evans opened the 2011 campaign with the Giants organization, appearing in 39 games with the Grizzlies. He opted out of his contract at the end of May, freeing him up to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies. The Georgia native played in 48 games with the Double-A Reading Phillies to close out the 2011 season.

OF Darren Ford – signed with the Seattle Mariners. The speedy outfielder was let go by the Giants this past offseason in a reshuffling of the 40-man roster. Ford battled injuries for most of the 2011 season, spending time at four different levels in the San Francisco organization. Ford received an invitation to the Mariners’ Major League Spring Training, but with nine outfielders already on the 40-man roster, Ford will have plenty of opportunity to compete for a spot with Mariners. Worse comes to worse, Ford will land with the Tacoma Rainiers. The Grizzlies play the Rainiers to open Fresno’s 2012 home schedule.

OF Tyler Graham – on the Giants’ 40-man roster. Graham led the PCL in steals in 2011, a year after he batted .343 over 109 games with the Grizzlies in 2010. The Giants added Graham to their 40-man roster this past offseason, meaning Graham could make his Major League debut in 2012 if an outfield spot opens up in San Francisco or, at the very least, as a September call-up.

OF Thomas Neal – traded to the Cleveland Indians midway through last season. Neal has secured a 40-man roster spot with the Indians entering Spring Training, but he is facing plenty of competition, including from former Grizzlies and Giants outfielder Fred Lewis.

Prospect Watch: Gary Brown

By: Noah Frank

Oh, the offseason. The lack of daily baseball at Chukchansi Park leaves those of us who work here itching to get a jump on next year. And so, as we did last offseason, we will begin looking at the players making their way through the farm system who seem likely to spend at least part of the 2012 season here in the Central Valley. There will be names you most likely recognize, as well as those you probably do not. We’ll start this year’s crop with one that most Grizzlies and Giants fans know by now: Gary Brown.

Even if he begins the season at Double-A Richmond, which seems likely, given the logjam in center field created by the likes of Justin Christian, Darren Ford, Tyler Graham, the newly-signed Gregor Blanco and possibly Andres Torres, Brown will be a name often on the tips of Grizzlies fans’ tongues next season. That expectation simply comes with the territory when you are a first-round draft pick, as Brown was in 2010. Just ask Madison Bumgarner (’07) and Buster Posey (’08), or the recently departed Zach Wheeler (’09), who now faces the additional pressure with the Mets of being the top prospect traded for a star in Carlos Beltran.

Brown's season continued with the Scottsdale Scorpions this fall. (Chris Lockard/Scout.com)

With Beltran himself quite possibly heading elsewhere this offseason, that will put pressure on Brown to live up to large expectations, and will no doubt lead to fans calling for his promotion to the Majors sooner rather than later.

Brown has certainly done nothing to dampen the enthusiasm surrounding him, but the Giants were careful with the Cal State Fullerton product in his first season. After assigning him straight to High-A San Jose in 2011, Brown was given the entire season to prove what he could accomplish in the California League. All he did was post a line of .336/.407/.519, rapping out 61 extra-base hits, stealing 53 bases, and scoring a mind-numbing 115 runs in just 131 games for the minor Giants.

As we always do at Yard Work, we sought out the expertise of someone who has seen what Brown can do close-up. We spoke briefly about Brown a couple weeks prior with former Grizzlies hitting coach Ken Joyce, who served in the same role for Brown’s Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League, whose regular season ends today. But we went into greater depth with Joe Ritzo, the radio voice of the San Jose Giants, to learn more about what to expect out of the young centerfielder as he moves through the system. Ritzo pulls no punches when describing the role Brown played for San Jose, picked as the High-A Team of the Year, last season.

“He was our MVP,” says Ritzo, and it’s easy to see why. “Everyone knows about his speed and his defensive abilities, which were evident on a daily basis, but he had power too.”

Indeed, Brown swatted 14 home runs on the season. He also absolutely wore out left-handed pitching, batting .459 with a .685 slugging percentage (!) against southpaws last year. Not bad for a leadoff hitter.

Ritzo also compares Brown’s speed to the likes of Grizzlies single-season and franchise stolen base leader Graham, as well as Ford. Those two have been considered the fastest prospects in the system over the last few seasons, so the bar has been set high in the speed department before Brown ever sets his fleet feet in Fresno. But how does he compare to recent top draft picks at other positions?

Brown, like Brett Pill, is a Cal State Fullerton product. (mattbrownphoto.com)

“I’ve been here five or six years and there’s nobody quite like him and how he plays the game,” says Ritzo, which is high praise considering the top prospects that have roamed the diamond at Municipal Stadium the last few years. When I ask Ritzo to compare Brown to the likes of Posey and Bumgarner, he provides some interesting perspective.

