September 2011

Not Bitter, Just A Better Pill

By: Noah Frank

When Brett Pill turned on a Wade LeBlanc changeup and sent it off the third level of the Western Metal Supply Company over the left field wall at Petco Park on the second pitch of his first Major League at-bat, it was the first time that many Giants fans had seen the young slugger. Some of them had heard, through Twitter, or through speculation from the various Bay Area beat writers assigned to the Giants, about Pill’s exploits at Triple-A this season, but few had actually seen the man hit. When he homered in his first Major League at-bat, though, he became the first Giant to do so since another powerful first baseman, by the name of Will “The Thrill” Clark. It’s funny, the power of ryhmes. Will. Pill. Suddenly, a new moniker was on the tip of Giants fans tongues everywhere: “Pill the Thrill”.

It may be a little early in Brett Pill’s Major League career to start bestowing him with nicknames attaching him to one of the most popular players in franchise history. But it can certainly be said that he has done his part in the time that he has been given this September to warrant serious consideration on next year’s 25-man roster. Entering tonight, he is batting .304 (14-for-46) with two doubles, two triples, two home runs and nine RBI. While the sample size is very small, he nevertheless owns the highest slugging percentage (.565) of any Giants player this season.

“It’s been a long time I’ve been waiting for it,” said Pill recently of his first-ever shot in The Show. “It’s everything I’ve dreamed of, so hopefully I can stay here for a little bit.”

Brett Pill is all smiles, as usual, as he chats with hitting coach Russ Morman (Don Davis)

For those who don’t know Pill’s story, this is a remarkable turnaround from this time last year. Coming off the best offensive season of his career in pitcher-friendly Connecticut in 2009, Pill was added to the Giants’ 40-man roster prior to the 2010 season. While he got off to a hot start that season and went on to lead the Grizzlies with 84 RBI, he batted just .252 with a  .292 on-base percentage after the All-Star break. That led to the Giants decision to remove Pill from the 40-man, rather than extend the offer of a September call-up. It meant he would be placed on waivers, eligible for any other team to pick up, should they place him on their respective 40-man roster. Everyone passed.

So back Pill came to Fresno this spring. Unlike 2010, though, when he was the everyday starter at first base, he found himself facing a grim reality that saw him competing for playing time. By the end of April, free agent signee Brad Eldred, 2010 World Champion Travis Ishikawa, and the top prospect in the system, Brandon Belt, were all taking away time from Pill at first base. Thankfully for Brett— a notoriously slow starter whose .272 average in April of 2010 was the best of his career— he slugged his way to the tune of a .358 clip through the season’s first month, forcing manager Steve Decker to find a place for him. That place, as it would turn out, was second base, a position Pill had never manned in his professional career.

While nobody, especially Brett, would suggest that he was going to win any Gold Gloves at second, he played serviceably enough to keep his bat in the lineup. That proved to be crucial, as Pill would go on to hit .312 with 36 doubles, 25 home runs and 107 RBI in 133 games for Fresno this season. He finished in the top five in the Pacific Coast League in hits, extra-base hits and RBI. He also had the fourth-lowest strikeout rate in the league, fanning just once every 10.67 at-bats, a rarity for a power hitter. Still, though, in order for him to get a shot in the Majors this season, the Giants were going to have to purchase his contract again, meaning they would have to clear space on the 40-man roster.

That decision came down on August 31st, the day before the rosters expand to 40, allowing reinforcements to join the team. The Giants purchased Pill’s contract and activated him immediately, as he flew from Reno and joined the team in the dugout in the middle of that day’s game.

“I’ve never been up here,” said Pill of his journey to San Francisco. “It’s been awesome. Luckily I got to watch a few games before I got in there.”

A lot of players rue the time off between starts, something that is often used as a scapegoat for inconsistent performance, but Pill appreciated the chance to soak it all in.

Pill rounds third after homering in his first Major League at-bat (Dennis Poroy/Getty Images North America)

“When we played (at AT&T Park) this place was sold out,” he remembered. “Then when we went to San Diego it was a little less of a crowd, so I think that might have helped a little bit too. My wife brought the dogs up and it kind of made me forget about baseball a little bit and made me just relax and play.”

