Dodgers fever has hit Chukchansi Park.
Even the Fresno Grizzlies’ media team joined in, sending out a tweet hyping the home squad’s opponent this week in a four-game Pacific Coast League series.
That drew the ire of Grizzlies catcher Max Stassi: “Are u guys serious?” was his Twitter reply.
Yes, they were, because a rare visit by Oklahoma City, the Dodgers’ Triple-A team, guaranteed more than a few extra fans would make their way to Chukchansi Park.
Through the first three games of the series, the Grizzlies played in front of a predominantly blue crowd. On Wednesday, for what might have otherwise been a nondescript matinee, an announced crowd of 6,953 saw major leaguer Hyun-Jin Ryu make his second injury rehabilitation start.
The biggest crowd, however, likely will come Thursday, when 19-year-old left-hander Julio Urías takes the mound against the Grizzlies. First pitch is at 7:05 p.m.
It’s nice to see the guys in blue close to home. I can’t go to work the same day and go to LA. Here, I can.
Los Angeles Dodgers fan Josh Ramia of Hanford on making his way to Fresno to catch a visit by his team’s Triple-A club, Oklahoma City
Urías, of Culiacán, México, is all the rave in baseball circles. Already rated by Baseball America as the game’s top pitching prospect, he hasn’t given up a run since April 22, a streak of 27 innings. His ERA is a PCL-best 1.10. He’s struck out 44 in 41 innings and has a league-leading 0.78 WHIP.
His days in Triple A seem numbered, even with the parent club among the National League leaders in team ERA. And with the Dodgers’ affiliate playing just the one series in Fresno until 2018, it figures to be the only chance for many local fans to catch the young star and Oklahoma City in action.
Hanford farmer Josh Ramia, 34, is a Dodgers fan and joined friends and family in making the trip to downtown Fresno for Tuesday’s game. He said he’s likely to return for the series finale.
“We would really like to see Urías,” he said. “It’s nice to see the guys in blue close to home. I can’t go to work the same day and go to L.A. Here, I can.”
Along the visitors’ dugout and the tunnel in right field, fans in blue huddled to get autographs and selfies. An hour earlier, local media swarmed Urías for a group interview.
He’s aware of the excitement he stirs, but his focus is all work while awaiting a call-up.
4 Dodgers left-hander Julio Urías’ spot on Baseball America’s preseason Top 100 prospects list, highest among all pitchers
“To be honest, I can’t tell you I’m ready,” Urías said. “All I’m trying to do is work as hard as I can in the gym to prepare my body and my mind so when that day arrives I will be as prepared as possible.”
Until then, he planned on enjoying as much as he can the California stop and a warm welcome from Dodgers fans, many also interested because of his Mexican roots.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “It makes me feel like I’m in Mexico. The fans have been nothing but great since spring training.”
The Grizzlies likely will have some extra fight in them when they face Urías, as the defending PCL and Triple-A National champs seek their first series sweep of the season. Fresno has won three in a row for the first time in a month, beating Oklahoma City 8-7 on Monday, 14-3 on Tuesday and 8-1 on Wednesday.
Stassi didn’t elaborate on the hype around Urías nor his tweet when asked about it Tuesday.
“Yeah, I mean, we show up every day, regardless of who we’re playing,” Stassi said. “ The Dodgers have a great ballclub, but we’re swinging the bats well.”