“I don’t think his personality was really like any of those players,” he posits. “But what you see is that desire, working so hard before games, the competitive edge that you might see in Buster and Madison that separates them from others. The mental ability that those guys had, Gary has it as well.”

Brown, as mentioned earlier, had the advantage of coming through a high-caliber college baseball program at Cal State Fullerton, the same school that produced Brett Pill. Fresno fans have seen that the experience and maturity gained from those years has paid dividends for Pill, and they seem to be doing the same for Brown, according to Ritzo.

“There’s something extra when you watch him play that you just feel confident that he’s going to have a long and successful Major League career,” says Ritzo. “You can’t predict that kind of Major League success with much certainty very often with guys at the Single-A level.”

The only tick on Brown’s stellar 2011 performance can be seen with a deeper look into his month-by-month numbers. He batted .333 (including a .385 mark in August and a .397 clip in May) or better in every month of the season except one— a glaring .202 performance in June. In cases like these, it’s important to look for answers beyond the box scores, which is where someone like Ritzo comes in handy to provide context for such a slump.

Brown's speed in the outfield, and on the base paths, sets him apart. (Tony Medina)

“We made a lot of roster moves right about that time (early June), including sending Hector Sanchez to Fresno, and Gary was arguably playing better than any of those guys,” explains Ritzo. “He was maybe anticipating that call-up, and when he didn’t get the call it was a little disappointing, so he hit a bit of a lull. It was expressed to him that the organization wants him to stay in San Jose the whole year.”

While the San Francisco brass may have taken the conservative route with Brown in 2011, Ritzo does not expect them to necessarily continue to do moving forward.

“You get the sense that they won’t go that same route this year, especially if he’s starting the season in Richmond,” Ritzo says. “I would think if he starts hot would make it to Fresno before too long. If he has anything close to the kind of year that he had in San Jose, he’ll move quickly through the system.”

Here’s to hoping Fresno fans get a glimpse of what Brown can do sooner rather than later.

Top Eleven of ’11

By: Noah Frank

It is officially that time of year again, when the leaves abandon their spring and summer green for shades of yellow and crimson, when the morning chill forces us to shake the dust from our sweaters and jackets, tucked away since the beginning of the baseball season. That means it is also time for everyone from VH1 to us here at Yard Work to break out our “best of” lists for the year gone by.

In that spirit, we will be rolling out our Top Eleven of ’11, the best 10+1 moments of the season past on fresnogrizzlies.com. Our crack panel has assembled what we believe to be the memories that stand above the rest, and will be releasing them every Monday-Wednesday-Friday beginning today until we reach number one. You’re sure to see some highlights from Brett Pill and Tyler Graham, but do you remember the other great games and individual moments from 2011? Will your favorite memory of the season make the list? We start things off with the season’s first game.

#11. Grizzlies Beat Weather, Las Vegas (4/7)

Opening Night was a pitcher’s duel most of the way, as Ryan Vogelsong and Brad Mills battled unseasonably cold April weather that even brought hail prior to the game. With the score 2-1 entering the bottom of the eighth, the sky opened up, bringing heavy rain with it. Both teams fought through the conditions, but the Grizzlies took advantage of the situation. Fresno plated nine runs in the inning— capped by Darren Ford’s grand slam— before the 51s could record an out, scoring an 11-1 victory to open the 2011 campaign.

#10. Pill’s Career Blast Backs Sanchez (7/27)

Brett Pill collected three hits, none bigger than his career-high 20th home run, a three-run shot in the sixth inning. That gave Jonathan Sanchez more than enough breathing room as he cruised to a 12-3 victory over Salt Lake in his first rehab start with Fresno in 2011.

#9. Team Speed: A Sign Of Things To Come (4/10)

Two nights after Emmanuel Burriss set the single-game franchise record with four stolen bases, the Grizzlies combined to swipe a mind-boggling 10 bags in one game against Las Vegas. Five different players got in on the act, with Terry Evans and Darren Ford collecting three steals apiece and Tyler Graham notching a pair in an 8-5 victory.

#8. Kung-Fu Panda Delights The Fresno Crowd (6/7)

Pablo Sandoval took no time at all to get the crowd into the game in his first rehab start, following Tyler Graham’s lone home run of the season two batters later with a two-run shot of his own as part of a seven-run second inning. Sandoval added two more RBI on the night as the Grizzlies blew out Las Vegas by a final of 12-4.

#7. Back-To-Back Is Back In Style (5/26)

The Grizzlies slugged two sets of back-to-back home runs, with Conor Gillaspie and Edgar Gonzalez turning the trick in the third inning and Brad Eldred and Jackson Williams accomplishing the feat in the eighth frame. Fresno finished with a season-high five home runs in the 8-5 victory over Oklahoma City, and would stunningly go on to hit back-to-back shots a total of nine times throughout the 2011 season.

