Chukchansi Park in downtown Fresno was buzzing with anticipation three hours ahead of the first pitch of the Fresno Grizzlies’ home opener on Friday.
Hundreds of eager fans were lined up and waiting for the gates to open at 5 p.m. for their first in-action glimpse of the defending Triple-A national baseball champions.
Grizzlies general manager Derek Franks never had seen such exuberance on opening day in his 13-year history with the club. It’s the first sellout crowd for a Grizzlies home opener in seven seasons, since 13,852 came out to watch Buster Posey begin the 2010 season with the Grizzlies.
Ticket sales across the board are 20 percent to 25 percent higher than last season, and in the season’s first week alone the Grizzlies have sold 8,000 more individual tickets than the first week a year ago, Franks said.
“It’s hard to describe how excited our staff is and how much excitement we feel from the community,” he added. “And I can definitely see it from our team, which is a really special thing.”
The thrill of a new season was palpable through the stadium concourse, with fans proudly sporting Grizzlies gear and that of the club’s Major League Baseball affiliate, the Houston Astros.
We like doing this because it’s our community.
Christina Murrietta, a three-year Grizzlies season-ticket holder
Some of the most excited fans were Jacob and Karisma Silacci, who were among the first to walk through the turnstiles Friday and enjoy the season’s first sampling of ballpark food while waiting for the game to begin.
“We were both pretty excited for baseball just to start,” said Jacob Silacci, 26, of Fresno. “I was just counting down the days.”
Christina Murrietta and her fiancé JV Arias sported matching Carlos Correa Astros uniforms to the game. Correa was among the rising stars who played for the Grizzlies in 2015.
The Fresno couple bought season tickets for the third year in a row. “We’re representing,” said Murrietta, who lives in Fresno. “I can always go to San Francisco or L.A. for a game, but I look at this and this is my hometown. This is my stadium right here. We like doing this because it’s our community.”
For Franks and the Grizzlies, who started their 144-game season on the road, opening day means more than just the first of 72 home games.
“It’s the perfect storm, great weather, great ballclub and a lot of excitement in this community, and that’s what it’s about,” Franks said.
“I’ve always said that I think opening night sets the tone for the whole year. We’ve had rainouts and you really can’t make up opening night, so to start off with a sellout, we really feel like we’re in for a big year.”