Pill would have to wait until September 6th in San Diego to finally find his way into a game, but got the start that night against a familiar foe in LeBlanc.

“I hadn’t hit that guy (LeBlanc) all year,” laughed Pill as we sat in the Giants clubhouse at AT&T Park a few days later. “I was like 0-for-12 against him, I think.”

And while Pill hadn’t been able to hit the crafty lefty in either Tucson or Fresno, both hitters’ parks, he rocketed a no doubter out of Petco Park, the most pitcher-friendly yard in the league. That earned him another start the next day. For good measure, he took Aaron Harang deep for his second home run in as many games as a big leaguer.

“I didn’t know how much I was going to be playing, so I just kind of took it like I did playing in Fresno,” Pill explained. “I just want to have good at-bats, be aggressive, take good swings. If I swing and miss, I swing and miss, but I didn’t want to get up there and be timid or passive. As long as I went up there and kind of aired it out I felt like whatever happens I felt like I gave it my best.”

10-for-10: Vincent Arellano

By: Josh Jackson


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

Most of us take the simple things in life that bring us joy for granted. Walking to school in the morning, driving to work, or even going to a baseball game can seem fairly ordinary. However, the challenges of daily life become much more rigorous, and simple joys are harder to take advantage of when a person does not have their health. So when the opportunity presents itself to enrich this person’s life with strength, hope and joy, those who are fortunate must take advantage of it.

Vincent Arellano is a young boy who suffers from Sanfilippo Syndrome, a metabolism disorder that is passed down through families. People with this disease are unable to break down certain chains of sugar molecules. There are four types of Sanfilippo Syndrome. Vincent has type B (MPS III B), which damages the barrier responsible for protecting the brain from harmful substances in the blood. Over time, this compromises the functionality of the brain, disabling basic functions like speech, motor skills and decision-making. The life expectancy for a child with Sanfilippo Syndrome is only 12-20 years. Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for this disease.

Parker meets Vincent for the first time

The Make-A-Wish Foundation, a wish-granting organization for children with life-threatening illnesses, reached out to Vincent. When asked what he wanted as his wish, Vincent asked to meet his favorite mascot, Parker. When the Grizzlies found out about this, the organization thought it would be a great opportunity to help Vincent and his family have a remarkable experience down at Chukchansi Park. When informed about the situation by Grizzlies executives, Parker was more than thrilled to be able to hang out with one of his biggest fans for a game. Anybody who knows Parker is aware of how much he loves his fans. The Grizzlies organization, the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Parker himself, were excited about the opportunity to give Vincent an extraordinary day!

Saturday, July 23rd, was set to be Vincent’s big day at Chukchansi Park to watch the Grizzlies and meet Parker for the first time. He arrived in style, as a stretched limo dropped Vincent off in front of the ticket office with the rest of his family. Once Parker saw the limousine pulling up out front, he pounced his way through the pregame crowd on the sidewalk and jumped onto the hood of the limo in excitement. Vincent was equally excited to meet his new friend. Parker greeted Vincent with a big bear hug and also handed Vincent a baseball and a Mascot baseball card, both signed by Parker. The look on Vincent’s face told the whole story to everyone who was watching.

Parker and the Arellano family went up to their suite on the third floor so Vincent and his new furry friend could hang out before game time. The family laughed the whole way. Vincent seemed excited to see his name on the tag outside the suite, but he didn’t know how to take the news he was about to receive. The hardest working bear in all of Minor League Baseball invited Vincent down on the field for some of the pregame activities. He also asked Vincent to throw out the first pitch!

Parker and the Arellano Family

Once Vincent was escorted down onto the field with his family, everyone could see how overwhelmed he was with emotion. Parker went through his regular pregame routine, but this day was different, as he had Vincent by his side to join in on the fun in front of the Grizzlies dugout.

