Joshua Tehee

Fresno Grizzlies show us what it means to be unapologetically Fresno

Parker plays a little keep-away with one of the Fresno Grizzlies give-away Growlifornia flags with Nick Haas, who handles the team’s in-game entertainment.
Parker plays a little keep-away with one of the Fresno Grizzlies give-away Growlifornia flags with Nick Haas, who handles the team’s in-game entertainment. THE FRESNO BEE

It’s hard to tell if the Fresno Grizzlies’ Bear Flag Rebellion is a marketing scheme, a rallying cry or a full-on manifesto of Valley pride.

“This is the part of the state that missed the Gold Rush. We don’t have Hollywood. Or beaches. Or the Silicon Valley. Everything we have here, we built or grew — from nothing. And not because it was trendy to call yourself the ‘farm-to-fork capital.’ We grew ourselves into the agricultural capital of the world because we had nothing and we were hungry.”

That’s from the Fresno Grizzlies’ social media, in advance of the team’s match up against the Sacramento Rivercats on Tuesday.

It’s an astute observation on what makes the Central Valley tick.

It’s also good marketing, even if it has nothing to do with baseball. I’m by no means a baseball fan, but I have a mini Growlifornia Republic flag in my office and a 1-inch button on my backpack — items that give a sense that the organization understands what it means to be from the Central Valley. That appeals to me.

Local businesses, visitors bureaus and chambers of commerce should take note.

Too often the Central Valley — and Fresno specifically — defines itself by its relative location; its proximity to places you might rather be. At the same time, the best of what we offer —whether it’s a restaurant, club, band or artist — is often judged on how un-Fresno it makes us feel, or say its ability to transport us elsewhere.

In fact, for more than a dozen years the Grizzlies sold itself not as Fresno’s team but as the affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. It did so because the Giants had an established brand and a super loyal following that made for an easy sell.

When the affiliation ended prior to this season, the team shifted its marketing strategy. It was no longer going to be defined by its affiliation — any affiliation. It would become “unapologetically Fresno,” a term used often this season by the team’s marketing ninja (aka marketing director) Sam Hansen.

In truth, all cities (even the great ones) exist on relative merits. San Francisco is a bohemian paradise, unless you have to live there on anything less than a millionaire’s salary. Los Angeles is bustling metropolis, and also a sprawling wasteland of asphalt and bumper-to-bumper traffic. New Orleans exudes a cultural and world history, but is unbearably humid in the summer.

Fresno, for good and bad, is place of opportunity, a place to grow — if you’re hungry for it.

That’s the Grizzlies message this season and it seems to resonate with fans and reflect a growing number of promoters, entrepreneurs and residents who are unashamed to call the Central Valley home. These people work to make this the place they want it to be, one business, one event, one moment at time. A full list would be too long to print, but there’s Bitwise Industries, the technology hub that’s convinced it can create a tech sector in Fresno’s downtown. They’re in the midst of rehabbing a building for that purpose.

There’s Catacomb Party, the organizers looking to build the annual music festival into something that will attract major national touring acts and compete on the music festival circuit.

On a more basic scale, there are places like Ampersand, the mom-and-pop artisan ice-cream shop that opened in the Tower District to crowds henceforth only reserved for Krispy Kreme donuts.

All could be counted as authentically, “unapologetically Fresno.”

That last part is important. It marks a true shift in thinking.

The Grizzlies ran with its vision of Central Valley and what that means to be from this place. Others will jump on board. Or not.

Either way, The Grizzlies won’t be apologizing for it.

That is rebellion we can learn from.

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