Nick Noonan collected three hits and two RBI in the Giants’ final Spring Training game in Arizona this year, only improving his chances to make San Francisco’s Opening Day roster.
The left-handed hitter got off to a slow start this spring, tallying only one hit in his first 19 at-bats. Since March 9th, however, Noonan has turned it up by hitting .341 (15-for-44) with eight extra-base hits.
With veteran infielder Tony Abreu sidelined with a knee injury for all but one Spring Training game, Noonan has stepped up his candidacy for a backup infielder role with the Giants.
Noonan entered last season with a .259 career average. He played in 13 games for the Grizzlies in 2011, but the 2012 campaign was Noonan’s first full experience at Triple-A. The San Diego native impressed, batting .296 over 129 games for Fresno. He paced the Grizzlies in hits and games played while also placing fourth on the squad with 62 RBI.
As former Grizzlies manager Steve Decker told Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com, Noonan had to go back to what he knew to find success in 2012:
“I’ve known Nick from day one, so I asked him, `When we drafted you and you were considered a top prospect, what were you good at?’” said Decker, now the Giants’ organizational hitting coordinator.
Noonan replied that he was a pretty good fastball hitter, especially to his pull side gap. So Decker gave him a challenge: “If you get a fastball middle, be ready to hit it to your pull side gap.”
“He has not been late on the fastball since,” Decker said. “He finally figured out … you never come to a fight without your best weapon.”
Noonan and Giants fans alike will find out in the coming days if he cracks his first big league roster.
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: Noah Frank
When you are fortunate enough to work in baseball, you can, from time to time, forget the advantages your job affords you. In the offseason, when there are no games being played, you work a fairly standard 9-5 day, joining the rest of the population on the morning and evening commutes. But if you are lucky enough to have your offices built into the ballpark, and built into as beautiful a ballpark as we have here in Downtown Fresno, there is a constant reminder, right outside the window.
This week, that which all Grizzlies fans already know about our baseball home was revealed to a nationwide audience. Baseball America, the preeminent publication in our sport, chose Chukchansi Park to grace the cover of its 2012 Great Parks Calendar, which will hang in offices and homes from Spokane to Jupiter, from Portland (not Oregon anymore, just Maine) to Orem. It is a special honor for a city like Fresno, one that is not always associated with aesthetic beauty by those who do not live here.
In order to get a feel for the weight of such an honor, I caught up with a couple of people who know Downtown Fresno as well as anyone. Craig Scharton was born and raised in Fresno, and has moved his life Downtown, first living in the Security Bank building before purchasing his current house. This is only fitting, as he spends his days in the city offices as the Director of Downtown and Community Revitalization. There are few people in our town more committed to the success of Downtown than Scharton, who currently has a 20-game package for The CRU Club, and whose family has owned some form of ticket plan since the team’s move to its Downtown home in 2002.
“It’s obviously an incredible facility,” said Scharton of the ballpark. “And if we forget, we’re always reminded when we take visitors around how beautiful it is.”
Sometimes it takes an outsider’s view to make us aware again of what a great facility we have here. Another one of Downtown’s biggest champions, Travis Sheridan, relayed such a perspective.
“I’ve had visitors in all last year, coming anywhere from St. Louis to Australia,” he recalled. “They have all been so impressed with the ballpark. That’s when you know without a shadow of a doubt that this is a top notch ballpark.”
Scharton also recalled his experiences hearing from those who live outside of Fresno about how Chukchansi Park compares in the national landscape.
“We consistently hear from players and visitors that it’s the nicest ballpark in Triple-A” Scharton commented. That’s saying a lot, considering that six other parks have been built since 2000 in the Pacific Coast League alone.
The ballpark has also become the focal point of the Downtown entertainment experience. Sheridan was living in the Tower District when he first attended a game, back in 2004. Despite being a big baseball fan, he did not begin attending regularly until he became more involved in the future of Downtown four years ago as the Director of Marketing and Communications for the Central Valley Business Incubator.
“For me, it was a two-pronged approach,” Sheridan explained. “The more I got involved, the more I started patronizing the Downtown area, and the ballpark is the crown jewel of Downtown. As a baseball fan, I realized I was missing out.”
Sheridan moved Downtown a year ago and took a much bigger leap in his connection to the Grizzlies this season, when he became the on-field host for 67 of the team’s 72 home games.
“Nothing beats an afternoon at the ballpark,” said Sheridan, who would certainly know. “Walking from my place (at Broadway Lofts) to the ballpark, it’s a great way to experience Downtown. It makes for a great overall urban experience.”
Adding to that experience, at least over the last couple of seasons, was the chance to see past or future World Champions playing right here in Fresno.