When it came time for the ceremonial first pitch, Vincent approached the mound, escorted by his mother. He was hesitant at first, seemingly nervous as he stood very close to his mother, reluctant to throw the ball to the catcher behind home plate. Being the loyal friend that Parker is known to be, he ran over to the mound to give support to his new buddy. Vincent took one look at his furry friend standing by his side, and hurled the baseball towards home plate with confidence. The courageous young boy got the recognition he deserved from the crowd. Vincent walked off the field with a big, contagious smile on his face, receiving high fives and slaps on the back from some of the Grizzlies players standing by.

The Arellano family went back up to their suite with Vincent to enjoy the rest of the day’s festivities. A whole baseball game had yet to be played, but a wish had already been fulfilled for a brave young boy. Not only did he get to meet his favorite mascot, but he got to take part in Parker’s daily routine as well. Considering that Vincent has to live a life full of challenges, the Fresno Grizzlies and the Make-A-Wish Foundation were thrilled to give Vincent and his family a day in which they would never forget.

Maybe you were at the ballpark that day. Perhaps you were sitting down in your seats as the ceremonial first pitches were taking place. You probably did not even notice anything special going on before the game. What may have been an ordinary day for you or me was a day that enriched the human experience of a young boy named Vincent.

Casey On The Mound

By: Noah Frank

In the middle of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, the San Francisco Giants selected a pair of players with the same last name in consecutive rounds: Bond. The first Bond— Brock— may be more familiar to Grizzlies fans, and the story of his accidental union with the Giants farm system is chronicled in greater detail here. Until now, Brock’s story had been more relevant to the baseball world than the other player who shares his last name, Casey Bond, a former outfielder out of Lipscomb University, who played just a single game above A-ball in his short minor league career. That may well change today.

In the film Field Of Dreams, Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones seek redemption for a young ballplayer named Archibald Wright “Moonlight” Graham, who appeared in one Major League game for the New York Giants, but never got an at-bat. Casey Bond had a similar experience with the Grizzlies, as that single game above Single-A came with the Fresno club on the road in 2008. He was a fill-in to provide extra depth while the team was in Tucson, near the Spring Training complex in Scottsdale where Bond was awaiting his more permanent assignment for the season. Bond was transferred to the Grizzlies and was on the roster for a few games, but did not get into a game until the top of the tenth on April 21st, 2008.

Casey Bond played in one game as a Fresno Grizzly in 2008. (Bill Mitchell)

Unlike Graham, though, Bond did get his at-bat. Pinch-hitting for relief pitcher Alex Hinshaw with two on and two out in a 4-4 game, he grounded out to end the inning. The Grizzlies would go on to score in the 11th, taking a 5-4 victory. Bond would never don the orange and black uniform again, as the Giants would not offer him a contract the following year.

“I 100% thought I had a shot at the big leagues,” says Bond about his time in the minors. “I had— just knowing myself and what the scouts told me— all the tools that it takes. Speed, defense, power, arm and average.”

To those who have read Moneyball, the game-changing book by author Michael Lewis, that may sound awfully familiar. The story centers around Billy Beane, a sculpted athlete of a man whom the scouts drooled over, only to find that the sum of his “tools” did not add up to a successful ballplayer. It is in that vein that Beane then searched out players who were underrated and underappreciated by the existing system, in order to piece together a team that could excel at individual skills well enough to compete with higher payroll teams.

How ironic, then, that Bond himself fit the Billy Beane mold, and is set to make his Major League debut tonight on the big screen, rather than in the actual big leagues. Bond plays the role of athletics pitcher Chad Bradford in the film adaptation of Moneyball, which premieres at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland tonight.

