They Ain’t Just a Stephen King Novella Anymore…

The Langoliers was a novela by Stephen King as part of the Four Past Midnight collection released in 1990. The plot was basically a pilot finds out his wife was killed in an accident, so he flies out to be with her and a bunch of crazy stuff happens on the flight and landing. Turns out these Langoliers are eating everything to get rid of the evidence. I don’t remember how or if the Langoliers are described in the book, but in the horrible movie adaption they’re these horribly done graphics that are like big rock looking things that fly around and have sharks’ teeth. I didn’t say I was recommending the book, I just thought I’d mention because of Shea Langeliers, catcher for the Las Vegas Aviators who is the Oakland A’s #2 prospect behind Tyler Soderstrom,.and to be completely honest, I think that needs to be reversed. I’ve now had the opportunity to have watched Soderstrom and Langeliers play in person, and with all due respect to Soderstrom, Langeliers is my choice as the A’s Top Prosepect.

Coming out of college, Langeliers was considered the second-best catcher in the 2019 draft behind only #1 overall pick Adley Rutschman. The Braves selected Langeliers with the ninth overall pick that year out of Baylor University. Atlanta’s MILB Player of the Year in 2021, and a key piece in the Matt Olson deal that also included Christian Pache. While Pache is already making his mark with the Oakland A’s, Langeliers has been assigned to Triple-A Las Vegas for 2022.

Langeliers and the Las Vegas Aviators flew into Sacramento to begin a six-game series tied for first in the Pacific Coast West Division with the River Cats as both teams are 13-11. This week should be a good week of baseball with the Division lead on the line as well as the River Cats having three Major League rehab players on this roster in Lamonte Wade Jr, Tommy LaStella, and Evan Longoria in the lineup.

The River Cats started the six-game series with a win, and the games were played out with everything you could expect from the top two teams in the division until the River Cats went off the rails over the weekend. Although the series had been split 2-2 through Friday, it was all downhill from there for the River Cats.

There were plenty of highlights for both teams, but Oakland A’s fans were treated with a stellar pitching performance from Parker Dunshee who tossed six shoutout innings, striking out six, and only giving up a walk and a hit, it was Star Wars Day, and the Force was definitely with him. The performance also earned Dunshee Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Week.

Sacramento finally was also able to see the home debut of Tristan Beck who made his Triple-A debut the previous week in Albuquerque. Beck came to the Giants as part of the deal that sent Mark Melancon to Atlanta back in 2019, and he was the Braves fourth-round pick in 2018 out of Stanford. He had a rough outing in his Triple-A debut but pitched better than the numbers show in the box score this night as he struck out five in 5.1 innings of work in a loss.

On a side note, it was nice to see former River Cats pitcher Sam Selman come into the game for Las Vegas to pitch an inning and say hello. While on the mound Sean Hjelle commented to the Aviator’s dugout, “He’s one guy I don’t understand how we let go”. Unbeknownst to us all, that would be Hjelle’s last night in Triple-A as the Giants called him the next day where he made his Major League debut against the Cardinals in an inning of relief and throwing a perfect 1-2-3 inning and also getting his first strikeout by way of Corey Dickerson.

One of the best pitching performances of the season was also turned in by River Cats pitcher Raynel Espinal on that same Friday night who went a solid five innings, striking out a season high nine batters while the River Cats as a team had fourteen; all I want to know is where did this guy come from??  The Cats would win on a combined 4-0 shutout.

Saturday night was nothing short of a disaster for the River Cats as they lost by a score of 13-0. The Aviators simply dominated behind lefty Jared Koenig and his 10 strikeouts in six innings. Koenig would allow only two hits and one walk in his outing as well.

This series ended on a beautiful Sunday afternoon for Mother’s Day. While the skies were overcast, the weather itself was perfect. River Cats’ pitcher Taylor Williams’ wife even threw out the first pitch as the couple celebrated their first Mother’s Day with their son Nolan. The River Cats would drop this by a score of 3-1 and fall into third place in the Division.

