When the final out was recorded on Sunday night in the San Francisco Giants’ World Series clinching win, baseball’s focal point was on two players: Buster Posey and Sergio Romo. Romo finished off the Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera with an unanticipated fastball while Posey received the season’s final pitch to erupt a night of celebrating.
Romo and Posey were two of the 17 players that played for the Fresno Grizzlies at one point in their careers on the Giants’ 25-man roster. The list of 17 is a mix of draft picks, free agents and MLB Rehabbers, but nevertheless, the stamp of the Grizzlies was prevalent on this World Series run.
Torture reigned in 2010. Every night for the Giants seemed like a tall mountain to climb during that season.
In 2012, it was a team-wide never-give-up attitude that carried them to the end. This is not to suggest the 2010 version was a just a group of individuals, but this season, it felt as if each player on the 25-man roster had a moment to shine.
Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Posey are the more well-known Grizzlies alums, but there are others with stints in Fresno during their careers. Each had a unique moment or moments that introduced them to fans of this band of characters.
Before Xavier Nady drove in three runs in his first game with the Giants on September 1st, he played in 25 games with the Grizzlies. Nady was signed as a minor league free agent after being released by the Washington Nationals. The Nationals, of course, fell in the first round of the playoffs.
Joaquin Arias recorded the final out in Matt Cain’s perfect game, nearly falling over in the process, but he also registered two RBIs in the Grizzlies first game of the 2012 season to help the team to a 3-0 win over Tucson. Arias was a member of the Texas Rangers during the 2010 season when Texas eventually lost to the Giants in the World Series, but Arias was traded to the New York Mets during the season. He had never played in the World Series prior to 2012 and spent most of his career in the minors.
George Kontos was traded at the last possible moment before the start of the 2012 season to the Giants organization from the New York Yankees. He started the season in Fresno, appearing in 23 games and fashioning a 1.71 ERA. Once Kontos earned the Major League promotion in June, he never looked back. In fact, he became a valuable asset for the Giants in the playoffs. Kontos previously pitched in the bigs with the Yankees in 2011, but he did not make their playoff roster. The Yankees eventually lost to the Detroit Tigers in the 2011 playoffs after New York won 101 regular season games.
Ryan Vogelsong, an epitome of hard-work and perseverance, made his first appearance for the Grizzlies during the purple-and-black, home-games-at-Beiden-Field era in 2001. After being the Grizzlies Opening Day starter in back-to-back seasons in 2011 and 2012, he stood on the largest stage and consistently delivered standout performances in 2012 postseason. The Giants originally drafted Vogelsong in 1998 out of Kutztown University. It took Vogelsong many miles traveled, 14 different professional baseball teams and 15 years since he was drafted to taste the nectar of a World Series title.
Santiago Casilla (played for the Grizzlies in 2010 and 2011), Guillermo Mota (2012), Barry Zito (2011), Hector Sanchez (2011-12), Brandon Belt (2010-11), Brandon Crawford (2011), Aubrey Huff (2012) and Pablo Sandoval (2011-12) complete the list of 17 Farm Grown stars on the Giants roster.
When the Giants won the 2010 World Series, 16 of the 25 players on the postseason roster at the time played in Fresno (14 came up through the system while another two appeared with the Grizzlies on MLB Rehab assignments).
Posey was one of only
two three positional players on the Giants’ World Series roster in 2012 that was also on the 2010 championship-winning team (Huff was a starter in 2010 but a bench player in 2012). Sandoval, though, was relegated to a bench role in 2010, but he totally redeemed himself in a monstrous way in 2012 with an MVP performance. It is only fitting the likely 2012 MVP from the regular season paired up with the 2012 World Series MVP to guide the Giants offense, banking off experience (positive and negative) from two years ago.
Two World Series titles in the last three years is quite an accomplishment. The Giants are now the first National League team to claim MLB’s championship in two out of three years since the Cincinnati Reds did so in 1975 and 1976.
The Giants deserve each title, but each crown should serve as a moment of pride for the Central San Joaquin Valley community as well. It is one of the few regions in the country that can say they were able to see the World Series champions of tomorrow, today.
Romo threw pitches for the Grizzlies before he jumped to the Majors. Posey was a backstop at Chukchansi Park before a catcher at AT&T Park. The list goes on and on, and we should all be happy to be a part of it all.
Fresno is where champions are grown.
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