Bond as Bradford, the submarine-throwing relief pitcher. (Sony Pictures)

Bradford also hails from Jackson, Mississippi. As Bond was raised primarily in Georgia, he felt at ease playing the role of a character from the same region, allowing his natural soft southern drawl to play through in his lines. Interestingly, though, he was born in San Francisco, and lived in Pacifica for the first year of his life before moving to Washington State, and eventually the south. And while he returns to the Bay Area for the premiere tonight, both his place of birth and home to the team that drafted him, he will be wearing the colors of the team across the bay.Bradford was a submarine-style reliever whose unorthodox delivery helped him pitch parts of 12 seasons in the Major Leagues, including the 2001-2004 campaigns with the Athletics. The transition to a pitching role from his days as an outfielder was not a difficult one for Bond, who was predominantly a pitcher back in high school before a back injury forced him to pursue a career as a hitter.

“I would say it’s a little odd or strange that my ‘Major League debut’ would be in a rival’s jersey,” remarks Bond of his role as an Athletic. “I love the Giants and appreciated that opportunity, but I think anyone would love this opportunity.”

To stay in baseball shape for the role, Bond would go out and throw every day, just as he did in his playing days. Sometimes, if he had no throwing partner, that meant hurling a ball into a chain-link fence at a nearby park in Culver City, where Bond currently lives as he searches for his next part. Even now, after the filming is done, Bond continues to keep his arm strong.

“I stay in baseball shape because my roles require it,” he explains, but admits there is more to it than just that. “I’ll never let that go. Down the line I want to be able to throw a heater to my kid.”

Bond plans to stick with acting for now, but baseball will always be in his blood. (Peter Hurley)

“We had sessions where we would pitch off the mound, do some hitting,” Bond explains. “All I was getting was ground balls, and swings and misses.”He might have some extra motivation to keep his arm in top shape. After learning Bradford’s funky, almost underhand motion upon which his knuckles would sometimes scrape the dirt of the mound, Bond found he was having real success in scrimmage at-bats against other former ballplayers also acting in the film, such as former Giant Royce Clayton.

Might this story, then, come full circle once again? After all, at just 26 Bond is still relatively young, even by baseball’s harsh standards. With less mileage on his arm, he might fit the mold of a pitcher like Matt Yourkin, who did not make the conversion from first base until he was a senior in college, and who only became a starting pitcher for the first time in 2010.

“If someone was interested, I’d be more than happy to go out there and throw for them,” says Bond. “I had other offers from other teams (back in 2009), even to pitch.”

While Bond is focused on his acting career for now, through his own twists of fate he has learned not to rule anything out, to keep his mind open to the different possibilities the future might bring.

“I’m not counting anything out at this point. You never know.”

On Life, Baseball, and a Decade of Introspection

By: Noah Frank

If you’ve spent any significant time on the internet, reading newspapers, watching television, or simply existing in the world outside of your home the past week, you have no doubt been subjected to countless rehashings and reduxes of this generation’s national tragedy, as everyone from the President to Al Michaels gave his or her two cents regarding the events that took place in New York, Washington and a field in Pennsylvania 10 years ago. For whatever reason, be it altruistic or self-serving, many people, especially those in the public eye, feel the need to tell the world what that day meant to them. Hopefully this tale will help in the way in which those are intended, by providing perspective on where we were then, where we are now, and how we can continue to learn and grow from the hardships in each of our lives.

Ten years ago, I was working my first baseball job. A lowly intern, just graduated from high school in the Bay Area, I had no idea how lucky I was to be working for my hometown team, the Oakland Athletics. While the Seattle Mariners were running away with the American League West on their way to an astonishing 116 wins that season, a very solid Oakland team got even stronger with the acquisition of Jermaine Dye from the Kansas City Royals shortly before the trade deadline. That team would go on to win 102 games and the American League Wild Card, earning a rematch with the Evil Empire, the hated New York Yankees, who had ended the upstart Athletics’ season in the opening round of the playoffs the year prior.

As the regular season wound towards its conclusion, I began preparing to leave the house for the first time, my freshman year at UC Santa Barbara to begin in late September. In my third-to-last day of scheduled work with the team, the A’s jumped out to an early six-run lead to back Barry Zito, who took a shutout into the ninth in an easy, 7-1 win over the visiting Texas Rangers. After transcribing some post-game quotes, I headed home as I always did, winding my way north from Oakland, around the mouth of the Caldecott Tunnel and through the Berkeley hills to my parents’ house, another night in the books.

