Results tagged ‘ Madison Bumgarner ’

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.

More Than Just A Game

By: Josh Jackson

There are plenty of obvious factors contributing to the buzz surrounding the Fresno Grizzlies this season. Perhaps one can say that it all started last year. The 2010 campaign was one of the more successful seasons in the recent history of the franchise, and fan favorites Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner were major role players in the Giants’ championship quest. Madison Bumgarner World Champion Bobblehead night drew nearly 10,000 fans to the ballpark this weekend, and the upcoming Buster Posey ROY/World Champion Bobblehead night is sure to draw a huge crowd as well.

Grizzlies and Giants fans alike are now excited to see what is in store for the organization. One of the most talked about players would be top Giants prospect Brandon Belt, who is one of the focal points of the upcoming Showtime series, The Franchise, along with Grizzlies closer Marc Kroon.

However, there are a lot of things the Grizzlies are doing to bring our community together that you may not yet be aware of.

Friday, May 20th, marked the first of two “Pack the Park to Fight Hunger” nights benefiting the Poverello House, presented by CBS 47. Poverello House is a nonprofit organization here in Fresno that has been serving the hungry and homeless since 1973. The residents of the Central Valley showed tremendous support, as over 9,000 people came out to the game. Many fans that showed up brought non-perishable food items in order to help the needy in the Fresno community and received a discount on their ticket for that nights game.

In addition, CBS 47 recently put on a food drive of their own at the station’s studio and helped the Grizzlies spread the word in the community’s effort to fight hunger. Don’t worry if you missed the first night, but make sure you join us for the second and final “Pack the Park to Fight Hunger” night on Friday, July 8th.“Pack the Park to Fight Hunger” is a great cause, but it isn’t the only beneficial event that will be held at the ballpark this weekend. The Grizzlies are teaming up with the Red Cross on Sunday, May 22nd, to increase health awareness. During the game the Red Cross will have informational videos shown about CPR training, pool safety, babysitting precautions, and what to do in the wake of a natural disaster.

As many already know, the Grizzlies make it their responsibility to have a hand in the development of young children throughout the Central Valley. The Hopes and Dreams Foundation will also join the Grizzlies on May 22nd in this mutual effort. The Hopes and Dreams Film Project helps children suffering from life-threatening illnesses, and those of active military and first responders, to find inspiration and joy through the magic of filmmaking. The Hopes and Dreams Project shot their first film, “Build a Better Fastball”, right here at Chukchansi Park this past January. The film will premiere on Wednesday, June 1st at 6:30 pm at the Sierra Vista Mall.

Sunday's game featuring Wild About Reading and the Red Cross draws large crowdTo extend the fun-packed weekend here at Chukchansi Park, the students that met the Wild About Reading challenge were invited to redeem their two free tickets on Sunday, May 22nd. Over 8,000 tickets were given to students that met Parker’s challenge of reading ten books over a five-week period. Wild About Reading is just one of the ways the Grizzlies continue to help in the development of young children in the Central Valley.

Everyone in the Grizzlies family is more than excited about baseball this summer. But the Grizzlies and their fans are even more excited to use the sport as a platform to come together for the purpose of bettering our community. Make sure to keep an eye out for more beneficial events that will coincide with great baseball down at Chukchansi Park this summer.


10-for-10: Marilyn Meadors

By: Noah Frank

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. This is the first installment in the new series, which we will be running up to (and possibly through) Opening Day. 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.

When I started this series, I put out a call to you, the readers, to help tell the stories of 10 fans that have helped us celebrate 10 years together in Downtown Fresno. As I asked you all for submissions, I wasn’t sure of the response I would get. As it turned out, I was deluged by nominations, with one name standing out from the rest: Marilyn Meadors.

I must confess I had really only heard of Marilyn through fellow coworkers here at Chukchansi Park, so learning more about her was a revelation as to how big a fan of the Grizzlies she really is. Once from Dinuba, Marilyn and her husband Craig now live in Clovis, just 15 minutes from the ballpark. Why the relocation?

“The Grizzlies actually were one of the reasons we moved to this area,” she said.

Marilyn and Madison

Bumgarner smiles.

When you attend as many games as Marilyn and Craig do, it’s no surprise. Marilyn is as close to a team mom as we have here in Fresno. When people talk about Minor League Baseball being a family environment, they are referring to the relationships that fans like Marilyn have with both the players and her fellow fans.

“A friend of mine said ‘you wish that everyone of those players was your son’, and it’s true,” she admits with a smile.

If the players are her sons (or grandsons), then her fellow season ticket holders are her brothers and sisters in this Grizzlies baseball family. She cited a number of different die-hard fans that have become some of her closest friends over the last decade. More than that, though, she talked about how excited she is to just come to the ballpark every day and talk to the casual fans who come to Downtown Fresno each season.

