If you believe in signs, this isn’t Fresno’s season.
Fresno was the last team to make their home debut in the Pacific Coast League. They came home after opening the season in Las Vegas and getting swept. They came back with one player hobbled by a hamstring injury (OF Fred Lewis) and another about to go on the disabled list with a thumb injury (OF Todd Linden). It’s arguable Lewis and Linden are the most explosive offensive players on the team’s roster. Even the originally scheduled home opener was rained out.
Everything seemed to be foreboding. Before the game, a large plume of smoke from a fire south of the park invaded the horizon.
It wasn’t affecting the players, though. It was still a home opener. The team’s new mascot “Parker” (which vaguely resembles one of Disney’s ‘Country Bears’ that has been drinking radioactive juice) spent the pregame, hassling Tucson’s Jose Morban, who had thrown a cup of water on him during his debut before Friday night’s rainout. Kevin Frandsen practiced his pitching windup during a game of catch with his teammates. He did a good job backing A.J. LaBarbera off the imaginary plate with a ‘heater’ that wasn’t going fast enough to be chased by a cop on Highway 99.
No, it was still baseball’s return to the Central Valley, and the crowd of 9,474 enjoyed the new amenities at Fresno Stadium (including an enlarged kids zone and new concessions), and eagerly awaited the post-game fireworks.
Fresno has found itself the more-than-occasional butt of jokes from Giants fans. Aside from the geographic jokes which all cities get, Giants fans don’t look at Fresno as the home of many impending superstars. Despite a farm system that has been showing a lot of improvement at the lower levels the last couple of years, it’s taking some time for those players to filter up to the majors. Of the 24 players on the roster, only 6 are newcomers this year to Triple-A from the lower levels. Less than half of the roster are Giants-drafted or originally signed by the Giants. Most of the pitching staff is made up of minor league free agents, players who have not been able to establish themselves in the majors. Paired in the same division as the perennial powerhouse Sacramento RiverCats, the Grizzlies have had trouble competing in the past. Over the past few years, so few position players have been able to succeed in the majors that many Giants fans are conditioned to not think well of Fresno.
With two of the most exciting hitters injured, things don’t seem too bright.
Still, the Grizzlies play. They rebounded from a tough sweep in Las Vegas to take 3 of 4 from the Tucson Sidewinders. Frandsen, another top prospect, is continuing to hit well. He hit three balls in five at-bats right back up the middle for singles. Adam Shabala and Dan Ortmeier each collected 4 RBI on the day. A controversy filled 7th inning yielded 7 runs for the Grizzlies, putting the game away, and the Grizzlies went on to win 12-4
The controversy sprung out of a play early in the 7th. With a runner on first and no one out, DH Eliezer Alfnoz hit a squib hit off the end of the bat up the first base line. The Tucson pitcher Rich Dorman came off the mound to get it, and came into Alfonzo’s path on the baseline. Alfonzo tried to dodge him, but there was contact, and at some point the ball came flying out into foul ground. The umpire ruled there was no interference and the runner was safe and Dorman given an error.
Tucson manager Dave Brundage argued the call for a few minutes, and announced he was playing the game under protest. That means there is a chance the call can be reviewed and reversed by the league, and the game would be restarted from that point, but the chance of that is minute.
Have we mentioned that the minor league umpires are still on strike?
Yep, it was opening day for everyone in Fresno. But things are looking up. The win was the Grizzlies’ 4th in 5 games after the season opening 4 game sweep by a strong team. And Fresno’s offense is picking things up even after losing two big hitters.
It may be a long time coming, but Fresno may also finally win some respect yet.
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