Fresno Grizzlies

Fresno Grizzlies: Whole new ballgame in season-opening win over Las Vegas

Baseball was back in downtown Fresno on Thursday night.

But this time, the Grizzlies brought a different style and a different brand.

After 17 years as the San Francisco Giants’ Triple-A affiliate, Fresno made the switch to Houston Astros baseball. And, oh, what a change it was.

The Grizzlies patiently drew walks, particularly by their leadoff hitter, and made outs shifting the defense to the left and to the right — all trademarks of an Astros’ “Moneyball” approach.

Fresno showcased a potential season-long, winning brand in defeating the Las Vegas 51s 2-1 before a buzzing announced crowd of 12,090 at Chukchansi Park.

“The biggest thing is we want to get off to a good start,” Grizzlies left fielder Preston Tucker said. “This is our first year in Fresno. We have a fan base that’s great here. So we want to make a good first impression.”

The Grizzlies moved to 8-10 all-time in season-openers. The franchise has only five winning seasons, and just three in the last 15 years.

Matt Dominguez, the Houston Astros’ starting third baseman the past two years, drove in the go-ahead run with a double in the seventh.

The Grizzlies also had a no-hitter working through six innings, with major-leaguer Brad Peacock tossing 42/3 hitless innings while on a rehab assignment.

The win added to the excitement as Fresno’s downtown stadium once again lit up.

Some fans still came to the ballpark wearing their Giants gear. And a Giants T-shirt that read “World Series champions” served as a stinging reminder of what the Grizzlies had been part of.

But the change of affiliation, as well as it simply being Opening Day, seemed to welcome a collection of fans with more diverse MLB allegiances.

There were Los Angeles Dodgers caps and Oakland A’s jerseys. One man had on a Texas Rangers shirt.

Mostly, though, fans came out decked in Grizzlies apparel.

“It’s going to be different,” said Alex Morales, a Grizzlies season ticket-holder for four years who arrived an hour early to the ballpark with his two kids.

“It’s not going to be the Giants, and I’m a big Giants fan,” Morales said. “But baseball is baseball, and the kids love baseball. And I believe there’s a lot of baseball fans here who just want to watch good baseball no matter who it is.”

The crowd was electric all game. There was a healthy participation in a stadium wave during the fourth inning, loud cheers to conclude every half inning and a thunderous applause at the end to celebrate the win.

“We’re very excited,” said Patty Gillespie, a season ticket-holder of six years. “We like baseball. This is what we do, my son and I.”

Better yet, Gillespie said, “We might even have a winning team this year.”

The Grizzlies players themselves seem excited for the season to begin.

That wasn’t always the case with past players from the Giants organization who were soured to start their season in Fresno, sometimes for the second or third straight time.

“Opening night is always special for the fans, for the players, for everyone,” Grizzlies center fielder L.J. Hoes said. “It’s like the first day of school. Except we’re about to start six months of baseball. Everyone’s excited.

“We just want to go out here and put on a good show for the fans and play good baseball.”

• Prior to the game, Grizzlies manager Tony DeFrancesco explained why he was relegating players with major-league experience — Jon Singleton and Matt Dominguez — to Nos. 6 and 8 in the batting order, respectively.

Matt Duffy and Preston Tucker were awarded the Nos. 3-4 because they had performed well for DeFrancesco at Triple-A Oklahoma City last season, the manager said.

And putting Singleton and Dominguez, who combined for 29 home runs in the majors last season, low in the order gives them a chance to “figure it out.” Both players had been in the running for a major-league roster spot this spring.

“Eventually,” DeFrancesco said, “they’re all going to tell me where they’re hitting” based on performance.

• Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino has been closed since early October, but the home park isn’t changing names this season. As part of the Chukchansi tribe’s agreement, the Grizzlies received a $1 million payment last August for stadium naming rights through September.

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