“One of the things I thought was great last year was carrying the momentum forward from the San Francisco Giants winning the World Series,” said Sheridan. “We don’t have that with Fresno State Football. There’s not a lot of people who graduate that program who we’re following in the pros.”
Of course, college football lacks the fluid feeder system that the Grizzlies enjoy, thanks to the club’s strong affiliation with the Giants. After all, more than half of the 2010 World Series roster came up through Fresno at one point or another, intrinsically tying Grizzlies fans to last year’s world title. Scharton agreed with the importance of that connection, citing a recent example.
“We were with a whole group in LA last night talking about Downtown (Fresno),” he recalled. “We listed off the players that we’ve all been fortunate enough to watch up close and personal, like Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum, and even Pablo Sandoval, who hit that home run here last year (on a Major League rehab assignment).”
In good times and bad for the baseball on the field, though, the ballpark remains. As it goes into its 11th year, Chukchansi Park looks as good as ever, as evidenced by its selection for the Great Parks Calendar cover.
“We know that we have a great stadium, and we hope that this recognition lets a lot of other people see what a great facility we have too,” said Sharton. “We hope they come and check it out.”
The people Scharton is referring to aren’t limited to just Fresnans, though. There are Giants fans all over the state, mostly north of the Central Valley, who travel great distances to see those in the farm system play.
“Just like people go to Spring Training, they should come down a couple times a year to see the upcoming prospects,” said Scharton. “It’s much easier and much cheaper to come down here than to go Scottsdale.”
Scottsdale Stadium, the Spring Training home of the Giants, is somewhat similar to Chukchansi Park. It holds roughly 12,000 people and was wholly renovated just a couple of years after Chukchansi Park was built. Both provide an opportunity for Giants fans to get out of San Francisco and watch the up-and-comers in the organization before they hit the Major League level. Sheridan agreed, for the most part, that Fresno could pull the same type of fan that makes the trek to Arizona each spring.
“Spring Training will always be a destination, but you can definitely carry that momentum,” Sheridan suggested. “Once people that have been identified in Spring Training as prospects, you can follow those folks in Fresno, throughout the year. To be able to see the prospects in Scottsdale and know you’ll be able to catch them any weekend in Fresno is a good selling point.”
It certainly won’t hurt to have some national recognition from the likes of Baseball America, either.
By: Ellen Ward
Ever since Buster Posey’s season ending injury, the San Francisco Giants have had a tough time fully replacing their every day catcher. A couple weeks after Posey went down, catcher Hector Sanchez was promoted from High-A San Jose all the way to Triple-A Fresno. This sudden promotion sparked many questions and speculation about whether or not the Giants were grooming this young catcher to perform on a bigger stage.
With a pitching rotation that the World Champion lean on, it is only fitting that a top-notch catcher should be calling the pitches and blocking the plate. Posey was the Giants top prospect in 2010, and he found his way to San Francisco on May 28th of that year and became the compliment to the pitching staff. Posey spent the first few weeks at first base while the Giants evaluated their options. In the end they traded veteran catcher, Bengie Molina to the Texas Rangers and Posey became the Giants starting catcher and prized possession.
A year ago, the Giants fan base wouldn’t dare think that a number of players would be doomed to the disabled list, but that is exactly where half of the World Series roster ended up by mid-May. The most devastating injury by far was Buster Posey’s shoulder-to-shoulder collision. He suffered season-ending injuries after Florida Marlins’ outfielder, Scott Cousins barreled into home plate in an extra innings game on May 25th at AT&T Park.
The Giants took action quickly, calling up Chris Stewart from Fresno, and moving backup catcher Eli Whiteside into the starting role. Both catchers are familiar with the pitching staff, but neither has come close to filling the vacant role Posey has left. It is rumored that the Giants are looking for other options to fill the position, and the recent promotion of Hector Sanchez from High-A San Jose to Fresno has provoked quite a buzz.
“This is a huge step for him,” manager Steve Decker comments on the arrival of Sanchez. “We need to make this kid a complete guy.”
There is a whirlwind of speculation about this young catcher but no one seems to know much about him. Sanchez is a 21 year-old from Maracay, Venezuela. He signed with the Giants at the green age of 16 in 2007, and played in the Dominican Summer League for two years.
In his second year of professional baseball, he hit .348, with 63 RBI and went 72-for-207. The next year, Sanchez began playing in the Arizona Rookie League, still catching and still producing runs. He hit a solid .299, and hit safely 35 times in 33 games. In 2010, he played at Low-A Augusta, where he batted .274, went yard five times, and had 31 RBI.
The Giants obviously saw potentional in Sanchez because he was a non-roster invitee for Spring Training in 2011. He spent a majority of camp with the defending World Champions, before being assigned to High-A San Jose.
“He got a lot of playing time because Whiteside got hurt in Spring Training”, points out Decker when asked how familiar Sanchez is with catching the Giants starting rotation.
