Matt Williams, the former Giants star third baseman, never played for the Fresno Grizzlies en route to the majors.
By the time Triple-A baseball came to Fresno in 1998, Williams wasn’t even in a Giants uniform anymore and was playing for his third major-league team, the Arizona Diamondbacks.
But Williams, who will serve as the keynote speaker for the Grizzlies’ 56th annual Hot Stove Gala on Thursday, did play in Fresno during his college career.
He might not remember all of the details when his alma mater, UNLV, took on Fresno State at Beiden Field, but the game in some ways signaled the greatness that awaited Williams.
Former San Francisco Giants star Matt Williams was named to five All-Star teams and won a World Series in 2001 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. His 378 career home runs ranks seventh all-time among third basemen.
The Fresno Bee spoke to Williams leading into the Hot Stove Gala to revisit memory lane and get his thoughts on other baseball topics.
As a freshman shortstop for the Rebels in 1984, you roped a fastball from ex-Fresno State great John Hoover for a solo home run. Hoover, by the way, was the NCAA Pitcher of the Year that season. Hoover did strike you out on three other at-bats using curveballs, with the Bulldogs ace quoted afterward saying, “I tried to run the fastball in on him, but I got it up. He didn’t see too many fastballs the rest of the night.” And the Bulldogs won 2-1. What do you remember about playing in Fresno?
I just remember UNLV played Fresno State and I had to face Hoover, which was not a whole lot of fun. He was really good.
Obviously, you recovered from that outing, became the No. 3 overall pick in the 1986 draft by the Giants. Then a five-time All-Star. A World Series champ with the Diamondbacks in 2001. What achievement do you cherish most?
I think the biggest achievement was making it in the big leagues and staying in the big leagues. Just to get there was difficult.
I think the biggest achievement was making it in the big leagues and staying in the big leagues. Just to get there was difficult. You need some playing ability, certainly. But you need some luck, too. Some timing. Just making it and being able to fulfill my dream. Not a lot of folks can say they had a chance to do that.
You played with a lot of great players in your career. Was there any one player whose talents that ever marveled you?
I was the guy who got to stand on deck for four years and watch Barry (Bonds) hit. And so he was arguably the greatest player of my generation given everything. Offense, defense, the ability to steal bases. He could beat the other team in so many ways.
I got a chance to play with two (players) who actually impact the game before it starts. One was Randy Johnson. When Randy pitched, albeit once every five days, it completely changed the way the other team played the game. And Barry was the same way. Nobody was going to let him beat them. As Barry got later and later in his career, that became evident in the number of intentional walks. Walking him in the first inning with nobody on. That impacts the game in every aspect. Those guys are very unique.
I got a chance to play with two (players) who actually impact the game before it starts. One was Randy Johnson. ... And Barry (Bonds) was the same way.
So I assume you believe Bonds belongs in the Hall of Fame?
That’s not for me to say. I don’t have any opinion on that question.
You spent the first 10 of your 17 seasons with the Giants. And a lot of people still associate you with the Giants. Can you take me back to the moment when you found out the Giants traded you to the Indians for most notably second baseman Jeff Kent, along with pitcher Julian Tavarez and utility player Jose Vizcaino?
I was at home in Scottsdale and (Giants general manager) Brian (Sabean) called me and said we made a trade. That’s the business part of baseball and you understand that. It was certainly a team that I loved and an organization that I continue to honor and respect. But it’s the business side of it.
There’s always a special place in every player’s heart for the first team that ever drafted you and you played for. Because it makes every player feel like they’re wanted in some capacity. Unfortunately, the way the game works, you generally find it very difficult to play for the same team your whole career. So those things happen. It turned out to be a fantastic move for the Giants. And for me personally, I was eventually able to get back to my home in Arizona (in 1998 after one season with Cleveland). And, ultimately, win in Arizona. I think it worked out both ways.
Fresno Grizzlies Hot Stove Gala
- 56th anniversary: Thursday at the Fresno Convention Center
- Speakers: Former San Francisco Giants All-Star Matt Williams, Houston Astros pitcher Joe Musgrove, Grizzlies pitcher Tyson Perez
- Tickets: Adults $75, children $35, table (includes 10 tickets) $700
- For information: Contact Whitney Campbell at 559-320-2547