By: Chris Kutz
When a Minor League team hits the road, the traveling party consists of players, the manager, the pitching coach, the hitting coach, maybe a roving instructor or two, the strength and conditioning coach, the athletic trainer and the radio broadcaster.
The group of around 30 takes early morning flights and late-night bus rides to move on to their next series of games. Needless to say, Minor Leaguers would love to experience the luxury a Major League travel itinerary brings with it (i.e. less 3:45 am alarms, more leg room on charter flights, etc.).
The voice of the Grizzlies, Doug Greenwald, is not one to look past the travel inconveniences. For the month of March, Greenwald calls the San Francisco Giants’ Spring Training games via webcasts. While in Arizona, he does the least amount of traveling he does all year.
“The longest ‘trip’ in spring training for me is from Scottsdale to Surprise. That’s maybe 55 minutes. Get in the car, and go,” said Greenwald. “During the PCL season we generally have to be at the Fresno Airport by four a.m. for a six a.m. flight, and play a game that night (sometimes in Nashville or New Orleans). Or be on a bus for a handful of hours, get into Fresno in the wee hours, and play that night.”
Once the Grizzlies season ends in September, he heads up to the Bay Area as well as across the nation.
“I spend time in San Francisco with my family, and go to the big league games at AT&T Park. I will also take that time to unwind, do some traveling on my own,” said Greenwald.
“I’m a huge college basketball fan. That’s always been my second love behind baseball. I will go around the country, and watch college hoops.
“This season I saw games everywhere from Fullerton to Burlington, Vermont to Troy, Alabama. I have seen in person NCAA Division I basketball games in 48 states (including Washington, DC). The only states where I have missed in this category are Wisconsin, and Montana. I hope to complete my cycle next basketball season.”
March becomes quite a busy month for Greenwald with the college basketball season kicking into full madness and the baseball season launching one more time. Greenwald doesn’t mind, however. With 2012 being the seventh season he has broadcasted Cactus League games, Greenwald is used to an action-packed March at this point.
Since 2006, Greenwald has called San Francisco Giants’ Spring Training games on SFGiants.com. Greenwald and the Giants were one of the first Major League teams to offer their fans the chance to catch the Spring games.
“[The idea of Spring Training webcasts] was proposed by Jon Miller,” said Greenwald. “I went up one day to say hello to him at AT&T Park in September of 2005. He knew that since I was broadcasting for Fresno, it was a good role for me, and the Giants were to have every spring training game aired one way or another”
Up until 2005, the Giants’ Spring Training games were only broadcasted on KNBR on the weekends.
“By only doing games on the weekends, it was almost as if fans lost track of the team during the weekdays. By doing them on the web now, every pitch (one way or another) of Spring Training is heard,” said Greenwald.
With Greenwald’s familiarity of the Giants farm system, calling Cactus League games became an easy transition for him. Most of the players, including late-inning substitutes, had either passed through Fresno at one point or were well on their way to the Triple-A level.
Providing webcasts of Giants’ Spring Training games gives Greenwald a Spring Training of his own as he gets up to 18 games before the regular season’s first pitch. It also provides him the opportunity to interact with listeners, something he does all season long with the Grizzlies.
“[T]he biggest benefit [of Spring Training] is hearing from the fans, the positive reaction the games on the web have been, as we get e-mails from all over the world. It is amazing to reach out to folks in California, Germany, Denmark, all over, who follow the club.”
“There was an e-mail from a fan listening in a hospital in Australia. We thanked him over the web for his note, and he sent an e-mail back saying we made his day by responding to him, and wishing him well. A half world away, yet the pushing of a send key made it felt like we were with him in his room.”
The voice of the Grizzlies, once again, was making a day happier for one listener at a time. This time, at least, he didn’t have to travel far to reach them.
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.
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.”
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
By: Josh Jackson
The 2011 season for the Fresno Grizzlies started with a complete turnover in the starting rotation from the 2010 season. With departures from pitchers like World Series Game 4 winner Madison Bumgarner and Grizzlies’ wins leader Eric Hacker, fans were not sure what to expect from the starting rotation this season. It was eventually decided that the ace for the Grizzlies would be journeyman Ryan Vogelsong.
Vogelsong turned in an impressive start for the Grizzlies on Opening Day against the Las Vegas 51’s. The 12-year veteran tossed 5.2 innings of three hit ball, giving up only one earned run, striking out nine batters, earning the win in the process. His next start against the Tacoma Rainiers on April 12th was almost an identical performance. Once again, Vogelsong went 5.2 innings, gave up only one earned run, fanned eight batters, and earned his second consecutive win. It would be his last appearance in a Grizzlies uniform before being called up to the San Francisco Giants on April 17th.
The North Carolina native was originally drafted by the Giants in the fifth round of the 1998 Major League Baseball Draft. Vogelsong eventually made his Major League debut with San Francisco on September 2, 2000, where he pitched a 1-2-3 inning of relief against the Chicago Cubs. He was not able to earn a spot in the rotation though, and in 2001, was assigned to the minor leagues where he made his debut with the Fresno Grizzlies. His first start in Fresno was on Opening Day against the Iowa Cubs, where he pitched 6.0 innings of one hit ball in a no decision. Vogelsong was traded later that year to the Houston Astros organization, and traded once again to the Pittsburgh Pirates at season’s end.
Vogelsong put together his longest Major League stint with the Pirates from the middle of the 2003 season through the middle of the 2006 season. During that stretch, Vogelsong compiled a lackluster 10-17 record with a 5.87 ERA. He was sent back down to AAA Indianapolis in 2006 and was released from the Pirates at the end of the season.
His next three seasons would be spent in the Japanese League, pitching for the Hanshin Tigers and Orix Buffaloes. It was not until last season when he made his return to the states. He made 7 starts (25 appearances) with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (PHI), compiling a 2-5 record with a 4.91 ERA. Later in the season, Vogelsong would return to the PCL, pitching for the Salt Lake Bees (LAA), going 1-3 with a 4.66 ERA in 7 starts (8 appearances).
Considering the multitude of struggles and obstacles he has had to face throughout his career, Vogelsong is experiencing no such thing in 2011. During his time with the Giants this season, Vogelsong has been nothing short of dominant. One of his more notable starts was on April 14th at Chicago (NL), where he pitched six innings of shutout ball in what would turn out to be a complete game. The contest was called due to rain.
He also turned in a 6.1 inning, one hit performance against Colorado on May 8th in a winning effort. As of this article, the tall right-hander is 3-0 with a 1.93 ERA with the Giants. Vogelsong has also not given up an earned run in 18.1 innings as of this article. He is, at least from a statistical standpoint, the best pitcher for the Giants so far this season on a star-studded pitching staff.
Vogelsong will look to continue his remarkable start to the season on May 26th against the Florida Marlins at AT&T Park. Make sure to keep an eye on this veteran as the season progresses. Perhaps he is the next Grizzlies alumn to do big things at the Major League level.
Photo Credit: Don Davis Photography