With air travel shut down, there would be no baseball.

Little did I know, but there would be no final two days of work. I awoke, as many on the west coast did that Tuesday morning, to frantic relatives, to confused silence in front of images of a smoking building, to a second plane hitting the second tower, and to my country’s perceptions, politics and fears shifting forever. Most of the final parts of the fallout came later, not instantly within the moment. I was still prepared to go to work that day, but I never did. Nobody did. For reasons that I suppose I understand more now than I did then but still fail to fully accept, there would be no baseball for the time being (it would turn out to be a week). Everything was suddenly on hold— oh, and by the way, enjoy your freshman orientation.

So, off I went to college. I remember the first moment in which I began to feel normal again was watching the team in Game 1 of the ALDS on television in Isla Vista, when my A’s rolled into Yankee Stadium and conquered Roger Clemens. I began, slowly, to reconnect. Another road win in Game 2 and, suddenly, they were coming home with two chances to put the Bronx Bombers away. Still, it felt somewhat distant, somewhat remote. I wasn’t able to see anything in person, as I had all season. It was closer to watching events like those that had unfolded a couple of weeks prior, through the television.

Then came Game 3. Nearly all of that game is forgotten to most, save one play, the gravity of which I think is sometimes lost in the annals of baseball history. Prior to that play, in the top of the fifth, Jorge Posada had deposited a ball on top of the out-of-town scoreboard in left-center field, one of the shortest home runs available to hitters in a normally pitcher-friendly Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. That was the only run of the game as the contest entered the bottom of the seventh. Then, with two outs, Jeremy Giambi poked a single to right field, and was standing at first when Terrence Long pulled a Mike Mussina offering into the right-field corner. Giambi— who was not the slowest

Safe or out, it doesn't matter now. (Sports Illustrated)

man in the American League, thanks to Bengie Molina— thundered around second and third, chugging for home as the potential game-tying run. Shane Spencer’s throw from right field missed cut-off man Tino Martinez, and was bouncing slowly towards home plate, losing momentum with every hop. Suddenly, Derek Jeter appeared out of the ether, more than 100 feet out of position, gathered the ball with his mitt, transferred it seamlessly to his open hand, and flipped it to the catcher Posada, who slapped the tag on the back of Giambi’s knee immediately after the outfielder crossed home plate.

Of course, that last part is open to discussion. All that matters is that home plate umpire Kerwin Danley called Giambi out, as baseball’s rulekeepers are wont to do when a defender makes a spectacular play. Anyone who works in baseball will tell you: the tie, most certainly, does not go to the runner. The A’s never recovered, losing that game and the final two of the series, as the Yankees went on to what seemed to be a predestined World Series appearance, dispatching that 116-win Mariners team in just five games in the ALCS.

But the title would not come. The team that had won three straight World Series, and four in five years, was beaten in the unlikeliest of ways. It wasn’t the story it should have been. It was far better.

When the Yankees beat Arizona Diamondbacks closer Byung-Hyung Kim not once, but twice with game-tying or game-winning blasts at the Stadium, it seemed almost inevitable, a foregone conclusion, that this series would be theirs. Sure enough, they led Game 7, 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth. With the ball in the trusted right hand of the greatest closer in the history of the game, the Hollywood ending was undone by players who the average baseball fan has probably forgotten: Jay Bell, Tony Womack and Luis Gonzalez. With a couple hits, a timely error, and a

It wasn't pretty off the bat, but this Luis Gonzalez basehit won the World Series.

jam-shot floater that drifted heroically over the outstretched mitt of, fittingly, a leaping Derek Jeter at shortstop, the Diamondbacks saved baseball from a scripted fate, giving the rest of America the greatest World Series in years, decades, maybe ever. With all due respect to the ’91 Twins and the ’86 Mets, it was certainly the most electrifying Series since Bill Mazeroski beat— who else— the New York Yankees with a home run in Game 7 all the way back in 1960.

