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Against The Odds: The Story of Alex Presley

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Fresno Grizzlies outfielder has accumulated over two years of Major League service time (Design by Andy Inman, Photos by James Ramirez)

This article also appears in the fourth edition of the Fresno Grizzlies Play Ball magazine that can be picked up for free by attending the homestand that runs Thursday, May 21st through Thursday, May 28th. Learn about the promotions for the eight home games and purchase tickets here.

Alex Presley has been in this situation before. Surrounded by top prospects and other outfielders with a foot in the door due to being on the 40-man roster, Presley is left making sure his talents stand out to the coaching staff and in the box score every chance he gets in order to force a callup back to the big leagues.

The Louisiana native is in his second season with the Houston Astros organization, but is back in the Triple-A circuit for the first time since 2013. In a numbers game that went against Presley, he found himself the odd man out in an Astros outfield at the end of Spring Training and began the year with the Grizzlies. Needless to say, it’s rekindled a fire that burnt back in 2010 when he was part of a rebuilding Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

Then a 24-year-old who was making his first foray into Double-A ball, he wasn’t even listed among the Top 30 Prospects in the Pirates organization. Outfielders Jose Tabata, Starling Marte, Gorkys Hernandez, and current Grizzlies teammate Robbie Grossman were the buzz of the Pirates farm system, while non-prospects like Wesley Freeman (out of baseball), Rogelios Noris (out of baseball), and Quincy Latimore were even listed ahead of him.

“I’ve never been that big prospect, whether it was high school, college, or pro ball. I’ve always had to outperform others to get a chance.”

Presley batted .261 (171-656) with 28 doubles, 14 triples, 16 home runs, 49 RBI and 19 stolen bases in 204 games with Pittsburgh from 2010-13

Presley batted .261 (171-656) with 28 doubles, 14 triples, 16 home runs, 49 RBI and 19 stolen bases in 204 games with Pittsburgh from 2010-13, but has appeared in only 117 big league games since being involved in a trade to Minnesota on August 31, 2013.

Later in that 2010 season, he finally received that chance. With Pittsburgh fans and media clamoring for a callup, Presley received it thanks to a combined .320 average that included 28 doubles, 13 triples, 12 home runs, and 85 RBI between Double-A and Triple-A ball. Two seasons later, he’d play in a career-high 104 big league games on a Pirates team that won 78 games. However, a year later with the Pirates in playoff contention for the first time in 20 years the odds struck against him when he was packaged in a trade to Minnesota in exchange for first baseman Justin Morneau.

He finished the year with the Twins, but then found himself in a battle for a roster spot with Twins prospect Aaron Hicks the following spring. After Presley struggled through Spring Training, he was put on waivers by Minnesota and claimed by the Astros where he’d appear in 89 games.

“I had a pretty versatile role with the Astros last year, which is what I’m pretty good at and have become known for. It’s not the easiest job when you’re not out there every day, but the role you play can constantly change.”

Through all the twists and turns in his career, he’s kept a focused mindset that doesn’t fluctuate too high or low. Whether there’s been an up-and-comer on his heels or competition with his fellow teammates, he refuses to allowed his demeanor to be influenced by factors out of his control. Proof of that outlook is in his start to the 2015 season, where he’s batted .320 (31-97) through his first 27 games, which is good for second best on the team.

He’s even connected with the local Fresno fans, as evidence by his 20-minute dugout chat with 11-year-old Jackson Standifer shortly before first pitch on April 15th. Going mostly unnoticed, Presley spoke with the youngster who was three months removed from beating Stage-4 Burkitt’s Lymphoma.

Presley chats with 11-year-old Jackson Standifer before the Grizzlies game on April 15th (photo by James Ramirez)

Presley chats with 11-year-old Jackson Standifer before the Grizzlies game on April 15th (photo by James Ramirez)

 “I try to focus on where I am now and do the best I can with that situation.”

That commitment to making the most of his time with Fresno can be credited to his years growing up just outside of Monroe, Louisiana. Whether it was encouraging his father to take him to the batting cage for extra work, being the kicker on his high school football team his senior year, allowing his older sister to persuade him into doing back hand springs, or setting records for the University of Mississippi as a wide-eyed freshman, there’s an energy that permits the 29-year-old to embrace the moment when given the opportunity to showcase his talent.

You can begin to notice that there’s more to Alex Presley than what you glance at in a box score, and that’s precisely what the first place Astros will look to add in the coming months. They’ll need someone with a fire that can push away fear in a key moment.

“Another opportunity will be there,” he says when discussing the chance to join the big league club.

That appears to be a given considering his determination to make it happen.

The Flight of Preston Tucker: How the slugger is catching the attention of the Houston Astros

Preston Tucker brings a hitting proficiency that ranks among the best in Fresno Grizzlies history during a single month (photo by James Ramirez)

Preston Tucker brings a hitting proficiency that ranks among the best in Fresno Grizzlies history during a single month (photo by James Ramirez)

This article also appears in the third edition of the Fresno Grizzlies Play Ball magazine that can be picked up for free by attending the upcoming homestand that runs Monday, May 4 through Monday, May 11. Learn about the promotions for the eight home games and purchase tickets here.

Written by Ryan Young

Forty-five minutes before first pitch of any game, you can find Fresno Grizzlies outfielder Preston Tucker standing up from his clubhouse chair, turning the corner, and walking down the hallway towards the office of hitting coach Leon Roberts. By now, there’s no need for Tucker to even speak words.

“Ready?” says Roberts as he drops the scouting reports on the opposing pitchers when he catches sight of Tucker.

The two head to the batting cage steps outside of the clubhouse to get in a few more swings before the game.

“I don’t like the two hours of down time,” Tucker says, which is the time between the end of batting practice and first pitch.

Hitting Coach Leon Roberts sits behind the screen in the indoor cage tossing flips (photo by James Ramirez)

Hitting Coach Leon Roberts sits behind the screen in the indoor cage tossing flips (photo by James Ramirez)

A seventh-round pick by the Houston Astros out of the University of Florida in 2012, Tucker has been a proficient hitter in lineups from Plant High School in Tampa, Florida to his current stop at Triple-A Fresno. Through the first 19 games of the 2015 season, he stands apart by leading ALL of Minor League Baseball in home runs (8) and RBI (27). Those numbers are big reason why Fresno has jumped out to an 11-8 first place start. The run production may not be something new for anyone who has followed his path, but the early numbers should pop out considering he’s on pace to shatter his own personal highs and take a stab at remaining among a Minor League leader in both categories.

“My mindset is to put together quality at bats and produce for this team,” he says when asked if the power numbers are a focus for him. “My role is to drive in runs and the guys in front of me have done an unbelievable job of getting on base.” True story, since leadoff hitter Nolan Fontana has flirted with the Pacific Coast League lead in walks all season, while No. 2 hitter L.J. Hoes was hitting .418 (23-55) before being called up to Houston on April 27th.

The team focus is one that spreads throughout the roster and is a unique attribute, considering the competitive nature of Triple-A Baseball where guys are consistently competing for select rosters spots on the big league club throughout the season. However, a lot of these guys on the current roster have been moved through the minor-league system together and it’s offered more of a support group than moments of jealousy.