The aforementioned Langeliers really shined and was the highlight of the series where he hit .320 with two home runs and three RBI. He also showed off his catching skills behind the plate which were impressive, and the arm is a cannon. Langeliers now leads the PCL with 11 home runs on the season, and Sacramento’s David Villar sits in second place with eight. While I loved Matt Olson and I know the pain that A’s fans endure as their beloved players keep getting shipped off instead of paid, Langeliers is a star in the making, so enjoy him while you can.

The Aviators took the series by winning four of the six and gained sole possession of first place in the PCL West, while the River Cats dropped to third behind Tacoma.

One common theme during the first three games were the complaints about the pitch clock violations and how arbitrary they appeared to be. There were at least three called during that Game 3 alone. I had one pitcher with Major League experience, tell me that it was “the dumbest rule in baseball”. Another interaction between bench players and an umpire contained comments like, “You can’t just reset it whenever you want”, and “You stopped him! Someone is going to get hurt”! The cohesion on this matter was clear to me when the opposing team’s first base coach who also now has Major League experience commented, “They don’t give a shit about us. If they want to do this, they shouldn’t do this at Triple-A, they’re messing with people’s livelihoods”.

According to Jeff Passan, Minor League games have been shortened by an “average of twenty minutes”, but at what cost to the players? What is baseball trying to do when they don’t listen to the fans who don’t want this and more importantly the players who find it both inconvenient and dangerous? While baseball can be a long game, not knowing when it will end is part of the beauty of it.

This week the River Cats start a series against the El Paso Chihuahuas, Triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres. They will be facing a rehabbing Blake Snell in the opening game of the series. The Chihuahuas are third in the Pacific Coast East with a record of 17-13, the same as the Aviators who lead the West. Round Rock has the best record in the PCL as we start the week at 19-11.

It’s the Most Exciting Time Of Year.

If your mind went anywhere other than pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training then there is still hope if your next thought was realizing it’s baseball season again!

Buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks because spring games have begun in Arizona and Florida. Prospects are getting their first taste of big league camp, vets holding on for one more year, and everyone else who isn’t named Mike Trout or Garrit Cole trying to remain relevant enough to stay employed somehow, somewhere. Young stars like Washington’s Juan Soto even recognize that this is a new season and world series, heroics aside, he was signed to
be replaced.

Playing professional baseball is hard. The few who have the luxury to do so and succeed are athletically gifted, extremely driven, and focused. Having just the opportunity to play this game for a living is a dream of many, including myself, but it’s far from just fun and games.

I have been fortunate enough to cover the Sacramento River Cats day in and day out the past two seasons, and have gotten to know a handful of players along the way. One of the things I took away from these encounters was how normal many of these players’ lives are during the season. The money at the Triple-A level isn’t horrible, but most of these guys aren’t making the millions or even hundreds of thousands of dollars many assume that they do. Yes there are some “Bonus Babies” out there that allow some to indulge from time to time, but the reality is that most are just young men doing their jobs, enjoying themselves when they can, and then going “home” at the end of the long day like the rest of the world.

Players are pulled in so many directions simply for being a professional athlete, that it’s difficult to open up easily to others and it’s mentally and physically draining just to be in the public eye. How difficult it must be to try and figure out someones intentions and if they just want to use you. I even recognize as a writer and photographer that in some way, I’m using them too. Over time though we each get to see the person behind the mask or the lens, and that’s how the magic happens and the story develops.

The original concept of my book was to write a retrospective of the Sacramento River Cats as their 20th season approached. I had an outline of what I wanted the book to look like. I reached out to past players, including Sacramento’s first superstar Barry Zito, and asked them to share their memories about their time in Sacramento. I knew exactly what my plan was, but even the best laid plans of mice and men…

The 2019 season unfolded exactly like I dreamed but never how I expected. Part way through the season I slammed the brakes to the story I was writing, for the story taking place right before my eyes. 2019 was a magical year so I don’t know how much I planned in 2017/2018 will end up in the final book as real life is filled with uncertainty.

The plan was to release my book in the spring of 2020 to coincide with the new season, but life happens, and I’ve been forced to lay this book down for a few months. What is a personal nightmare may have just become a blessing in disguise for my story. I had been so caught up in editing that I lost track of what I wanted to do, and that was to write a piece that captures the excitement that River Cats baseball has provided for 20 years.

I hope you enjoy this blog as I handle life’s hiccups and finalize “Let’s Get It All.”