In the Cal League, Sanchez tore it up in his first 43 games, batting .301, notching 19 multi-hit games, and hitting eight homers. Even more impressive is that he continued to be a RBI machine, notching 46 RBI in just 43 games. All of this work at the plate was done at the same time he was behind the plate guiding the Giants’ young arms, including top prospect Zach Wheeler. When Sanchez batted clean up for San Jose, he hit .319, and hit six of his eight home runs in the four slot. Sound familiar? Posey was the Giants permanent clean up hitter, and rotating players since his injury have filled that slot.
Sanchez was promoted from San Jose on June 9th, and played in his first Triple-A game on June 10th. He went 1-for-3 with a walk, and a RBI in his first game. He caught for veteran Shane Loux who gave up one earned run and fanned three batters in six innings of work. Sanchez’ has reached base safely in seven of his first nine games. He notched his first multi-hit game just six days into his Triple-A career, going 2-for-4, with a double and single, while plating two runs. He accomplished this at the same time as he was behind the plate calling a game for Cy-Young Award winner, Barry Zito in his third rehab start. Sanchez was the starting catcher in every single rehab start that Zito has pitched in, both games with San Jose and two more in Fresno.
“Sanchez called a great game and made it easy for me”, expressed starting pitcher, Andrew Kown after he threw six innings of no-hit ball to beat the Sacramento River Cats on June 19th.
On the surface Sanchez is a RBI machine based off his offensive numbers alone, and he has the advantage of being a switch hitter at the plate. The real question is, can he catch a starting rotation that carried the Giants to the World Series?
“He is in a position to be called up,” says Decker when asked if he sees Sanchez making his major league debut this season. “They always say you’re one foul tip away from the big leagues.”
Decker, a former catcher who spent most of his career with Giants organization, coached Posey at the Triple-A level, and will continue to shape Sanchez until San Francisco calls upon him.
The Giants put trust in Posey at a young age, but it remains to be seen if they will do the same with the 21-year-old Sanchez. It might be too early to tell, but according to Bay Area reporters he is on the right track. If he keeps producing at and behind the plate, he may find himself in the Bay Area sooner than later.
By: Noah Frank
When you’re just 28 years of age, as I am, it may seem naïve to suggest that any part of your life has come full circle. And yet, as spring has abandoned us for another scorching summer in Downtown Fresno, that is exactly the position I find myself in this week in regards to my professional life working in baseball.
My first baseball job came in 2001, when I served as the website intern for OaklandAthletics.com in the final season that it operated independently, prior to the league-wide acquisition of team sites by MLB.com. A week prior to being hired for the internship, I was just a recent high school graduate, sitting at Francsesco’s Italian restaurant on Hegenberger Road, a popular family-style joint just across Highway 880 from the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum. I was attending an Oakland A’s booster lunch, which featured a local media member (exactly whom, I have forgotten by now) and an up-and-coming A’s player, a young left-handed pitcher by the name of Barry Zito.
A then-23 year-old Zito charmed the crowd with his upbeat, friendly personality, fielding softball questions from the crowd of a couple hundred fans, most retired season ticket holders. As he answered queries about his hair, his favorite color and the guitar, my mother— a then-A’s fan, who had raised me as such before deserting the Green and Gold last summer for her childhood rooting interests across the Bay— nudged me to ask a question of my own, a real one, that a ballplayer might appreciate.
The summer before, I had attended Northwestern University’s National High School Institute Journalism Program in the northern Chicago suburb of Evanston. I spent five weeks focusing on sports journalism, and even wrote my major trend story about the league-wide increase in power numbers and how they might be related to smaller ballparks, more tightly-wound baseballs, or even (gulp) “supplements” of some sort. Sports Illustrated would publish nearly the identical story the final week of my program.
On one Saturday— July 22, 2000, to be exact— a friend of mine, also in the sports group of the program, grabbed me on my way out the door of my dorm room. This kid had grown up in Tucson, attending many Sidewinders games, the Diamondbacks affiliate, which has since moved to Reno and become the Aces. He had watched a young Athletics farmhand dazzle and baffle hitters with a knee-buckling curveball, and had been predicting great things for him as soon as the Oakland brass would pull him up to the East Bay. July 22nd was that day.
“The A’s just called up Zito, he’s starting today,” he said. “You’ve gotta watch this kid pitch.”
Based on his description of Zito’s successes in the “Coast League”, I agreed. I ditched my plans for wherever it was I was headed and sat down in front of a computer to watch one of the most primitive versions of ESPN’s Gameday to follow the progress. The A’s were playing the Angels that day in Oakland, and jumped out to an early 7-1 advantage. Zito was moving along well into the fifth inning, when he hit a spot of trouble. Facing Anaheim’s 9-1-2 to begin the frame, he sandwiched walks to Adam Kennedy and Benji Gil around a Darin Erstad single to load the bases with nobody out and the 3-4-5— Mo Vaughan, Tim Salmon and Garrett Anderson— coming up. All he did from there was strike out the side, finishing his five innings of work in style for his first Major League win.