“It’s fun to see guys succeed along with one another and progress through their careers,” says Tucker. “We’re getting to that point where we’re starting to see it flourish and help out the big league team.”

The April success by Tucker has already hit newsstands in Houston and has been a conversation starter for media with Astros manager A.J. Hinch. Given the Astros 13-7 start (through April 28), anytime a Triple-A player can be brought up in a pregame conversation and take seconds away from the 25 guys on a first place team, it’s a good position to be in.

Surely the power numbers are getting Tucker noticed, but the 24-year-old left-handed hitter continually refutes that it’s his only hook. One glance down at his popeye forearms tells a person that it’s just a factor of the work he puts in. Whether it’s the offseason or an eight-game road trip, he believes in a routine of workouts, especially during the season when it serves as a way to combat the energy zap a 144-game regular season can do to a mind and body.

For instance, when the team took to the road in mid-April for an eight-game swing to Las Vegas and Salt Lake, he’s attempting to confirm shuttle times to the gym instead of planning what sights to see in his down time.

This primary focus became evident when he struck for a two-run moonshot homer in Las Vegas at Cashman Field on April 18th. The ball was still at it’s apex as it screamed past the lights and landed somewhere in the darkness. Yet, the first thing out of the mouth of strength and conditioning coach Trey Wiedman is, “He’s probably going to tell us all he should’ve hit it farther. Yep, he’ll be in the gym first thing tomorrow.”

But it’s that reputation that shows off his rare qualities and lets you know Tucker is destined for a special career. Surely he is a little quiet, but not definitely not shy, and he’s focused not on what he’s already done, but what he needs to do in the present. That mindset, combined with his special skills on the diamond, reminds us of a certain 2014 Fresno Grizzlies player that went on to contribute to a World Championship in his rookie season — Joe Panik.

Tucker has recorded a RBI in 13 of 19 games and has reached base safely in all but two contests for the Grizzlies. The question then may be, where’s the hole? Is he not hitting lefties? Nope, he’s hitting lefties to the tune of .360 (9-25) with a double, two homers and eight RBI. He’s hitting even better with runners on base, featuring a .436 mark (17-39), and also crushes when he’s playing left field, batting .405 (17-42).

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Through his first 19 games, Tucker is hitting .325 (25-77) with two doubles, eight home runs, 27 RBI, six walks, 14 strikeouts, and 16 runs scored. Moreover, he has an eye-popping 1.031 on-base + slugging percentage. (photo by James Ramirez)

Now in his fourth year in the Astros organization, he’s beginning to showcase the type of hitter he’ll be at the next level.

“I’ve tightened things up and have shifted to simply trying to hit the ball hard every time instead of trying to pull it here or there.”

A sign that he’s actually doing what he preaches. On April 27th at Chukchansi Park, he put the bat head out on a pitch and sent a long home run down the line in left that landed on the concourse past the row of bleachers. The opposite field home run, feet within the left field foul pole, surprised a man that’s seen quite a bit of baseball in his life.

“In my 13 years with this team, I’ve never seen a left-handed hitter, opposing or home, hit a ball like that in this ballpark,” noted Fresno Grizzlies broadcaster Doug Greenwald.

See. Preston Tucker does things that aren’t normal. We’ll enjoy watching him in Fresno while he’s here.

Belief in the Journey: The story of Fresno reliever James Hoyt and his quest for a MLB callup

Hoyt tosses a scoreless inning in his debut for the Grizzlies on Saturday, April 11 (photo by James Ramirez)

Hoyt tosses a scoreless inning in his debut for the Grizzlies on Saturday, April 11 (photo by James Ramirez)

This article also appears in the second edition of the Fresno Grizzlies Play Ball magazine that can be picked up for free by attending the upcoming homestand that runs Saturday, April 25 through Tuesday, April 28. Purchase tickets to those games here.

Written by Ryan Young

The story of Fresno right-handed reliever James Hoyt spans two countries and 10 states. Part of his movement has been by curiosity and the other by virtue of chasing the ultimate dream of playing Major League Baseball. In what may be construed as a long and strange trip, it has taken two colleges, a job working on sail boats, three independent league stops, a stint in Mexico, and play across three minor league levels to get him to where he is today.

“For me, it’s obviously not the normal route to professional baseball,” smiles Hoyt as he sits on a bench at Cashman Field in Las Vegas prior to the Grizzlies series finale during part one of a two-city road trip. His casual tones suggest that he’s completely at ease with the unconventional route he’s taken to ascend to the Triple-A level, but there’s also a heavy sense of determination in his eyes that tells of the learning experiences he’s gathered along the way.

When reflecting back to his days as a 6-6, 190-pound high school senior, the thought of sitting in a dugout as a member of the Houston Astros organization couldn’t even be imagined. The 28-year-old notes that he had average stuff at best when he graduated from Boise High School in Idaho and moved to attend Palomar Junior College (Calif.) on a baseball scholarship. The San Marcos-based school was in a familiar area to him, as yearly visits to his mom’s side of the family in San Diego (35-minute car ride south) made the transition easier than most for a young college kid.

After a successful freshman and sophomore campaign on the diamond, an opportunity opened up to transfer to Centenary College in Louisiana and pitch at the Division I level.

“I thought, ‘well this is cool’, since it meant I’d get to pitch against LSU, Texas A&M, and some other big schools,” recalls Hoyt. “I started to get a little more interested in baseball and thought I may have a chance at getting to the next level. Coming into my first year at Centenary, I had finished up a really good fall and I was more than likely going to be the closer.”

Then, the door shut. A transfer rule unbeknownst to him and others with the team required that he transfer in with 80% of his major credits completed to be eligible to play baseball. Problem was, Hoyt only had roughly 68% wrapped up and would be forced to sit out his entire season. The ordeal even included a school staff member losing their job, while the lanky pitcher was relegated to practice and fell off the radar of Major League scouts.

The kicker came near the end of his season away from the live baseball, when a knee injury lingered into his senior year and limited him to a just few appearances. He’d graduate from Centenary, but he’d go undrafted in the MLB First-Year Player Draft and returned to Boise to re-evaluate his life plan. Back home, the itch to start his postgrad life eventually led him back to San Diego, where he worked for Seaforth Sportfishing.

“I went into that job not knowing a lot, but I was mostly doing maintenance [on sail boats]. There were even times I had to clean the crap off the boat.”

Unpleasant duties to most, he enjoyed everything about the job and quickly gained more responsibility. However, thoughts of baseball never ventured too far from the back of his mind and sooner than later he began the journey to get back into the game.

He circled the independent league, pitching for managers such as Jose Canseco and Tony Phillips. The time allowed him to work on different grips for his fastball, splitter, and slider, the last of which has always been his bread and butter. The success in the circuit led him to latch on with Olmecas de Tabasco of the Mexican League, which is comparable to the Triple-A level in the states. It’s there that he was able to build his velocity from 87 mph into the lows 90s, even hitting as high as 94 mph. Now equipped with big league stuff, the Atlanta Braves saw the potential and signed him to his first professional contract.