“You just meet a lot of people that you have something major in common with,” she laughed. “If you can’t talk about anything else, you can definitely talk about baseball.”

Marilyn and Parker

When you have as many baseball memories as Marilyn does, it can be hard to pick a favorite. She listed a number, but a few stood out in particular.

“The more recent one, of course, is just being able to sit and chat with Buster Posey at the meet-and-greet,” she recalled, speaking of the annual preseason event. “I did get (Madison) Bumgarner to smile,” she laughed.

I asked her what she was looking forward to the most this season, and she cited the next wave of upcoming talent, highlighted by the possibility of seeing top prospect Brandon Belt here in Fresno.

“He’s one of my Facebook friends,” she says of Belt, something that I can’t even claim. “I grabbed him while he was still young.”

Speaking of being young, Marilyn had also read the first installment of our 10-for-10 series, in which we profiled our youngest season ticket holder, 17-year-old Justin Renge. I’ll leave you with her observation, which is a great thought as we sit on the brink of another baseball season.

“I’m 67, and the young man that you interviewed is 17. I’m thinking ‘that’s a 50-year span. Isn’t that cool?’ There’s 50 years difference and yet we still have the same passion for the game of baseball. I think that’s just so much fun.”

And that, as much as than anything, is what baseball is all about.

10-For-10: Justin Renge

By: Noah Frank

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. This is the first installment in the new series, which we will be running up to (and possibly through) Opening Day. 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.

Sometime last year I had the idea that it might be fun to do some sort of “Fan of the Month” type feature for Yard Work. We have an awesome collection of loyal season ticket holders here in Fresno, but I wasn’t sure how to properly construct the series for this blog. Then suddenly, a couple weeks ago, opportunity literally came knocking at the door.

Pat Wallach, our Box Office Manager here at the Grizzlies, sent out a staff-wide email about an encounter he had just had with our newest season ticket holder. Pat had gotten a phone call from a mom who said her son, Justin, was interested in buying season tickets. He had arranged for them to come down to the ballpark and take a look at seats. All in all, it was a fairly normal interaction, so far as Pat could tell.

“I didn’t really think twice about it,” reflected Pat. “I didn’t ask any questions about how old he was or anything.”

IMG_9530.jpg

See, Justin is just 17, a senior at Fowler High School. He has been a Grizzlies fan since Chukchansi Park opened back in 2002, but really stepped up his fandom last year, when he attended somewhere between 50-60 of the Grizzlies’ 72 home games. He figured that this year he might as well just buy a full season ticket so he could also enjoy all the perks that come with being one of our season ticket holders. So Pat showed him around the ballpark.

“He took me out and showed me some of the seats and we talked about where I would possibly be,” Justin explained.

Where he would have been was in the Terrace View seats, down the right field line. While every seat is close to field at Chukchansi Park, most season ticket holders sit a little nearer to home plate. Of course Justin would have wanted to sit closer, but the Terrace View seats were all that he could afford.

See, this was not some birthday gift from his family. Justin was there to spend his own money, to find his own seat. As Pat found out that day, Justin had saved all of his money since the end of the 2010 season and added what he received for the holidays to come up with enough for his ticket package. Pat was blown away by Justin’s knowledge of the team and commitment to joining the season ticket holder ranks.

“He knows more about the Grizzlies and the Giants than me, I think” Pat said, laughing. “He’s one of the biggest Grizzlies fans I’ve met in my entire life.”

Looking at the seat that Justin could afford– but that would leave him sitting far away from the bulk of our season ticket holders– Pat made an executive decision.

IMG_9533.jpg

“I remember thinking ‘I don’t know if I should do this, or if I even have the power to do this, but I’m going to move you to Section 106 and get you on the Field Level.'”

That meant the chance to officially join the group of the most tried and true Grizzlies fans. It wasn’t a hard decision for Justin.

“He actually presented me with the opportunity,” Justin said with a smile. “And I accepted.”

It’s one of those moments that exists only in the world of sports, and even then doesn’t come around often enough.

“Something like this has never happened,” said Pat, who has been with the Grizzlies for four seasons. “It’s the coolest sale that I’ve ever made. It’s the best feeling, just knowing that there are people out there who love baseball that much.”

Looking forward to 2011, Justin says he’s most excited about the prospects that are coming through Fresno this year.

“Hopefully it will be as good as last year when we had Bumgarner and Posey. We’ll see what happens.”

Whatever happens,
Justin will be there to see every game, from the comfort of his own, personal
seat.

(Photos of Justin Renge by Pat Wallach)

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.

Rohly.jpg

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.

huff.jpg

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.

Bumgarner1.jpg

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)

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)

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.