That takes me back to Francesco’s, one year later, debating what to ask Mr. Zito. I decided to go for it, and described in detail exactly how that fifth inning of his Major League debut had gone down. I asked him what was running through his head, how he approached the situation, how it felt when it was all said and done. Most of the crowd was caught off-guard, but Zito just sat there and smiled, then gave an honest, thorough answer to the question. I came up afterward and we had a nice discussion about UC Santa Barbara, where he had attended for a year and where I was off to begin school at in the fall, and other non-baseball topics. We wished each other well, and went our separate ways.
A week later, I was hired by the A’s.
The first time I was assigned to collect post-game audio from the home clubhouse, I was instructed by one of my two bosses not to talk to the players while I was down there. Naturally, as soon as I stepped inside the door a spiky-haired Zito came strolling out from the showers and saw me.
“Hey, what are you doing here?” he asked, smiling. “Get over here.”
One quick glance at my dumbfounded boss and I was off, chatting it up with Zito, as I would from time to time throughout the season. He was friendly with me during that summer and once even invited me out for drinks with “Eric” and “Jason”. For those unfamiliar with the 2001 Oakland squad, that would be Eric Chavez and Jason Giambi. The thought alone was thrilling for a young A’s fan, but impracticle for an 18 year-old that looked more like a high school freshman at the time. I thanked him for the offer, but settled for the gesture, one that made a young, aspiring baseball executive feel at home.
Fast-forward 10 years, and here we are. While I’ve seen Zito in passing the past two Spring Trainings in Scottsdale, I’ve never really had a reason to speak with him, as he’s never been a Grizzly. But now, suddenly, here he is in Fresno as part of his Major League rehab as he fights his way off the Disabled List for the first time in his career. It was my duty to organize and monitor his press conference, and on Thursday I will have the chance to watch him start in person for the first time since he left the A’s following the 2006 season.
But there is another piece to this reunion story. My former boss in Oakland, the first of my baseball career, was none other than current Comcast SportsNet Bay Area personality Mychael Urban. Back then, he was the OaklandAthletics.com beat writer assigned to the A’s. As it turns out, Urban will be making the trek south to the Central Valley for Zito’s start, meaning I will fill out the press pass that will allow him in the park and sit next to him in the press box.
So in the end, I guess I could say my baseball life has come full circle this week in Fresno. After all, I might be more naïve to think that my past ever will intersect with my future more completely than it will on June 16th.
By: Noah Frank
The Giants took a trip out to Surprise yesterday and handed the Rangers the second loss in as many games between last year’s World Series participants this spring. San Francisco continues to look particularly sharp here in Arizona, compiling a Major League-best 14-5 overall mark to this point, even with today’s loss to Milwaukee.
Doing his part along the way has been 2010 Grizzlies reliever Steve Edlefsen, who has gone 1-0 with a save and has not allowed a hit, walking three and fanning five over 5.2 scoreless Spring Training innings. Before this afternoon’s matchup with the Brewers, I had a chance to sit down with “Eddy”, and we chatted for a bit about his tricky name, his eventful offseason and a quick look ahead at 2011.
Q: Have they been getting your name wrong in spring so far?
A: On the loudspeaker they’ve doing an ok job. I’ve gotten it butchered here and there, but it hasn’t been too bad.
Q: It seems like you’re hitting your stride early on. How has everything felt so far?
A: I’ve felt good, you know, I’m just trying to get my legs under me, get my arm slot figured out. So far it’s gone well, I just want to stay (in Major League camp) as long as I can, hopefully put some pressure on these guys at the end of Spring and we’ll see what happens.
Q: This was a big offseason for you– you got married and you were added to the 40-man roster.
A: It was an exciting offseason, but it was a quick offseason. I feel like it was just a couple of weeks ago that we were packing up our stuff in Fresno. It was great to be added the 40-man, it’s an honor, it’s something you strive for. It’s a start, it’s not exactly where I want to be, I want to be on the 25-man. But it’s a good point in my career and it was exciting to hear that, and obviously getting married was a blessing and a great time in our lives.
Q: You were an All-Star for the Grizzlies last year, but struggled with some injuries. Do you still feel like you have something to prove this season?
A: Yeah, I just want to build off (last year), is what it comes down to. In this game you have to prove yourself every day, so I always feel like I’ve got something to prove. But I’m excited with where I’m at, Spring Training’s gone well so far, so I just want to keep trying to throw well and keep trying to be consistent.
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:
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)