“When [the Braves] signed me, I went to Arizona to train with Tony [Phillips] before the season and he got me to really dial in mentally. He reassured me that my stuff was good enough. That confidence boost was important.”

Hoyt finally made his professional debut on April 7, 2013 in a blowout win at High-A Potomac, which was quite the graduation from pitching to his youngest sister in the backyard growing up in Idaho. He’d surrender three runs over 2.1 innings in that appearance, but he stuck and remained with the team through June until he received a callup to Double-A Mississippi. Under the tutelage of pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn, he limited opponents to a .147 (17-116) batting average and turned in a 2.48 ERA (9 ER/32.2 IP) over 22 appearances. He’d return to Double-A the following the season, even entering the year as the Braves No. 30 Prospect according to Baseball America, and eventually make his way up to Triple-A after posting a 1.14 ERA (4 ER/31.2 IP) in 28 appearances at Mississippi.

He’d toss four straight scoreless appearances to begin his time with Gwinnett, but like everything in life, learning comes with adversity and Hoyt received a heavy dose on July 31, 2014 at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre when he surrendered five runs in 2/3 of an inning.

“One bad outing as a reliever can kill your year,” he mentions when thinking back to that forgettable night. “My pitching coach pulled me aside after that game and said ‘Numbers wise, your season is done. You could go scoreless in August and still not get your ERA down. So let’s just work every day.’”

The ERA was gnarly, sitting at 8.20 and jumping off any stat sheet that a fan, coach, or baseball operations department would glance at. But, Hoyt refused to let it define his season and he finished the campaign by allowing only one unearned run over his last seven appearances. Moreover, he ventured to the Dominican this past October to build more confidence in his pitching and succeeded. He went 0-1 with a 2.88 ERA (8 ER/25.0 IP) and a .223 (21-94) opponents’ average in 26 games with Gigantes del Cibao.

In the midst of the Winter League season, another chapter would soon be added to his story. On January 14, 2015, the Atlanta Braves traded him to the Houston Astros. He found out via text from his friend, who offered congratulations and reassurance that the move would be great for him.

Hoyt owns three saves through the first 15 games of the 2015 season (photo by James Ramirez)

Hoyt owns three saves through the first 15 games of the 2015 season (photo by James Ramirez)

“I thought, what the heck is he talking about?” mentions Hoyt who said he had no clue about the move when he read the message. “But about five minutes later [Astros General Manager] Jeff Luhnow called me to let me know I was involved in the trade.”

He impressed Astros management this spring training by surrendering only three unearned runs over 9.2 innings and limiting hitters to a .132 batting average at big league camp. Working mostly one inning each time, he got the idea that the plan was for him to work late innings wherever he ended up.

“I like to think I’m that guy,” he says straight up when asked if the late inning pressure is something he is up for.

His pedigree sure offers the eclectic mash-up of successful big league relievers. So what would a Major League callup mean to the right-hander?

“So much,” says Hoyt as he pauses for a second. “I wouldn’t have taken this route and put so many things on the back burner. I’m looking forward to that day.”

So are we. The more people hear this story, the more backers you’ll have in your corner. 

See the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies in action at Chukchansi Park Saturday, April 25 through Tuesday, April 28. Tickets are available now at the Chukchansi Park Box Office or online at FresnoGrizzlies.com. For questions, call 559.320.TIXS during normal business hours (Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.). The box office opens at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 25 and Sunday, April 26.

Under the Radar: How Dan Straily and the 2015 Grizzlies are focused on growing a winning culture

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This article also appears in the first edition of the Fresno Grizzlies Play Ball magazine that can be picked up for free by attending Opening Day on Thursday, April 9th. Purchase tickets to Opening Day or any other 2015 game here.

Written by Ryan Young

An outsider would tell you that right-handed pitcher Dan Straily wasn’t himself last year. However, Dan Straily would tell you that 2014 was all part of the natural progression of being a professional baseball player.

“It wasn’t like anything happened [injury wise],” stated the 26-year-old who split time between the Oakland Athletics and Chicago Cubs organization in 2014. “Sure it could’ve been the stress of built up innings over the years, but who knows what it was. Now I’ve got myself stronger and a lot closer to where I’ve always been.”

Where he’s been is someone that’s refused to play to the level he was drafted at. Taken by the Athletics in the 24th  round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft out of Marshall University, he moved through the system quickly and became a part of the big league rotation in his fourth professional season. He made 34 starts over a year plus for an Oakland squad that won back-to-back American League West Championships in 2012 and 2013. The Oregon native went 12-9 with a 3.94 ERA (84 ER/191.2) and 156 strikeouts during that stretch, along with making his first career postseason start (no decision), all before the age of 25.

Straily speaks to the media after earning a no decision against the Detroit Tigers in the 2013 ALDS

Straily speaks to the media after earning a no decision against the Detroit Tigers in the 2013 ALDS

The momentum continued into 2014 as through his first two starts he went 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA (4 ER/13.0 IP) and held opponents to only nine hits in 47 at bats (.191 average). But then came a road start at the Angels where he surrendered six runs and couldn’t get out of the fourth inning. Despite bouncing back by limiting opponents to three runs or less in his next four starts, the shock factor hit strong when the only organization he had known packaged him in a trade that sent him to the Cubs, along with a few other prospects, for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

“It was a little disappointing because it was in the middle of the season, whereas this past trade [to the Astros organization] came during the offseason. It can be hard to pack up in the middle of a year and move. You get used to the routine, but it’s part of the ups and downs you go with.”

As the righty enters his seventh professional season, he seems better equipped to handle the rollercoaster a baseball season can bring. He sounds settled, focused, and at home after breaking his first camp with the Astros and being assigned to Triple-A Fresno. Straily spent a good amount of time the past two months even experimenting with a curveball in order to give him a four-pitch repertoire, thanks to a little push from Astros pitching coach Brent Strom.

“It’s part of my ongoing development. I’m always trying to find new ways to get guys out and [Strom] feels like it can be a weapon. It’s just kind of an experiment.”

Situated as one of the pillars of the Grizzlies rotation barring an early season callup, Straily can also lend a little guidance to a pitching staff that that features eight players his age or younger, including six guys who spent a majority of last season at the Double-A level.

“In terms of experience, I’ve been fortunate to have a little more than them. If one of them asks me something I’m definitely very open to talk to them about it, but I can’t ever talk to a first round guy about the pressures of what that means, because I was always an under the radar guy. I never had that high draft pick perception or any of that pressure put on me.”

Over four Spring outings for the Astros, he went 0-0 with a 5.91 ERA (7 ER/10.2 IP) and six strikeouts

Over four Spring outings for the Astros, he went 0-0 with a 5.91 ERA (7 ER/10.2 IP) and six strikeouts

Although he may not be able to relate and relay guidance at every turn, he can certainly tell these guys a thing or two about pitching in the Pacific Coast League due to his 36 career starts in the circuit. Thankfully, this season he pitches for Fresno as the righty was 3-0 with a 1.87 ERA (7 ER/33.2 IP) and 35 strikeouts over five career starts against the Grizzlies, including two wins in both of his starts at Chukchansi Park. That winning culture is something he’s been used to.

