Tagged: Opening Day

43 Days Till Opening Day

43 Days Till Opening Day

Hector Sanchez wore #43 for the Grizzlies in 2011 when the catcher made his Triple-A debut. The Venezuelan (pictured above with Nick Noonan) played in 46 games with the Grizzlies in ’11, batting .261 with 26 RBIs.

Sanchez also played for the Grizzlies in 2012 on MLB Rehab assignment.

He is one of the 17 of the 25 Giants on the 2012 World Series roster who has also played for the Grizzlies in their careers.

Opening Day is April 4th at Chukchansi Park.

10-For-10: Rich Palmer & Claudia Loyear

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 grizzliesmedia@fresnogrizzlies.com.

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.

Mr. and Mrs. Rich Palmer at their wedding reception last weekend.

“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.

Parker puts his stamp of approval on the weekend's festivities.

“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.

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

Grizzlies Alumni Report: Ryan Vogelsong

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 

Pressed? Word.

By: Noah Frank

If things look a little different around Yard Work these days, it’s because we (along with the rest of the MLB blog world) have made the switch over to Word Press. While the new platform offers a lot of great new options for us, it is also exposing my rudimentary HTML skills for what they are. So forgive us if it takes a couple weeks to get all of our archives updated so they all look pretty. You know, we’ve got that whole Opening Day thing coming up, so we’re kinda busy.

In the meantime, we’ll have the next 10-for-10 for you tomorrow, and plenty of great stuff once the season starts. If you’re not already following us on Facebook, make sure to like us to have a chance to win great Prizes From Parker now through April 7th. That’s all for now…

Spring Training: Day 1 Recap

By: Noah Frank

After a flight delay, a missed connection and a rental car line that looked more like the wait for an amusement park rollercoaster, I finally stumbled into Scottsdale Stadium unfashionably late. Of course, arriving in the bottom of the second inning of a Dodger game is pretty much par for the course, just not for the Giants.

The packed house of 12,081 (a new Scottsdale Stadium record, evidently) was fairly laid-back, coming to life only for home runs from Cody Ross and Pat Burrell, and a standing ovation as Brian Wilson entered the game to pitch a 1-2-3 sixth inning in relief. The Giants
ran out a starting nine very close to what they may well showcase against these
same Dodgers on Opening Day in a couple weeks:

scottsdale_berm.JPG

Torres CF
Sanchez 2B
Huff 1B
Posey C
Tejada SS
Burrell LF
Ross RF
DeRosa 3B
Ishikawa DH
Runzler LHP

Of course, there will be no DH, and Tim Lincecum will be toeing the rubber for the defending World Champs, but otherwise it looks pretty close.

By the seventh inning, however, that Opening Day lineup was all but departed from the field, leaving something that looks a lot like what Grizzlies fans will see at Chukchansi Park on April 7th. At that point, the Giants had Jackson Williams behind the plate, Brandon Belt at first, Emmanuel Burriss at second, Conor Gillaspie at third, Brandon Crawford at shortstop and Thomas Neal in left field. While that may be a projection into the future for Giants fans, it was very much a picture of the present for the Grizzlies.

Gillaspie made a nice play at the plate to gun down a runner trying to score from third on a ground ball, but later committed an error that opened the flood gates on reliever Javier Lopez, leading to a four-run inning for the Dodgers. Only one of the four runs was unearned, though, as the Dodgers turned a 6-3 deficit into a 7-6 advantage. But the Giants survived a double-play ball from Williams in the ninth and compiled a two-out, two-run rally to send the crowd home happy with an 8-7 win.

Hopefully I’ll get a closer look at our future Grizzlies today as the Giants take on Texas out in Surprise. I’ll also hopefully have some audio from Steve Decker (whoI ran into while checking in to the hotel) on his thoughts so far this spring and for the upcoming season.

(Photo: Scottsdale Stadium from behind the berm in right-center field)

The Social Network

By: Noah Frank

So yes, the
title of this post is obviously a play on the upcoming Academy Awards and the
favorite in the Best Picture category. But did you know that the Grizzlies have
been at the forefront of the social media push in Minor League Baseball? Thanks
to you, our great fans, we have become one of the leaders in followers, as it
were, and we’re continuing our push to lead the way in social media.

A few weeks
ago I was scanning through our social media sites and realized that the
Grizzlies Official Twitter Account was within a few dozen people of cracking
5,000 followers. As I browsed the rest of the Pacific Coast League teams’
accounts, I found that we were 

5000twitter.jpg

leading the pack (albeit narrowly), but had the
best chance of cracking the milestone mark first. It was one of those
opportunities that I didn’t want to waste, or let slip by.

I converged
with our marketing department and we secured two tickets to our Hot Stove Gala
to give away to one of our followers. While that was a nice incentive for one
winner, I wanted the chance to reward all of our followers for the community
they have become. So, we worked with our tickets department to create an
awesome Opening Weekend Package full of special perks, unique to this offer.
Plus, we got a great price exclusively for our Twitter following.

We rolled
out a press release exclusively through Twitter, directing people back to our
website for the special ticket offer. The idea of using Twitter as the
exclusive platform for a press release was intriguing, as it was something that
we had never done before, and that I hadn’t heard of others doing either. Sure,
people often will include a link to a release that has been put out to the
public, but a Twitter exclusive?

We pushed
the message out on a Friday morning, attempting to reach the plateau before the
weekend. We crept along much of the day, inching closer and closer, then caught
fire and skyrocketed past the 5,000 mark. Thanks to some publicity, both local
and national, we pushed through and have possibly ignited a friendly social
media competition with our 

social_network.jpg

neighbors to the north up in Reno. The Aces have the
second largest Twitter following in the league and are the only team ahead of
us in Facebook followers as of the writing of this post.

While we’re
thrilled to be the first to reach the 5K followers mark on Twitter, we still
have a push to make to hit the 15,000 fans mark on Facebook (and catch Reno).
So, we’ll be rolling out a number of Facebook-only offers in the weeks leading
up to Opening Day. If you aren’t already a “fan” on Facebook, make sure you
“like” us
and spread the word to all your friends.

This is your
chance to have a dialogue with us about how to make the Grizzlies the best
organization for Fresno. This is your team, after all. Tell us what kinds of
offers you want to have us put out there, what will help you better enjoy your
Grizzlies experience.

Oh, by the
way, there are just 41 days left until Opening Day. Get excited!