The Grizzlies are doing so much winning these days – playoff tickets went on sale with 18 games remaining in the regular season – it’s easy to forget all those years when they were terrible.
Except I don’t want to. At least not without first doing some reminiscing.
Throughout most of their existence the Grizzlies have been Fresno’s version of the Cubs. Losing was part of the team’s identity every bit as much as Friday night fireworks. For every Tim Lincecum or Buster Posey that passed through, there were dozens of Victor Santoses and Brian Bococks.
Throughout most of their existence the Grizzlies have been Fresno’s version of the Cubs. Losing was part of the team’s identity every bit as much as Friday night fireworks.
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And playoffs? Fuhgeddaboudit. Those lovable losing Grizzlies of yesteryear typically fell out of contention by the All-Star break.
For years we were told the goal of minor-league baseball was to win games and develop players – except the Giants (Fresno’s parent club from 1998-2014) would conveniently forget about the winning part.
“As a baseball player, you have to mentally prepare yourself every day to go out there and win,” said Damon Minor, who played on three Grizzlies teams that lost 84 or more games. “But that’s pretty difficult to do when Sacramento’s up 20 games by July.”
Things today couldn’t be more different. The Astros have a loaded farm system and have kept their Triple-A team stocked with talent even as players get promoted to the majors or are traded away.
Now that the Grizzlies have embarked on a new, winning chapter, it’s time to bring down the curtain on the old one with a longstanding baseball tradition.
▪ Tip of the cap to … Lenn Sakata. Sakata only spent one season (2002) as manager, but, boy, was it a dismal one. The Grizzlies went 57-87 during their first season at Chukchansi Park (way to open a new stadium!) thanks in large part to the PCL’s worst offense.
The Grizzlies were so inept at the plate that Sakata had his postgame quote down pat: “You can’t win games if you can’t score.”
You can’t win games if you can’t score.
Familiar postgame refrain of ex-Grizzlies manager Lenn Sakata
▪ Tip of the cap to … whoever scrawled “Last (expletive) home game. It’s OK to win one. No really, it is OK” on the dry erase board in the home team’s clubhouse before the final home game of that 2002 season.
The Grizzlies lost 7-1.
▪ Tip of the cap to … Joe Nathan. During a 2001 game at Beiden Field, Nathan surrendered four consecutive home runs in a nine-pitch span. He was demoted to Double A and in 2003 traded to the Twins, where he blossomed into one of the American League’s top closers. Oops.
▪ Tip of the cap to … Beiden Field. Fresno State’s diamond doubled as the Grizzlies’ home digs from 1998-2001. The Grizzlies installed extra bleachers down the baselines and placed a mobile home beyond the right-field fence to serve as a clubhouse.
“It smelled like an old musty trailer that had been sitting in the rain for 30 years – and then they finally opened the doors,” Minor recalled.
It smelled like an old musty trailer that had been sitting in the rain for 30 years.
Ex-Grizzlies slugger Damon Minor on the home team’s clubhouse at Beiden Field
▪ Tip of the cap to … Kevin Frandsen. Before a 2009 home game, Frandsen learned the Giants blocked his path to the majors by trading for all-star second baseman Freddy Sanchez. After flying out to end the second inning, Frandsen tossed his bat in frustration and promptly got benched.
The next day, Frandsen lost his temper once more. This time, he went off on the Bee reporter who had the nerve to report what he (and everyone else in attendance) had witnessed.
▪ Tip of the cap to … the late Gus Zernial. An 11-year major-leaguer and broadcaster for Fresno State football, basketball and baseball, Zernial was a huge Grizzlies supporter (and early downtown stadium advocate) right up until that day in 2004 when he left the team, saying he felt unwanted by new management.
“After 11 years, I now leave the Grizzlies – and not by my choice,” Zernial said in a tearful address. “I was told I was no longer necessary.”
▪ Tip of the cap to … Eliezer Alfonzo. In 2008, Alfonzo became the first member of the Giants organization to get busted (a 50-game suspension) for using PEDs. When I asked Alfonzo which substance he tested positive for, he replied, “I don’t know.”
The following day, Alfonzo accused me of misquoting him. Huh?
When I asked (Eliezer) Alfonzo which substance he tested positive for, he replied, “I don’t know.” The following day, Alfonzo accused me of misquoting him. Huh?
▪ Tip of the cap to … Cody Ransom. After spending four seasons with the Grizzlies, Ransom has returned several times as a member of other teams. During one of those visits, someone asked Ransom if he had any memories of Fresno. His reply: “I hated Fresno.”
OK, then. The feeling’s mutual.
▪ Tip of the cap to … Julio Mateo. Don’t remember Mateo? He was the pitcher who in 2008 was arrested in Albuquerque, N.M., on suspicion of forgery after he paid a taxi fare with a counterfeit $100 bill. The charges were dropped.
▪ Tip of the cap to … all the failed outfield prospects. Calvin Murray, Dante Powell, Tony Torcato, Daniel Ortmeier, Fred Lewis, John Bowker, Roger Kieschnick, Gary Brown – the list goes on and on.
▪ Tip of the cap to … Scott Hulme. As team president in 2003, Hulme gave Grizzlies games an early 20th-century makeover by nixing rock ‘n’ roll from the stadium speakers and installing a manual scoreboard beyond right field that is still in operation.
After one season, Hulme abruptly resigned, without explanation. Maybe he got sick of the fake organ music – or all the losing.
Marek Warszawski: 559-441-6218, firstname.lastname@example.org, @MarekTheBee