“From 2010-2013 I was in the playoffs and it’s a lot of fun and gives you more excitement to come to the ballpark at the end of the season. I think the winning mindset really has to start in the minor leagues. My time with Sacramento, it was never really talked about, but it was expectations we set on ourselves.”

Those expectations have been brought to a Fresno Grizzlies team that hasn’t reached the postseason since their inaugural season in 1998. With a 2015 squad armed with young prospects and determined players like Straily, hope and expectations have returned to an organization that had become used to ending their season on the final day of the regular season.

“All of us guys are in it together and we’ll definitely have fun in the clubhouse, but on the field it’ll be business time.”

One thing is for certain; the fans of the Central Valley can’t wait to see what that business time can produce.

See the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies in action on Opening Day Thursday, April 9th at Chukchansi Park. Tickets are available now at the Chukchansi Park Box Office or online at FresnoGrizzlies.com. For questions, call 559.320.TIXS during normal business hours (Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.).

Holiday Stocking Stuffers On Sale Now!

Have you been good this year? Then no need to fear! Stocking stuffers from the Grizzlies are here!

The Fresno Grizzlies, Triple-A affiliate of the Houston Astros, are warming up the winter holidays with special stocking stuffer deals! This holiday season, the Grizzlies are offering the perfect gifts to carry your close ones through the offseason and make Opening Day on April 9, 2015 seem like it’s right around the corner.

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The first stocking stuffer includes two (2) ticket vouchers for a 2015 Fresno Grizzlies home game and one (1) Growlifornia t-shirt. This $25 stocking stuffer gives your friend or family member an exclusive t-shirt, and then provides them the option to choose a 2015 Grizzlies game that fits their schedule. Sizes in the t-shirt range from Small to 3XL (while supplies last). ***Please note that a representative from the Grizzlies will contact you after your purchase to confirm a t-shirt size. If you do not receive a call within 24 hours of your purchase, please contact 559.320.TIXS.

 

blogsizeThe second stocking stuffer is perfect for the person that’s looking for three gifts in one. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle stocking stuffer includes four (4) 2015 Fresno Grizzlies ticket vouchers, two (2) Regal Cinema movie tickets and one (1) Fresno Grizzlies TMNT t-shirt. The best part of all is that this stocking stuffer is priced below $50! Shirt sizes currently range from toddler through adult. ***Please note that a representative from the Grizzlies will contact you after your purchase to confirm a t-shirt size. If you do not receive a call within 24 hours of your purchase, please contact 559.320.TIXS.

Both stocking stuffers are available for purchase online or by calling 559.320.TIXS. Customers may pick up their order at the Chukchansi Park Box Office (1800 Tulare St) Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. or they can elect to have it delivered via USPS for an additional charge. Orders must be placed prior to December 19th to guarantee delivery for December 25th. All packages that are purchased between December 20th – January 4th will be mailed out on January 5th due to the holiday closure of the office. Please note that the only way to purchase a package from December 20th – January 4th is online.

More questions? Call 559.320.TIXS or email ticketoffice@fresnogrizzlies.com

Giving Back and Giving Thanks

The following blog entry is written by Mayra Alvarez, who reflects on the recent Fresno Grizzlies Thanksgiving Supper Giveaway that was conducted on Monday, November 24th. Photos by Roe Borunda.

At this time of the year, money can be very tight and many families are faced with the challenge of balancing regular expenses, as well as budgeting for the holidays to come. To help lessen the stress that may come with the uncertainty of being able to afford a Thanksgiving dinner, four Downtown businesses came together to feed 100 families in Fresno. In collaboration with the Fresno Grizzlies, the Downtown Fresno Grocery Outlet, OK Produce, and Shepherd’s Inn made it possible to host the Fresno Grizzlies Thanksgiving Supper Giveaway at Chukchansi Park the Monday before Thanksgiving Day. On the day of the event, each family was able to take away a 10 to 12-pound turkey, a five-pound bag of potatoes, three pounds of yams, a bunch of celery, a sack of onions, a box of stuffing, and a can of chicken broth, along with recipes that were provided for families to take home to use at their leisure.

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The process in making this event come alive commenced in early November. When I was initially tasked with being the point of contact for this event and reaching out to local families, I didn’t realize the magnitude of how emotional and fulfilling it would be. I was able to reach out to over 100 families through contacts that were passed along from city council members, and downtown organizations such as Salvation Army, WIC, and various churches in the area. Our goal for the event was to make sure that these dinner items would be given to those who would truly benefit from them and would be able to put the meal components to good use.

As I reached out to several families I began to realize the weight that a giveaway like this carried. I got to learn the depth of what being able to have a Thanksgiving dinner at home it meant for people, who otherwise would not have been able to have it. After a few calls I noticed that some of the people I got in touch with were almost confused at the fact that they were invited to such a giveaway. I was often asked how or why they were lucky enough to receive a phone call that let them know they now had a way to put Thanksgiving dinner on their table.

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At first, families seemed almost hesitant to accept the idea of an offer that they would say was “too good to be true.” Many people figured they had to give something in return, or had to enter in to some type of contest in order to be provided with a full complimentary Thanksgiving supper. As I dialed person after person, I explained that there was no catch and that this was simply something the Grizzlies collaborated with downtown businesses in order to give back to the community.

Often I was met with absolute silence, which I can only assume came from the sheer disbelief or shock at what they were hearing on the phone. I could almost feel the sense of relief and gratitude on the other end of these calls. As realization settled, the silences were then followed by endless “Thank You’s” in between the sounds of gasps as many held back from breaking down in tears.

After each day of making these phone calls my heart went out to the families I got in touch with as they shared stories about current struggles they were facing, making it a blessing to be a part of alleviating a part of their worries. For every phone call that passed I grew more and more appreciative of that fact that I am fortunate enough to spend Thanksgiving and many other holidays back home with my family.

During several different calls there were moments where I found myself choking up and trying to hold back tears. It was so gratifying to be able to let families know that Thanksgiving dinner would not be yet another worry or stress this year.

Blog4I will never forget a particular conversation I had with a woman, who was so thankful to have received a phone call that in between weeps, managed to tell me that she was in utter disbelief. She sounded defeated and had already come to terms with the thought that she probably wouldn’t be able to afford Thanksgiving dinner for her family this year. She then opened up, sharing with me that she was disabled and that her husband had suffered a heart attack earlier in the year. I still remember this woman’s full name, and probably always will. I replayed this phone conversation over and over in my head as the day of the event came closer.

When I arrived to work on the Monday of the event, I was informed that there was already a woman waiting in line two hours prior to the giveaway. When the woman told me her name, the entire phone conversation I had with her in early November came rushing back to me and I knew exactly who she was, standing there, waiting alone at 8:00 a.m. She was the disabled woman who’s conversation I had been replaying in my head over and over.

