Monday, April 25, 2011

Reno Aces 5 at Fresno Grizzlies 12 - April 24, 2011

One of the best things about expansion in the major leagues is that there are 10 new minor league teams that also need to be created. Such was the case in 1998, when the Arizona Diamondbacks entered the National League. The PCL's Phoenix Firebirds, affiliate of the San Francisco Giants at the time, moved to Tucson where they became the Sidewinders and began an affiliation with Arizona. However, Tucson already had a team, the Toros, who then had to become affiliated with the Giants and find another city to call home. The lucky location was Fresno, who named the team Grizzlies and have hosted AAA ball since, watching as a number of great players passed through on their way to the 2010 World Series championship.

Chukchansi Park

The Grizzlies play in downtown's Chukchansi Park, whose naming rights are owned by a local casino operated by the Chukchansi Indian tribe. The park was opened in 2002 and is apparently part of an effort to improve the downtown core, which is still rather rundown in some parts.

There are plenty of $5 lots surrounding the stadium and the streets in the immediate vicinity have meters which are apparently enforced during games. However, you can find free parking just across the railroad tracks on G street. Be aware though that the phrase "wrong side of the tracks" comes to mind in this area - I felt fine parking there for a day game, but a night game might be a different story.

The stadium has a lower level that stretches to the corners, an upper level around the infield, and five small bleacher sections above left field (view from there shown above). Tickets range from $8 for the bleachers to $16 for the Diamond Box seats near the field. Some sections are $2 cheaper if bought in advance. There is also a club section on the second level above first base which will run you $40. Capacity is over 12,000 but attendance is much less, so you can pretty much sit where you want.

There are a number of interesting features here that merit some time. In the spacious concourse behind home plate there are some displays that show the makeup of bats, balls, and gloves.

There's also a Fresno Sports Hall of Fame near one of the gates. This honours players as far back as Fresno-born Frank Chance, and includes two former Blue Jay managers in Bobby Cox and Jimy Williams. The Grizzlies do an excellent job preserving local history here and you can spend more than a few minutes reading about the local heroes, who also include Tom Seaver.

There is a display of Grizzlies memorabilia that has been loaned by some fans. The team also created an All-Decade squad and have banners lining the concourse with photos of those players in Fresno uniforms. Below is Tim Lincecum before he and his hair became famous.

As usual, starting lineups are posted but I liked how they had the visiting team's logo on the board as well.

There are two scoreboards, one is a digital board which shows the batter's photo and stats (below), the other is a hand-operated linescore, which I've shown later in the post.

Chukchansi Park is a ballpark I really like. I enjoy watching minor league games from the second level, which provides a different view than you would get from the upper deck in a major league park. Despite having a relatively short history, the Grizzlies are doing their part to commemorate both their past and that of the area. The park is a great place to relax and spend a sunny afternoon, at least early in the season. Rumour has it that the summer becomes unbearably hot and misters are required to cool down. Regardless, if you are in town, check out a game here, it's well worth it.

The Game

The Reno Aces, Arizona's affiliate, were visiting for the second of a 4-game set. Observant readers might wonder how Arizona's affiliate went from Tucson to Reno; the Sidewinders left southern Arizona for northern Nevada two seasons ago.

Kevin Mulvey (above) got the start for the visitors against Matt Yourkin (below). Mulvey pitched a no-hitter in college and was part of the Johan Santana trade, but appears to have hit his limit after appearing in 10 MLB games with Minnesota and Arizona, posting a 7.90 ERA and 1.76 WHIP. Things aren't going well for him this year either, as he was pounded in his first three starts, giving up 20 ER in just 13.2 IP. Yourkin has yet to taste his major league cup of coffee, having worked his way up the system after being undrafted out of St. Mary's College.

Given these two pitchers and the hitter friendly PCL, I expected a lot of runs and that's what I got. Fresno opened the scoring when Brandon Belt, recently sent down from the Giants, singled home Conor Gillaspie in the first inning.

Reno tied it in the third on a Collin Cowgill (below) homer, but Fresno regained the lead with three consecutive doubles in the 4th.

The wheels fell off for Mulvey in the fifth. After Gillaspie walked and Belt singled, Brett Pill was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Travis Ishikawa, who played in 2 games in the World Series but is starting the season in Fresno, then sent the first pitch he saw to deep left field for a grand slam that made it 7-1. Mulvey continued to struggle, giving up a single, walk, and hitting Yourkin before finally being taken out. His replacement, Tom Layne, allowed all three inherited runners to score, plus one of his own as Fresno plated 8 runs in the frame. Interestingly, all 3 Reno outs in the top half were fly balls to centerfield (position number 8).

Cody Ransom had a 3-run homer for Reno in the 6th and Cowgill scored after tripling in the 7th, but it was way too little, way too late as Fresno won in a blowout, 12-5. There's the linescore below, but the guy was in a rush to go home and immediately began dismantling it after the game. Leave it up for a few minutes at least guys!

The Grizzlies pounded out 17 hits with their top 7 batters all enjoying a multi-hit game. Despite the high score, the game was played in a tidy 2:48, which allowed me plenty of daylight to drive south to Bakersfield.


With both teams having parent clubs in the National League, pitchers batted for themselves.

Marc Kroon, who spent six seasons in Japan with Yokohama and Yomiuri, is the Grizzlies' closer this year, and he needs just one more save to notch 250 in his pro career (177 of those coming in the NPB). Unfortunately, with the blowout here, he didn't make an appearance. With the way Brian Wilson has started the season, maybe Kroon will be called up. But I doubt it.

As it was Easter Sunday, the Grizzlies had an Easter egg hunt for kids after the game. The word "hunt" might be a bit of a stretch as they just poured 5,000 eggs in the outfield and then let the kids run wild.

An interesting promotion is a race between two eyes and a nose. One eye was blue, one was red (from too much drinking?) and the nose was running. The race is sponsored by a local eye care concern and as you can see below, the blue eye won. Yay for blue eyes!

I skipped the Braves-Giants game which turned out to be the smart move. I listened to the pre-game show on the car radio and heard that fans began lining up 4 hours before the game to get their hands on the replica World Series trophy. As one caller noted, why not giveaway enough for everyone? The game was won by Atlanta, 9-6 in 10 innings. So I didn't miss anything other than bad pitching and disgruntled fans.

Next Up

I'm in Bakersfield today. The "tough" part of the trip is over and there's just six minor league games to enjoy over the final week: two Cal League games here and in High Desert and then four PCL games in Las Vegas and Reno before I fly back to Japan a week from today. Updates will be posted as usual, so check back regularly.



1 comment:

  1. Fresno's ballpark is one I enjoy going to once in a while. I've covered a few games there in the past.

    I didn't mention it before but High Desert is probably going to be an..interesting one. Expect it to be very windy there, so if it's cool be prepared. It's also in the middle of nowhere. You'll see a few joshua trees nearby.