#6. An Unlikely Sweep (6/5)

Severely short-handed following call-ups and injuries, the Grizzlies faced Las Vegas in a doubleheader on June 5th. Shane Loux turned in his best start of the season in Game One, shutting out the 51s on just three hits in a 3-0 victory. Then, in Game Two, recent A-ball addition James Simmons hit a pair of towering home runs over the batter’s eye as the Grizzlies hung on for a 5-4 victory and a sweep of the twin-bill.

#5. 7-6 on 7/6 (7/6)

Following a pair of one-run victories over rival Sacramento, the Grizzlies found themselves in a 6-4 hole entering the eighth inning in the final game of the three-game set. Fresno came back to tie the game on solo shots by Brandon Belt and Conor Gillaspie, then pushed in front for good thanks to back-to-back, two-out doubles by Thomas Neal and Max Ramirez, leading to a 7-6 victory on July 6th.

#4. Vintage Zito On Display (6/21)

Barry Zito followed a decent first rehab start with an absolutely dominating performance in his second outing at Chukchansi Park. Mixing his pitches and flashing his trademark curveball, he kept Salt Lake batters off-balance all night, with solo home runs by Brad Eldred and Darren Ford providing more than enough support. In the end, he finished off a 118-pitch, complete game, two-hit shutout of the Bees on June 21st.

#3. Graham Steals Franchise Record, Game (7/9)

Some records are set in meaningless contests, with no real impact on the outcome of the game. Tyler Graham’s single-season franchise stolen base mark was not one of those records. After leading off the bottom of the ninth inning with a single in a 3-3 tie against Tucson on July 9th, he stole second and third to give him 43 steals on the season, surpassing Calvin Murray’s mark of 42, set back in 1999. He sat 90 feet from home as Justin Christian lofted a fly ball to shallow center, darting home after the catch and belly-flopping into home plate ahead of the tag with the game-winning run as Fresno walked off on the Padres, 4-3.

#2. From Throwdown To Showdown (8/25)

The Taco Truck Throwdown grew from a good idea, to an explosive theme night, to a nationally recognized promotion. The Grizzlies drew a vibrant crowd of 10,287 fans on the final Thursday night of the season and beat rival Sacramento, 7-4, on August 25th. The Throwdown went on to win its 10-promotion category for Minor League Baseball Miscellaneous Promotion of the Year, giving the Grizzlies five straight years of MiLB Promo Finalists, a streak unmatched in the sport.

#1. Grizzlies Declare Independence Day (7/4)

In front of the largest crowd of the year, the Grizzlies got off to a dismal start, spotting rival Sacramento a 5-0 lead heading to the bottom of the fourth. But Fresno clawed back within 5-3, then got back-to-back home runs from rehabber Mike Fontenot and Edgar Gonzalez in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game at 5-5 and send it into extra innings. The Grizzlies loaded the bases on a single and a pair of walks to set the stage for Gonzalez once more, who singled to center field to score Justin Christian with the game-winning run, sending the crowd of 13,455 into a frenzy and setting up what would turn out to be three consecutive one-run victories in the Highway 99 Showdown Series.

Thanks to all our fans for a great 2011, see you all on Opening Day, Friday April 13, 2012!

Run Like You Stole It

By: Ryan Guinan

Base stealing has become quite a habit for the 2011 Fresno Grizzlies.  The team has eclipsed three stolen base records this season and demonstrated they can put the pressure on the base paths.  Led by the PCL’s leading base stealer Tyler Graham, this group of speedsters has not hesitated to gamble an extra 90 feet if it could mean the difference in a game.

Tyler Graham has become known for lightning quick plays on the bases.  This year, he has surpassed the old franchise mark for stolen bags in a season (42) set by Calvin Murray in 1999.  Graham accomplished the feat in a winning effort on July 9th to set up a walk-off hit by Justin Christian.  Graham stole second, third and eventually scored the winning run.  Its plays like this that can change the course of a close game and perhaps a season if the situation presents itself.

Photo Credit: Don Davis

Graham’s aggressive base running has proven successful for him throughout his entire career.  Heading into an eight game road trip against Iowa and Omaha, Graham was successful in 51 of his 61 attempts to swipe an extra bag.  Graham currently leads the PCL in steals and has done so by leaving the rest of the pack in the dust.  He holds a 13 base cushion to Esteban German of the Round Rock Express who ranks second in the league.  He constantly has pushed the limit to get on base and look for an extra 90 feet that could be the difference maker.