By 9:00 a.m., an hour before we began to give away the suppers, she no longer stood alone. Moms and dads with children and babies hugged the gate entrance bundled up in the chilly 47-degree weather. Families laughed and smiled as they posed for pictures with our mascot Parker T. Bear and exchanged stories while they waited patiently to get through the gates. People expressed their ample gratitude to employees and volunteers while going through the line collecting all of the vegetables, ingredients and a turkey. As people walked through the line, stories were shared about cherished moments on Thanksgiving around the dinner table with their families and how much it meant that it would be possible again.

Blog5Ultimately, we were able come together to give away 100 complimentary Thanksgiving suppers to Fresno families. I have never felt so fulfilled in a job where I have been able to give back to our community in such a significant manner. I was thankful for being able to be part of a donation that would allow families to spend Thanksgiving at home with dinner on the table. Not only were we able to provide families with a meal for Thanksgiving day, but I believe that we contributed to giving them hope and a lasting memory of what giving thanks during this time is all about. There is always something to be thankful for, whether you’re the one able to give or the one fortunate enough to receive.

Ovations executive chef Jason Westerfield shares cooking stories and Thanksgiving recipes

Please note the Thanksgiving recipes are listed at the bottom of this blog entry.

Minor League Baseball is synonymous with a lot of things, but something that truly sticks out on a yearly basis is the variety of food one can find at concession stands throughout the country. This past year at Chukchansi Park, the “Grizzly Eggs” were the one-of-a-kind item you couldn’t find anywhere else. A brainstorm from Fresno Grizzlies Director of Marketing Sam Hansen, Ovations executive chef Jason Westerfield experimented with the original recipe and was able to produce the cream-cheese filled deviled eggs, which were wrapped in bacon, baked in an oven and then drizzled with buffalo sauce. The item was so popular that it landed on the front page of the Fresno Bee before anyone ever tasted it. Non-traditional moments like those are what Minor League Baseball marketing professionals live for, and in turn, those ideas help expand the expectations fans have when it comes to a culinary creation they can enjoy at a baseball game. While the Grizzlies are currently in the midst of the offseason, Ovations Food Services and executive chef Jason Westerfield are currently brainstorming ways to blend a Texas flavor into the Chukchansi Park menu for 2015. We recently caught up with Jason to talk about where that process currently is, get his background in cooking, as well as pull a few Thanksgiving recipes from him that people could easily execute for the holiday.

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Ovations at Chukchansi Park executive chef Jason Westerfield

Q: With the Fresno Grizzlies now being the Triple-A affiliate of the Houston Astros, are there any Texas elements coming to the concession stands in 2015?

Jason Westerfield: I definitely have some ideas. Everything is bigger in Texas, so it’s really about going over the top on what’s trending. You see giant hot dogs or corn dogs, so you may see us load one of those with caramelized onions and velveeta cheese to make it bigger and better. Texas barbecue is also huge, and we’re looking at creating our own signature sauce that will include some local Fresno chili peppers.

Q: Obviously cooking comes a little more naturally to you than others. Where do you get your cooking inspiration from?

JW: The internet is a huge resource for me. At this point, I wouldn’t say anyone is reinventing the wheel, but they’re putting a new spin on old, traditional foods. One of the things I wanted to come up with was a sweet potato ravioli with a nutmeg and sage cream. Nothing came up on an internet search with those ingredients, but a pumpkin ravioli did, which helped me formulate my sweet potato recipe a littler better.

Q: Your earliest cooking memories go back how far?

JW: Wow… probably when I was 10 or 11 helping out my grandmother and mother in the kitchen. I started out learning the simple tricks, such as the correct way to peel a tomato. As the years went by, I would be asked to take care of a certain dish.

Q: Did they play any tricks on you in those early years?

JW: The first time I cut an onion I remember asking my mom why I was crying…

Q: So when did you begin cooking professionally?

JW: In high school I washed dishes for Marie Callender’s Restaurant and Bakery, then moved on to bus tables and then decided I wanted to cook. I started out prepping, then shifted to Olive Garden where I went from prep, to line cook, to line trainer and eventually corporate trainer. After that, I moved to Monterrey (Calif.) and worked at Pebble Beach. From there, I helped open up Roy’s Restaurant in Spanish Bay.

Q: What were some learning experiences you had at Roy’s?

JW: Well, that was really the pinnacle of transition from an ordinary cook to becoming a chef. Roy really pressed us to create new things on the menu. If I was working the appetizer station, I was tasked with the normal appetizers and then I had to create three custom appetizers from scratch. You couldn’t repeat any of your custom dishes, so it made you think ahead two or three days in advance. It was a constant science experiment in the kitchen.

Q: Bet that got your creative juices going!

JW: Exactly. It was a Euro-Asian fusion style we did, which is now my forte. It takes traditional Asian ingredients, but adds in European cooking techniques.

Q: How did you make your way from Monterrey to Fresno?

JW: I moved on to help open up Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino, then moved north up to Oroville (Calif.) and ran Gold Country Casino. Both of those places broadened my experience in other cuisines, considering there are different style restaurants you have to account for. I remember having a couple hundred different finger food desserts, which was a lot of fun to brainstorm and execute.

Q: Yum! Well, speaking about all of this food and with Thanksgiving rapidly approaching, what’s a favorite memory you have that deals with the meal that was on the table when you were younger?

JW: What I remember most was my mother doing a different theme for Thanksgiving each year. We went to Williamsburg one year and ended up cooking oyster dumplings and all of those old school recipes from the 1700s. Another year she had visited San Luis Obispo and the Apple Farm Inn, so we did an apple theme with chicken apple sausage, apple fritters, and apple pie.

Q: You have a little bit of your own theme for us here. What recipes have you concocted that a person could use for Thanksgiving this year?

JW: I was able to take the traditional elements of Thanksgiving and put a little different spin on it. I wrote up a few of the recipes to share (shown below), and they’re simple enough for people to follow and execute for their Thanksgiving supper. I did a butter and herb roasted turkey, turkey gravy with giblets, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, a citrus ginger cranberry sauce, and a pumpkin crème brule.

chef_wordpressThe recipe creations at their completion. Please review the time needed for each recipe if you are going to use them on Thanksgiving. This will help you line up all of the dishes so they are ready to serve at the same time.

All recipes courtesy of Ovations at Chukchansi Park executive chef Jason Westerfield.

BUTTER AND HERB ROASTED TURKEY

This recipe has been tailored for a 10-12 pound turkey

Cook time: 3.5 hours

One pound softened unsalted butter

¼ cup minced Rosemary

¼ cup minced Sage

¼ cup minced Garlic

Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

Let butter soften to room temperature. Then, combine the butter, rosemary, sage, and garlic in a mixing bowl. Once incorporated, rub the compound butter in between the skin and the breast meat saving enough to coat the outside of the turkey. Place the turkey in a roasting pan with a rack, pour three (3) cups of water in the bottom of the pan, and cover with foil. Cook in the for roughly 3.5 hours at 325 degrees. When the turkey has an internal temperature of 150 degrees, remove foil and brown the turkey until the internal temp reaches 165. Remove from the oven and let it rest while you finish the gravy.

