This is going to sound strange coming from someone who grew up going to Giants games at Candlestick Park and can’t look at pictures and video of the old place being ripped apart, piece by piece, without feeling sad and nostalgic.
Who became the only pitcher in his Little League to throw a sinkerball. Because Greg Minton threw one.
Who hung a Will Clark poster on his bedroom wall. Those piercing eyes and poetic follow-through forever frozen.
Who reveled in the Giants winning their first World Series championship in 2010 since moving to San Francisco. Plus the two after that.
Given each of those things, this is going to sound strange: But I’m kind of glad the Giants are gone.
The Grizzlies and I both arrived in Fresno the same year — 1998. Our existence here completely overlaps. During all those years, the Grizzlies were a Giants affiliate.
Given the geography, it was a natural fit. That is, until the Giants decided (remember, it was their decision) to move their Triple-A club to Sacramento.
Now that the reality of the Grizzlies playing baseball under an Astros banner gets nearer by the day, my interest feels more heightened than usual.
Why? Because Fresno being home to a Giants affiliate guaranteed a certain sameness to every season, and it pretty much guaranteed the Grizzlies would be lousy.
Take a look at some of the players expected to open at Triple-A Sacramento: Adam Duvall, Juan Perez, Andrew Susac, Chris Heston, Juan Ciriaco, Jake Dunning, Darren Ford. Gary Brown, if he clears waivers.
Anything familiar about those names? Should be. All had significant roles on the 2014 Grizzlies squad, the one that finished 13 games back in their division. Many were members of the 2013 Grizzlies, who finished 121/2 in arrears.
Look who else is back: John Bowker. Where’s Brett Pill when you need him? (Answer: In South Korea, clubbing homers for the Kia Tigers.)
Nothing against those guys, and as a Giants fan I have a vested interest in their success, but every year it’s more of the same.
Wednesday afternoon, when the Grizzlies announced their opening day roster, all that staleness went away. The list contained a bunch of unfamiliar names. A few of them I knew a little about. Most absolutely zilch.
As someone who gets paid to tell the stories that accompany those names, it felt oddly refreshing.
I wanted to know more about Jon Singleton, the 23-year-old first baseman. Last June the Astros signed the left-handed slugger to a five-year guaranteed contract worth $10 million, plus three years of club options worth $25 million more. Unprecedented for a player who had yet to play in the majors.
Singleton will make $2 million of that this season, which surely makes him the highest-paid Grizzly in team history. Or at least second to Barry Zito.
I wanted to know more about Matt Dominguez, the 25-year-old third baseman. A former No. 12 overall pick, he spent the past two seasons playing third base for the Astros but saw his batting average drop from .241 to .215.
How will Singleton and Dominguez react to being back in Triple-A, in an unfamiliar city way out in California? Guess we’ll find out.
Even though the Astros assigned top prospects Carlos Correa and Mark Appel to Double-A Corpus Christi, Fresno didn’t get short shrift.
There’s Domingo Santana, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound outfielder who hit 18 Triple-A home runs at the ripe old age of 21. Preston Tucker, a 24-year-old outfielder who amassed 35 doubles, 24 home runs and 94 RBIs at two levels. Ronnie Torreyes, a 22-year-old infielder who set a modern day PCL record with 21 sacrifice bunts. How selfless is that?
All told, the roster includes seven of Houston’s top 30 prospects according to MLB.com. Prospects from a farm system universally rated as one of baseball’s richest and deepest.
Where does the Giants’ farm system rank on those lists? Better start from the bottom.
With three World Series titles since 2010, the Giants are in the midst of the most successful era in the franchise’s 132-year history. And many core players from those championship teams passed through Fresno, quickly in most cases, on their way to AT&T Park.
However, none of that success filtered down. Instead, the Grizzlies have been perpetual losers.
Now I understand the minor leagues really aren’t about winning. They’re about player development, zany promotions and family entertainment. But wouldn’t it be more fun to cheer for a team that isn’t habitually in last place?
Based on the roster and what’s coming up the pipeline, the Grizzlies 2.0 have a better chance of finishing first.
The affiliation switch has also brought about a profound change in the Grizzlies’ front office. Never before has the team been so active and visible, both in real life and on social media. (Try Googling #Wackramento.) Not everything has worked, but at least they’re trying.
Persuading Giants fans who care only about the Giants to buy tickets to watch a bunch of future Astros may yet prove difficult.
Fortunately, not all Giants fans are so closed-minded. Here’s proof.