They Might Be Giants

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the last week, you know that the Giants have survived a bizarre, emotionally draining, back-and-forth National League Division Series against Atlanta and are now preparing to face the monster known as the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS. These Phillies have made a late push for Team of the Decade, and could really secure their place in history as a dynasty with another championship in 2010. But first, they will have to get past the Giants’ pitching staff- one comprised mostly of former Grizzlies, including all four in the starting rotation.

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And just what did that rotation do in the Division Series? Oh, I don’t know, only combine to go 2-0 with a 0.93 ERA (3 ER/29.0 IP), walking just five while striking out an absurd 36 over that stretch. Yes, the combination of righties Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain and southpaws Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner picked apart a piece-meal Braves lineup, one that had been decimated by injuries late in the season. Needless to say they will have their hands full with a much more potent Phillies offense, but their collective performance in the first round was pretty amazing.
Consider the fact that Cain was in Fresno in 2005, Sanchez and Lincecum in ’07, and Bumgarner as recently as June 20th of this season. This is the first time Grizzlies fans have really seen the players they used to cheer on in person having an impact in the postseason, at least for the Giants (nothing against Joe Nathan).
And while San Francisco didn’t have much to cheer about on offense, Buster Posey did share the Division Series lead among all National Leaguers with six hits and three runs scored. Plus, Pat Burrell slugged a three-run home run in Game 2, the biggest run-producing hit of the series. He’ll have his chance to shine again against the team that drafted him, and that he played nine seasons for in the Big Leagues.
The NLCS kicks off Saturday night in Philly. Crawl out from under that rock and cheer on your former Grizz, won’t you?

Prospect Watch: Brandon Belt


Ed. Note: This will be the first of (hopefully) many looks into possible members of the 2011 Grizzlies squad. Even with the graduation of Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner, there is still plenty of talent left in the Giants system. The man in the early running for top talent heading into next year? Brandon Belt.

You will
have to forgive him, but this is all a bit new to Brandon Belt. While the
22-year-old has always been a solid player with a good swing, he is suddenly
being touted as the next great Giants prospect, flying up the ranks of the
minor leagues. In just his first professional season, he arrived in Fresno and was
placed in the middle of the lineup of a team fighting for a postseason spot.
While that might be overwhelming for some players just three years removed from
high school, the even-keeled Belt seems up to the challenge.

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In his
second at-bat in a Grizzlies uniform, against division-rival Sacramento, on the
road, Belt torched a searing line drive to one of the deepest parts of the park
for a solo home run. He would go on to walk three times in the game as well,
scoring three of Fresno’s five total runs.

Just how
Brandon Belt found himself at Raley Field last week is something of a surprise.
The former Texas Longhorn put up solid, if unspectacular, numbers in his two
seasons of Division I ball after transferring from San Jacinto College in
Houston. He had decided not to sign after being selected by the Boston Red Sox out
of high school in the 11th round in 2006, and again passed on an 11th
round selection– this time by Atlanta– in 2007. After his two years at Texas,
the Giants made him a fifth-round selection last year.

Belt did not
log any game time in 2009 after signing, but he did go to minor league
instructional camp, where Giants coaches made a couple of adjustments to his
swing, raising his hands and opening his stance a bit.

“It seems
minor, but it takes time to adjust,” he says of the mechanical changes. “I
worked on it all off-season, so I felt like I was ready once this year started.”

That
certainly showed in his numbers. After batting .383 with a .492 on-base
percentage, 28 doubles, four triples, 10 home runs and 62 RBI in just 77 games
with High-A San Jose, Belt moved up to the pitcher-friendly Eastern League.
There, with Double-A Richmond, he posted a .337 average with 11 doubles, six
triples, nine homers and 40 RBI in just 46 games. That gave him 68 extra-base
hits between the two levels, over which he also stole 20 bases. Belt’s home run
in his first game with Fresno made him just the second player in the minor
leagues this year with 20 doubles, steals and home runs.

Not bad for
a rookie. But perhaps the most impressive part of Belt’s success has been his
ability to hold up all summer. He acknowledges that the hardest part of
adjusting to professional ball has been the length of the season, which
includes more than twice as many games as a college schedule.

“Mentally it
took a while to get prepared for,” he explains. “And now the physical fatigue
starts to set in at the end of the season.”

Although
that season will not include a Major League call-up just yet, it will last a
little longer for Belt, who is due to report to the prospect showcase known as
the Arizona Fall League in a few weeks. With what he’s accomplished this year,
his 2011 season will be looked at under a magnifying glass, by everyone from the
front office in San Francisco to the television analysts at ESPN and writers at
Baseball America. But Belt isn’t
about to put too much pressure on himself.

“I’m not
saying I won’t have goals,” he explains. “I just understand how the game is,
that good and bad things happen. I’m just trying to be as consistently good as
I can be throughout the season.”

The way
things have gone, his next season may well start right here in Fresno.

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