TURKEY GRAVY WITH GIBLETS

Cook time: Roughly 80 minutes

Giblets from the Turkey

2 tbsp Butter

½ cup diced onion

½ cup diced carrot

½ cup diced celery

1 tbsp minced garlic

1 teas Italian seasoning

4 cups of water

Turkey drippings

3 tbsp flour

Salt and Pepper to taste

In a two-quart sauce pan, melt butter over medium high heat, then add the onion, carrots, and celery. Sweat for one-minute, then add the garlic and sauté for another minute or so. Add the water to the pan along with the giblets (including the neck). Bring stock to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer for about an hour. Remove the neck, giblits and set aside. Strain the stock into another pan and set aside.

I advise that you remove as much of the neck meat as you can and fine chop along with the rest of the giblets. When the turkey is done, remove it to a serving platter and let rest while finishing the gravy. Skim as much fat as you can from the drippings into the gravy, then add the rest to the previous stock. Add the chopped giblets to the stock, and return to the heat. Combine 3 tblsp of flour with a ¼ cup of cold water. Bring the stock to a boil and drizzle in the flour mix while whisking quickly. Let it thicken for about a minute, then it is ready to serve.

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ROASTED GARLIC MASHED POTATOES

This recipe has been tailored for a 5 pound bag of russet

Cook time: Roughly 25 minutes

1 cup Roasted Garlic Chopped

2 tbsp minced Garlic

2 cup Heavy Cream

8 oz Unsalted Butter

Salt and White pepper to taste

Peel and cut potatoes into one inch cubes. Combine in a pot with enough water to cover the potatoes, then add the minced garlic. Boil until soft (about 15 minutes), then drain water off of the potatoes and return to the heat for one minute to get rid of any excess water. This will keep the potatoes fluffy. In a sauce pan, add the heavy cream and butter and heat until butter is melted. Once hot, add the cream mixture and the chopped garlic to the potatoes. Mash the potatoes with a potato masher or a whisk. Add the salt and pepper to taste.

CITRUS GINGER CRANBERRY SAUCE

Video Demonstration

Cook time: Roughly 10 minutes

1 bag Fresh Cranberries

6 medium Oranges (3 for segments, 3 for juice)

½ cup Brown Sugar

Juice from 3 oranges

½ cup water

Zest of 1 orange

¼ cup minced ginger

1 teas Vanilla Extract

Zest one orange and finely mince. Peel that orange and two others with a knife. Cut out segments from between the membrane of the orange, set aside. Juice the other three oranges and add to a sauce pan along with the water, brown sugar, orange zest, and ginger. Bring the mix to a simmer, then add the cranberries and vanilla. Let simmer until it thickens and have reached a jam consistency. Fold in the orange segments and serve.

PUMPKIN CRÈME BRULE

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees

Overall time: 5 hours (4 of which to refrigerate)

8 Egg Yolks

¾ cup sugar

3 cup Heavy Cream

¾ cup canned pumpkin

2 Vanilla Beans Seeded + 1 teas Vanilla Extract

1 teas Pumpkin Pie Spice

Topping

1 ½ cup heavy cream

3 tbsp sugar

1 teas cinnamon

Combine sugar and egg yolks into a mixing bowl. Bring the cream and vanilla beans just to a boil, then remove. Drizzle in small amounts of cream into the egg/sugar mix to temper the eggs (about 1 cup). Return the egg mixture back to into the sauce pan. On low heat, add the pumpkin and the vanilla extract to incorporate well. Divide mix between 8 – 6oz ramekins or custard dishes. Place on a baking sheet with a water bath. Bake at 325 for about 25 until the middle is just set (should jiggle a little). Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes, then refrigerate for about four hours. When ready to serve, sprinkle with a ½ tbsp sugar to cover the top and caramelize with a torch or under the broiler. WATCH closely so you don’t burn them.

For the topping, whip the cream and sugar together until stiff peaks. Fold in the cinnamon.

Dollop the topping on the Crème Brule and serve.

Hope you enjoy! Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Veterans Day from a Veteran Perspective

This entry is written by Ryan Young, communications manager for the Fresno Grizzlies and Iraq War veteran. The thoughts and opinions reflect his personal journey during a day where we reflect on all service members that have served in the US Military.

Today is the first Veterans Day where I woke up and broke down in tears.

I couldn’t tell you exactly why, but my mind was frozen on all of the men and women I served with during my two combat tours to Iraq with the 3-187 Iron Rakkasans Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division.Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 7.24.15 PMMe just one week into my first deployment in 2006 (Samarra, Iraq)

The feeling of isolation was strong as my eyes welled up standing inside my downtown Fresno loft. There aren’t too many times where I freeze my thoughts on the time I spent in the military. I told myself when I was honorably discharged in 2009 that if I focused on it, or continued to talk about it, that I wouldn’t progress into a successful civilian career. Right or wrong, it’s the story I told myself through the experiences I had witnessed.

So from 2009 until late 2013, I plugged away at earning a college degree (graduated Cum Laude from Loyola Chicago) and acquired as much “real world” experience in the sports field as possible through internships and volunteer opportunities. However, it wasn’t until interviewing and eventually accepting a full-time job with the Fresno Grizzlies in the fall of 2013 that I was actually asked what my military service actually did for me.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 7.23.12 PMIraqi children I photographed on patrol outside of Yusifiyah, Iraq in 2007

Before that question from the Grizzlies, my military service was more of a talking point for a generic “Thank You” than an opportunity to understand what four-and-a-half years spent in the United States Army meant to my development and maturation as a person. Believe me, I tried to express its worth, but I often felt people took it as a novelty instead of something that actually truly shaped who I was.

At times, I went so far as to actually erase my military service from my resume, because I believed it became more of a detriment. Coincidentally, I made it through to an in-person interview twice during that span…

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 7.22.36 PMCapturing our mortar team during action in 2008 (Rushdi Mullah, Iraq)

My initial struggle to adapt to civilian life is similar to a lot of current veterans, but I do feel fortunate to be where I am today. In speaking with people I served with and veterans as far back as the Vietnam War, there are a variety of invisible challenges that are faced. Every service member has dealt with them differently. Personally, I’ve seen my friends get divorced, incarcerated, become addicted to alcohol, fail at going to college, and struggle to maintain jobs. However, I’ve also seen plenty of success stories of veterans starting their own business, graduating college, sometimes rejoining the military, or even heading into politics. And those that met the struggles have been able to fight through them and turn their life around.

During my two combat tours, one to Samarra, and the other to the Triangle of Death, my imagination went wild in the moments of solitude as I pictured where my life would be after the military. Most everyone who has been deployed to combat knows this, but the only moments of personal time come while taking a No. 2, the hours you’re given guard rotation, or the few minutes before passing out on your bed due to sheer exhaustion. On one cool evening at Patrol Base Shanghai in 2007, I distinctly remember smoking a “Miami” cigarette and silently hoping I would survive the deployment to make it to a moment of reflection like the one I’m writing about right now.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 7.21.03 PMLuis Duenas, Dusty Schmit, Matt Adams, Me (Iraq, 2008)

Now, five years removed from being an infantryman in the Iron Rakkasans, I realize how much the United States Army has made me who I am today. It’s provided lessons that a college curriculum could only hope for, and it’s given me a mix of friends and acquaintances that I am proud to have served with.