Tyler has led this Grizzlies team to a record of their own, the franchise’s single season mark for most stolen bases by a team.  They beat out the 1999 Grizzlies who had 145 thefts that season.  On July 23rd, in a game against the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, Justin Christian stole second base to make it 146 on the year for the 2011 Grizzlies.  The benchmark seemed destined to be broken after last year’s club totaled 143 stolen bases, just two shy of the old franchise record.  On their way to the record, the team also recorded 10 stolen bags on April 10th against Las Vegas.  This number was good enough for another Grizzlies record, most stolen bases in a game.  The group was filled with the potential to overcome the team record with guys like Graham, Darren Ford, Emmanuel Burriss, and  Christian.  Grizzlies’ fans would expect nothing else while under the management of Steve Decker.  He has been known to harass opposing pitchers with the constant threat of a base stealer.  His ball club in San Jose totaled 205 bags swiped in 2008 and his Grizzlies last year compiled 143.  Stealing bases is no surprise for a Decker team, but much more of an expectation.

This team has made the franchise record more of a spectacle to see as they have run wild on the bases.  With the Giants ranking in the bottom of the league in run production, aggressive base running could be their answer to more runs.  Fans can recall a Grizzlies September call-up last year that led to a big win against Colorado on September 1st.

Photo Credit: Don Davis

In a 1-1 deadlock, Darren Ford was put into action, pinch-running for Mike Fontenot.  He would go on to flash his speed that day for the go-ahead run.  He didn’t hesitate one bit in his first Major League appearance.  He advanced to second base on a wild pitch and than made his way home on a throwing error to third for the game-winning score, which eventually proved to be just as important as any other run that season. The Giants had to use all 162 games in order to clinch the division and a spot in the post-season, making Ford’s speed more valuable than ever for the club.  The Giant’s base running threats are limited this year and their run production ranks amongst the bottom half of the league.  Aggressive base running could prove to be their only hope, meaning one of the Grizzlies could be called up solely for speed purposes as Ford was last year.

The Giants are attempting to repeat their World Series performance of last year while fending off surging Arizona.  San Francisco has been thriving off of one-run ballgames.  If this continues to be the case, they may need to call up another speedster from Fresno.  Although the Giants main need is hitting, they may look to have one man on the bench who can change the game in a foot race between him and the catcher’s arm for an extra 90 feet.  If this is the case, Fresno is ready to go with numerous guys who can add their speed to a World Champion.  The Grizzlies will continue to extend their records for the rest of the season and hopefully, one of them can make it up for a September call up to help make another run to the World Series.

Prospect Watch: Thomas Neal

Prospects have always been a hot topic during Spring Training and this year is no exception. Players like Brandon Belt, Zach Wheeler, Conor Gillaspie, and Darren Ford all ring a bell to any Giants lover. During this year’s Spring Training, much has been made about the Giants top prospect, Brandon Belt, but it wouldn’t hurt to keep an eye on outfielder Thomas Neal as well.
Neal has produced consistently strong Minor League numbers that have landed him in the top seven of Baseball America‘s Giants prospects list each of the last two years. Not only has he shown a good glove in the outfield, committing just 19 errors across his five-year minor league career, but he has also shown enough pop in his bat to be a potential big leaguer.

neal.JPG

In 2009, a then 21-year-old Neal put up break through numbers that shot him up the ranks of Giants prospects. He batted .337 (160-for-475) with 67 extra-base hits in 129 games with the San Jose Giants. He also belted 22 of those out of the park and polished off the season with 90 runs batted in. These outstanding numbers nabbed Neal the 2009 San Jose Giants MVP award.
He advanced to Double-A in 2010 with the Richmond Flying Squirrels, where he proceeded to post solid numbers yet again. He compiled a .291 batting average, also cleared the 40-double mark for the second straight year. His career minor league line of .296/.375/.475, has helped him rise steadily through the minor league ranks.
His overall performance in the minor league system eventually scored him a spot on the Giants 40-man roster in mid November. Neal is currently playing on Major League Spring Training with the Giants in Scottsdale, Arizona. He will more than likely end up in Fresno for the beginning of the season and has a possibility of making his Major League debut in San Francisco in 2011.
In addition to being a noted prospect, Neal has joined the Twitter trend that has exploded within the sports world recently. His username @TdaddyNeal is constantly being updated before and after (but hopefully not during) Spring Training games. Neal logs in daily to tweet about Spring Training, day-to-day life, random questions of the night and favorite quotes. He frequently interacts with fans through Twitter, which is always great for a technologically keyed-in Giants fan base.
His down-to-earth online persona has received positive attention, helping him attain a collection of over 2,200 followers, as of this article. Check into Yard Work in the near future to catch a full length interview with Thomas Neal, in the mean time feel free to start following @TdaddyNeal, as I do, for everyday updates from the prospect himself.
(Photo Credit: Real Life Studios)

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.
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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.
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