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. If you know a deserving fan who has helped support Grizzlies baseball that you would like to nominate, simply email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The word unique is one of the most overused in our society. We often call something unique when we really mean unusual, rare, or just different. The word should really only be used in its proper context, when we are talking about something, or someone, that is in fact one of a kind. That being said, Rich Palmer truly is a unique Grizzlies fan.
So what makes Rich so different? Well, let’s start with the obvious.
“I don’t live in Fresno,” says the Mountain View resident, making him the only Grizzlies season ticket holder whose primary residence is outside the Central Valley. “When I first came to see the Grizzlies in 1998 on the final weekend of the season, I caught the Saturday night game, and I really liked it. I came back the following year and I saw probably two or three games. Then in 2000, I saw maybe a half a dozen games, and then in 2001 I bought season tickets.”
Palmer has had them ever since. He even considered purchasing an ownership stake in the team a few years ago, but ultimately decided that he preferred his vantage point as a fan. As such, he has built relationships with many in the front office, and often sits in the press box during games.
The question, though, that no doubt comes up in the mind of anyone who is both a Giants and Grizzlies fan (of which Rich is both), is why he would choose to travel over 150 miles and nearly three hours to see Minor League Baseball, when he could be at AT&T Park in under an hour. In the answer to that question, one finds the many things that showcase minor league ball for the special property that it is.
“I really like Minor League Baseball because I can get really close to the game,” says Palmer. “My seats are up close and I get to know a lot of people who turn out for the game, season ticket holders, real baseball fans who like to discuss the game.”
As any veteran of games in the bay area— especially those at Candlestick Park— are aware, there is a significant weather advantage to the evenings in Fresno as well.
“The other thing I like about it, over San Francisco, is that it’s warm. I can come out in a t-shirt and I can really enjoy a beer.”
And while Major League teams are increasingly mimicking the minor league model, stuffing their downtime between innings with other entertainment, the level of fan involvement in the friendly confines of the smaller ballparks remains more tangible and personable to Palmer.
“There’s something kind of attractive in a homey sort of way, in the entertainment between innings that you get to see,” he says. “Some of it is really innovative and pretty engaging.”
Of course, the difference in ticket prices doesn’t hurt either.
“I had very good seats with the Giants,” explains Palmer. “But they cost me about six times what my season tickets with the Grizzlies cost me.”
While Rich has been invested in the team for a decade, he became much more heavily tied to both the Grizzlies and Fresno last year. That’s when he met Claudia Loyear, a longtime Fresnan who teaches and runs an interior design business here in town. But even though she had lived here her whole life, Claudia had never been to a Grizzlies game until Friday, April 16th, 2010. If you’re going to be introduced to baseball, Opening Day is not a bad way to go.
“We had probably been dating about four or five months,” Rich says about the time leading up to their first baseball date. “She knew that I was going to Opening Night, that I was a baseball guy, and that she would have to make a decision about whether or not to come with me.”
Needless to say, it would not be the last time she came to the park. The Grizzlies did their part to make her first game a memorable one, erasing a 1-0 deficit with a run in the eighth and another in the ninth to walk off with a 2-1 win in front of a capacity crowd. But there was much more to the game that had Claudia coming back for more.
“She’s discovered life-long friends of hers that have seats in the section over, or the section after that,” says Rich. “So it’s very easy for her to come to the ballpark and to socialize.”
And, well, there’s a bear too.
“I’m not quite certain about why it is,” posits Rich, smiling. “But there is a small Parker shrine (at her house), with pictures of her and Parker.”
Claudia has become one of Parker’s biggest fans, ever since he dropped by the couples’ seats during her first game. Some (read: Rich) might even call it a bit of an obsession.
But Claudia’s appreciation of the game extends beyond just her friends and the bear. She has found a game that she loves right here in her own backyard. Having grown up on the much faster-paced sport of basketball, she enjoys the pedestrian meter that baseball provides. It has also allowed her to enjoy her summers with the man she loves, and to whom she is now married.
Rich and Claudia tied the knot over the weekend, in a private ceremony here in Fresno. Friends and family were treated to a beautiful reception at an estate on North Van Ness Avenue. After the speeches were finished and the wedding cake fed to one another the couple stepped out for the first dance of the evening. And what do you suppose the first song was? Why yes, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, at the bride’s request. Even the cupcakes given to guests were designed like baseballs, white frosting with red laces and an orange and black “P”, for Palmer, in the middle.
But the weekend’s festivities would not have been complete without a visit from that mischievous bear.
“I did caution him at the Hot Stove Dinner,” Palmer jokes. “If I found any yellow, polyester hair anywhere in the house that he was going to be a bear-skin rug.”
Nevertheless, Parker couldn’t help but show up for brunch at Claudia’s house the morning after the wedding. Always the show-stealer, he posed for pictures with the newlyweds, even posing to ordain the couple in front of the baseball gods.
Now that it’s official, we can’t wait to host Mr. and Mrs. Palmer for their first game as husband and wife on Opening Day, 2012.