Below is the first journal entry I made into a book I kept throughout my service. It was written on April 11, 2006 from an airbase in Kuwait, mere hours away from boarding a C-130 to Baghdad with fellow soldiers I had next to nothing in common with outside of the fact we had all sworn the same oath.

“Looking back to [2005] I now chuckle that I find myself in Kuwait on the brink of cementing myself in the Iraq War. The breeze continues to throw our tent and it’s almost as if I feel innocence in the rain that’s falling. On the plane over here, I had a feeling of innocence in a tragic sense. I know I will feel guilt and hurt while doing my time here. I just hope my innocence won’t get lost along the way. Despite my mind continuing to flip feelings, I still believe I’m as ready as I’ll ever be for this. As long as my mind stays in it the physical parts will be easier. Now… I’m just waiting for the 2030 meeting to give us some insight on our flight to Baghdad.”

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 7.32.11 PMOn patrol along a road near the Euphrates River

On a day like today, I’m proud to be in the veteran family that’s grown to almost 20 million. I thank my family, friends, fellow soldiers and the Fresno Grizzlies for where I’ve been able to take my dreams.

Ryan Young | Fresno Grizzlies Communications Manager

Inside the Core: Andrew Milios

MiliosTop“Inside the Core” is a month-long interview series with members of the Fresno Grizzlies front office. Each interview will be unique in its own way and provide a glimpse into the path each member has forged on their way to working for the club.

Q: When did you move to California from your birthplace in Arizona?

Andrew Milios: I moved to California when I was only about four or five years old.

Q: Where did you attend high school in the area?

AM: I went to Woodcreek High School, which is in Roseville, and about 20 minutes north of Sacramento.

Q: What types of extra-curricular activities did you get involved with?

AM: I always loved to participate in sports, but I mainly loved to play baseball.

Q: What positions did you play?

AM: In baseball I pitched and also played outfield.

Q: Did you have a favorite baseball player or team?

AM: To be honest I can’t say that I have ever had a favorite baseball player. However, I have always been a die-hard Giants fan. My dad is from the Bay Area so he kind of taught us the ways of the orange and black.

Q: What would you say your favorite childhood memory was?

AM: Just getting to go to baseball games with the family. We all love baseball. We did tailgating, the whole nine. We grew up going to Candlestick Park so it was dirty and freezing cold, but that’s what I remember about going. We used to either tailgate or bring in our own food, because you could do that back then.

Q: What was your first part-time job?

AM: I was a busser at a restaurant in the Sacramento area. I started bussing tables, then I changed over to retail, and I also did construction. After that I became a server for the quick easy money in college.

Q: What did you see yourself doing right after high school?

AM: Going to college. It wasn’t even really a second thought; just wanted to go to college and delay getting a real job as long as possible (laughs).

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Q: You graduated from Cal State Monterey Bay, what was your major?

AM: Communications. I had no idea what I wanted to do so it was either business or communications. Business had too much math and I am not good at math so I stuck with communications.

Q: Tell us about your college experience there.

AM: Go Otters! I enjoyed college a lot. I took full advantage of being in college in all aspects. I made sure I focused on school and got my degree, but I also enjoyed the other parts of college life, the friends, parties, and social aspects. Baseball was an important part of college for me and I really enjoyed playing through my last year of school.

Q: How was it living in the Bay Area for that time in your life?

AM: It was awesome. We were right on the beach. I grew up in the suburbs, then for junior college I lived up in the mountains at a town with only 5,000 people, and then I moved over to Monterey. In coming (to Fresno) and having lived in Arizona out in the desert, I’ve pretty much covered all types of landscapes.

Q: What was it like moving to Fresno after being in a coastal area?

AM: Hot. It was really hot, but I don’t mind it. You make of it what you will. If you look at the bad, that’s what you’re going to get out of it. If you practice looking at the good things in life, the good places and the good people, you can live anywhere, no matter how hot or cold.

Q: Did you consider anyone a role model in your life?

AM: Not one person specifically, just mainly my family. Everyone kind of played their role and had a part in my life, but the closest would be my mom, dad, and sister. They were always good examples and no matter what I did they were there to support me.

Q: Is your wife from the Fresno area?

AM: No, actually she’s from Quincy, which is a town of 5,000 people. She was going to junior college there and so was I. After that, she went to San Luis Obispo and I went to Monterey to finish school. She moved to Fresno after my first year with the Grizzlies.

Q: Where did you two meet?

AM: A mutual friend introduced us at a fundraiser in college. I remember before I really knew her seeing her at college football games and parties, too.

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Q: Since baseball has played a large role in your life, what was it like taking your one-year-old daughter to her first baseball game?

AM: She was all over the place! The baseball game kind of became something else; it really wasn’t about the game at that point. It was fun for my wife and I because we both love baseball and we plan on bringing our kids to a lot of games. It kind of goes back to me with my family and enjoying time together at the baseball stadium. We love the noise, the smells, the good stuff and bad stuff. For a parent, those ‘firsts’ are what you always remember. The first San Francisco Giants game with our daughter we spent more time walking around the park than actually watching the game. I put her on the big Coca-Cola slide and I went down with her because she was too little to go on her own.

Q: So you’d like to continue the baseball tradition with your kids?

AM: Yes, definitely. Hopefully our daughter will like sports, but whatever she’s passionate about we will support. As long as we’re together as a family that’s all that really matters. As she gets older it will be more about the game and what’s going on down on the field, but until that time it’s more or less just getting her acclimated to the baseball environment and trying to have her love the game like we do.

Q: What is something that you like to do on your own free time now?

AM: It’s all family. Whether it’s going to the park or going out to eat. We do a lot of play dates and going out to other kids’ birthday parties. It seems like there is something going on every weekend. We like going on walks over at Woodward Park (North Fresno), to the playground, or the dog park. All free time outside of work is devoted to time with the kid, the wife, and other extended family when they’re in town.

Q: Being a devoted family man, did you envision still being around baseball at this point in your life?

AM: Well I was hoping it would be as a player (laughs). I found out pretty early on that I was going to be able to maybe play some college ball and that was about it. I didn’t even think about working in baseball for a job.

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Q: How do you like overseeing sales for the Grizzlies?

AM: I love it. I love the people I work with and dealing with the community around us. We’re working for the most part with people who love baseball. When you find people who have a common interest as you do it makes it easier to come to work every day. A bad day here is better than most good days somewhere else. Hopefully I can do this the rest of my life, but if that’s not the case, I’ll be very sad if I ever have to leave this type of environment. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Q: If there’s something that you could leave behind what would that be?

AM: I definitely don’t have an exact motto I live by; I simply try to enjoy what I do. I think that in everything you do, you will get out of it what you put in to it. If you’re really going to commit to something, go all in and you will get that in return. If you half-ass it, you’re going to get that kind of result. You can take that to any job I think.