I remember feeling that the burden that was lifted as the Yankees lost was almost as fulfilling as a championship for the A’s would have been. I can’t honestly say that I knew it at the time, but there was certainly the sense that this was the end of the Yankee dynasty, of a half-decade of dominance in the sport, the spawning of a new age of baseball. Yes, New York had suffered from 9/11, but there was almost a self-righteousness to New Yorkers’ ownership of the event, as if the other two planes were less significant, as if the rest of the country was not as deeply affected by the events. It is the same smugness that leads many of us around the rest of the country to our general distaste for many things associated with our nation’s largest city.

Ironically, it was the nation of fans coming together to celebrate the defeat of the quintessential New York team that sent off celebrations and led to a marked feeling of relief, personally. The good guys had not won, but neither had the bad guys, and sometimes that was good enough.

Still, I had become disenchanted, to a degree, about the idea of a career in professional sports. What difference did it all make in the grand scheme of things, if people I’d never met, who knew nothing of my life my beliefs, could send planes crashing into buildings based on some misguided ideological principles and bring it all to a halt? While I had experienced my baseball catharsis, I had never gotten the chance to mend professionally.

As such, I did not become involved in baseball again on a professional level until 2008, three years after I had graduated from college. It wasn’t until I had the chance to see the working world first hand once again that I fully understood the value in professional sports, that the outlet they provided was more than just a simple, temporary escape, but a way for us to come together as cities, and even as a nation.

Nevertheless, it is not inappropriate to ask another question after the last ten years: has baseball learned anything? The sport has enjoyed nine different champions in the last 10 years, but for every small market playoff success story like Oakland, Tampa Bay, or Minnesota, there is a lack of progress in the real issues of the differences between the haves and the have-nots. Baseball is beautiful because it rewards those able to outsmart over those who simply outspend, but only to a certain degree.

Ten years later, Moneyball may have worked better for the rest of baseball than it has in Oakland.

It is bit bizarre that Moneyball— the story of the haves, the have-nots, and the evolution of baseball’s front offices as a result of those Oakland teams I was privileged to be a part of— makes its way to the big screen as the pennant races heat up. Of course, the Yankees still own the biggest payroll and best record in the American League, while Oakland is coming off a disappointing season that leaves A’s in a perpetual state of rebuilding, still waiting for a decision from Major League Baseball that will allow them to seek a more prosperous future.

Until then, the A’s (as well as the Tampa Bay Rays and others) will rebuild; they will make do with what they can. Their motto— Green Collar Baseball— is akin to Oakland native Van Jones’ Green Collar Economy. It’s a play on words, sure, but also more than that. It is a different way of looking at a team and trying to measure success by building something sustainable. Meanwhile, the men in pinstripes, the mark of bankers and other money men, continue to try to outspend in order to succeed.

Then, of course, there is the issue of steroids. We watched some of the great players of our generation dragged into courtrooms in the twilights of their careers. Gone were the fearsome sluggers, effortlessly swatting roundtrippers out of ballparks across the country, replaced by broken, hunched over shells of those titans, nearly unrecognizable.

Alas, we cannot change the free-market nature of baseball. But, thankfully, the sabermetric movement has broken through in the sport, and those who cling desperately to out-of-date methods and analysis are dying out. At the same time, we reconcile that the accomplishments of our larger-than-life heroes— McGwire, Bonds, et. al— were not as glorious as we may have originally thought them to be. But they were still great players, and we will continue to be able to enjoy watching the very best in the sport now, and into the future.

We cannot go back and change our tainted past. We can only hope to learn to learn from our mistakes, to forgive, but not forget. By remembering what went wrong, hopefully we can educate the next generation to avoid our same mistakes. Sometimes it’s more important to fight the good fight than to achieve certain victory. For even in the individual victories of a single game, or a division race, or even the World Series, life always goes on. And hence, following our great losses, there is always hope for the future, in baseball and in life.