Q: If you can use one word to describe yourself, what would it be?

AM: I would really have to say goofy. I mean there are plenty of times where I will get serious because the job needs to get done. Some things aren’t always nice or happy, but I’m lighthearted and I just try to enjoy what I do and the people I work with as much as possible. Again, this may not be forever so you want to enjoy it.

Q: We noticed you’ve been recognized with a few awards for your accomplishments. Which one has meant the most?

A: I’ve received a few recognitions, but I’d probably point to Business Street “40 under 40.” That meant a lot to me. My big thing is whether I am here for another 50 years or five, I’d like to leave this place as successful as possible. You don’t stick around for as long as you have and gone through some of the things (the Grizzlies) have gone through without being committed and all in. I think there are a couple of us that have pretty much thrown our name in the hat and it’s staying there for a while. We’re going to make sure we leave this place better than when we got here.

Inside the Core: Chris Wilson

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“Inside the Core” is a month-long interview series with members of the Fresno Grizzlies front office. Each interview will be unique in its own way and provide a glimpse into the path each member has forged on their way to working for the club. 

Q: Having lived in Fresno since you were born, have you ever been tempted to change locations?

CW: Yes, I actually have. Following my last position in education back in 2012, I left for an internship with the San Jose Sabercats of the Arena Football League. I got a job within the football operations department where I basically did the job of a scout at their training facility. I studied film of incoming players or players who had been cut from NFL Rosters. I did that for three months until I got called for a full-time job back here with the Fresno Grizzlies.

Q: How did you feel about coming back to Fresno?

CW: It was bittersweet to be honest, because I was looking for that experience to branch out and try something new. But, it also felt good knowing that I was returning to a good support system. I had interned at Grizzlies in 2011 so it was very familiar coming back.

Q: What about Fresno resonates with you the most?

CW: Family. I have a relatively small family so I’ve always looked to my group of friends as my extended family. Fresno for me has always been home. Also, I think Fresno State is a big factor in my life because I’m an alumnus there and it’s a big sense of pride. I was the first person to graduate high school from my mother’s side of the family and the first person to graduate college from either side.

Q: Who was your hero growing up?

CW: My dad as far as family goes. He was a humble, hardworking guy. He was a mechanic his whole life and worked two jobs at times to support the family. I think my work ethic and humility come from him. On the flip-side my grandfather on my mom’s side was the sports nut. He was the one who followed baseball and all types of sports. He inspired my competitive nature and ultimately got me really into sports.

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Q: As a kid, what did you think you’d grow up to be?

CW: As a kid, actually other than sports, I was addicted to marine biology. I always wanted to swim with Shamu or something. I loved the Monterey Bay Aquarium and I wanted to work with animals in the ocean. I had a passion for being close to the beach.

Q: Can you describe your best childhood memory?

CW: When I was about 13 years old I got to go on an RV trip from Fresno all the way to Galveston, Texas with my grandparents and two cousins. For 33 days I was in a motorhome traveling across the United States. It was my first time out of California. The highlight of the entire trip was getting to visit NASA in Houston. It really inspired all of the creative juices that got me into wanting to further my life and education.

Q: Where did you go to high school?

CW: I went to Edison High School (Fresno, Calif). I was in a program called G.A.T.E., which stood for Gifted and Talented Education.

Q: Did you participate in any extracurricular activities?

CW: Yes, I played football and baseball all the way through high school. I also participated in journalism briefly with the student newspaper writing for the sports section my sophomore and junior year. I started working at the age of 16 at Carl’s Jr. so there wasn’t much time for anything else.

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Q: How would you describe your college experience?

CW: I had a different college experience than most. Out of high school I thought I was done with school. I went to the military briefly and I was medically separated. I came back and started working. Then I decided a couple of years later that I needed to go back to school. I didn’t start college until I was 21, but I was really honed in on what I was trying to accomplish. I didn’t do a lot of partying or anything like that. I really got in the zone with school and not only completed my bachelors, but also received my masters degree in a little over five years.

Q: Is it right you initially pursued a kinesiology major before switching majors?

CW: I started college thinking that I was going to do something in the field of pharmacy. That quickly changed after I took a couple classes. From there, I wanted to get into physical therapy. I always had a passion or interest in the medical field. I thought it would be a fun, good-paying job. I started doing kinesiology and after two years of doing exercise science, I decided that my mind was more business and people savvy than scientific, so I switched to sports administration. That allowed me to be comfortable and more me.

Q: What encouraged you to get your graduate degree?

CW: I always knew that I wanted to pursue something beyond a bachelors degree when I was in college. I think a bachelors degree is not as powerful as it once was. Another reason is I felt once I started working in the industry, I would be so consumed that I probably wouldn’t have time go back and get it later. I have always had a passion for education. I worked in education before sports for about six years and having the ability to go back and teach is something I now have the ability to do.

Q: Now a little removed from college, did you ever imagine yourself in the position you’re in now?

CW: Yea, I think so. The moment that I committed to a sports administration degree I knew that I was going to do something in sports. I didn’t know exactly what, but I always felt passion of working with the game, athletes, a coaching staff, things like that.

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Q: As you move forward, what are some goals you’ve set for yourself?

CW: I think baseball or sport operations is the career field I want to go into, so I really want to work towards learning that craft, and hopefully get into a position where I can progress to Director of Baseball Operations. This season is my first year as baseball operations coordinator so right now it’s really about learning the lingo, the trade, and getting used to how everything runs.

Q: What are you most looking forward to in your new role as Baseball Operations Coordinator where your main duty will be Visiting Clubhouse Manager?

CW: For me, it’s learning. I have a dedication to learning and I believe this isn’t the last stop on my road. I think that learning the ins and outs of this job is very important for my future. I’m really excited about what my role will be like a few years down the road.

Q: What is your favorite part about your job?

CW: This is tough, because I love my job but I would say my favorite part is the fact of getting to be around sports every day. I think there’s something special about sports beyond what’s between the lines. Being around the atmosphere is rewarding, but it can also be very consuming with your life and a lot of times you have to spend long hours, long nights, and early mornings around work. There’s no 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.  that’s for sure. You have to try and squeeze in time with family and friends as best you can.

Q: Any experiences that shaped who you are?

A: There is one thing. I did a lot of coaching and my very first season coaching I did really bad. My teams weren’t very good. I coached my first football team and I think we only won one game. The following season I coached basketball and I ended up breaking my arm in practice. That basketball season we finished the season 21-5. There’s just something humbling about getting knocked down and then being able to pick yourself up by the boot straps and come back and still be a leader. So I think as far as my career goes I think one of my strongest traits is being a leader.

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Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

CW: I still love to participate in sports. I play indoor soccer currently and in the past I’ve played in a baseball league. I still often play basketball, football, and also lift weights and stay active.

Q: If you were to describe yourself in one word what would it be?

A: Confident

Q: What is a quote that resonates with you?

CW: “Success is not final, failure is never fatal, but its courage that counts.” – Winston Churchill. It’s a quote that reminds me, do not get to high on your successes, don’t get too low on your failures, and just be brave and have courage.

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