On the Brink

By: Josh Jackson

There are many young kids in this country and other parts of the world who aspire to play professional baseball when they grow older. Unfortunately, for most of us, this fantasy is eventually smothered by the harsh realities that come with the different seasons of life. We realize that the road to becoming a professional athlete is too narrow for all dreamers to travel on. On the other hand, there are some kids who are just gifted, lucky, and put in a lot of time and hard work.  These kids eventually do get to play baseball professionally. We see them every summer at venues like Chukchansi Park in Downtown Fresno.

But the ultimate goal of every player performing in affiliated ball is to make it to The Show. Even out of all the players that are fortunate enough to have made it to a professional baseball team, a very minute portion will ever make it to the big leagues. So when 2011 Grizzlies Brandon Belt and Hector Sanchezmade their Major League debuts this season at such a young age, it was hard not to appreciate the rarity of the situation.

Hector Sanchez facing Sacramento on July 4 in Fresno

As most Grizzlies and Giants fans may know, Belt made his Major League debut on Opening Day this season. He struggled at the plate to start the year, which is very common for young hitters, and was optioned to Fresno on his 23rd birthday. Injuries to the Giants gave Sanchez his first opportunity to play in the Majors back on July 15th at the young age of 21. Most people don’t even dream of starting a career at that age and this young man started behind the plate for the defending World Series Champions. This year also marks Sanchez’ fifth year as a professional. Some simple math reveals that he was only 16 when he played his first professional baseball game.

Three-time All-star and Gold Glover Vernon Wells would know something about being on the brink of being a big time ball player at such a young age. Wells was a first-round selection by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1997 when he was just 18 years old. At the age of 21, he went from playing Single-A ball to playing in the Majors in the span of one season, just like Sanchez. Wells described what it was like to be a teenager in the minor leagues.

“It was a great experience being around the older guys and guys that have played in the big leagues,” he explained. “You play around big league ballplayers everyday and it is hard to not focus on that.”

When asked what advice he would give to Hector Sanchez on the day of his Major League debut, Wells responded, “Just relax. Just stay confident. That’s the hardest part. It’s actually much easier to hit, you can see the ball easier in these (Major League) parks. Sometimes I would go rehab at these minor league stadiums and it was so difficult to see the ball.”

Brandon Belt facing the Tucson Padres on May 6 at Chukchansi Park

Perhaps confidence and the ability to relax at the plate was something Giants top prospect Brandon Belt lacked at the beginning of the season. Being sent back-and-forth between Fresno and San Francisco did not discourage Belt, as he kept a positive attitude and a healthy work ethic that was visibly apparent to even the casual observer. His focus paid off on July 19th, when he was recalled by San Francisco to face the rival Dodgers at home. Belt had no problem seeing the ball on this night, as he turned in a 2-for-4, 3 RBI performance, which included a solo shot to right field in the second inning, his first home run at AT&T Park. His contributions lifted the Giants to a much needed, 5-3 victory. Speaking with Belt after the game, you could see it felt good for him to get passed some of his early season struggles.

“The first time I was up (with the Giants) at the beginning of the year, confidence was definitely something I lacked,” Belt explained. “I put a lot of stress and pressure on myself and it definitely showed in my play. That’s one of the main things I wanted to work on when I was in Fresno. I was able to relax and find a place where I was comfortable physically and mentally and fortunately I was able to bring it back up here.”

Belt will likely finish the season with the San Francisco Giants, and it does not appear that he will be coming back our way to Fresno anytime soon. Sanchez is currently with San Jose until rosters expand in September. After talking with him in San Francisco, Sanchez expressed his excitement on finishing the year strong and getting more opportunities down the road.

“It is amazing being where I am and having a chance to play for a big league team,” Sanchez explained. “I am excited for the future and being able to play with those guys”.

Belt and Sanchez are already breathing rare air by making it to the Major League level at such a young age. Now the focus turns to doing what Vernon Wells has done, competing at the highest level for an extended period of time. The hard work and dedication to their craft will have to be pushed to the next level if they wish to have that kind of success down the road. Having witnessed their meteoric rise through the minor league system, it is hard to put a damper on their potential.

Photo Credit: Don Davis