And Its Only Just Begun

On a day that 2022 Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara pitched a complete game shut out over the Minnesota Twins with exactly 100 pitches in one hour and fifty-seven minutes, the River Cats took to the field for their home opener and stayed there for three hours and nineteen minutes in a loss to the El Paso Chihuahuas.

The night was cold and overcast and yet 9,548 fans, one of the biggest I’ve seen at the park in years, showed up to cheer on the River Cats as they faced off against the El Paso Chihuahuas. Not only did baseball return to Sacramento for 2023, but it did so with a rush of excitement as Fernando Tatis Jr. Tatis, a two-time Silver Slugger Award winner, and 2021 All Star, is on a rehab assignment with El Paso as he finishes off the last two weeks of his 80-game suspension after testing positive for the banned substance Clostebol. Tatis said at the time that he took medication for the treatment of ringworm without realizing that Clostebol was in the medication. Yes, it was dumb that a player with such good care could have made such a mistake, but I believe him because unlike most other players who get popped, he didn’t just leave it at the generic I don’t know how it happened, or that he “tried endlessly to find the answer”, no he just accepted it and said he messed up.

Game time was now upon and aside from Tatis, the biggest news of the day for San Francisco Giants fans was that Kyle Harrison, the Giants’ top prospect was making his Triple-A debut. Harrison had an amazing 14.3 strikeouts per nine innings last season, which was an increase from the year before. Harrison’s first pitch, ball one, to none other than Fernando Tatis Jr. Harrison would walk Tatis in that first at bat, which would be the first of twelve walks the River Cats gave up that evening on their way to losing the home opener by a score of 10-8 and would end his night pitching two-plus innings, striking out four and walking four. Tatis would end his night going 1-2, with and RBI, and two walks, which pale in comparison to the excitement Tatis would produce just twenty-four hours later.

The River Cats came out swinging in the second game of the series and scored five runs in the bottom of the second to take the early lead over El Paso. The Chihuahuas would start to fight their way back as soon as the top of the third when they scored their first run when Kade McClure came into the game to relieve Ryan Walker.

Fernando Tatis would lead off the fifth with a 406-foot home run to left centerfield. This was Tatis’ first home run in only his second game back after having not played in a game since 2021 due to injury and suspension. The game went all down hill from there as the Chihuahuas tacked on six more runs including a four run sixth inning that had ten batters come to the plate and scoring four more runs, and eventually the game would end by a score of 8-5 on a night where the River Cats pitching woes got worse as they walked fifteen on the night.

Social media was abuzz with highlights of Tatis’ homerun, and Kade McClure got a little annoyed to say the least. McClure decided that it was a good idea to tweet, **Cheater hits a home run on a rehab assignment during a steroid suspension** after seeing a Padres writer Darnay Tripp write, “Kade McClure will be telling people for years about the time he gave up an absolute nuke to Fernando Tatis Jr”. McClure would double down the next morning with “Man woke up to some juiced up Padres fans”. The irony is that the San Fransico Giants ace pitcher Logan Webb was suspended for 80 games for testing positive for steroids back in 2019. Kade’s tweets have since now been deleted but McClure was raked through the coals by not only fans but also his peers. Old tweets were found, reprimands were given, and he has not pitched for the River Cats since that night, which I can only imagine is a move to let this die down for a bit. This story blew up so much that even Tatis’ mom jumped in on the action and said, “A player with 7 years in minor league just wanted a minute of fame, that was the reason he use a super star player name to obtain visibility” on her Instagram story. No one involved in this craziness is in the wrong, but to use another one of McClure’s tweets, “If you don’t like it, do better”.

Joe Musgrove of the Padres was announced as the starting pitcher for Thursday night’s game for a rehab assignment. After training 4-2, the River Cats clawed their way back and knocked Musgrove out of the game in the fifth after going 4.1 innings, allowing five hits, two runs, and six strikeouts. The River Cats resorted to small ball and found themselves taking their first win of series by a final score of 10-5.

Friday night’s match up was the one I was looking forward to all week as the River Cats would send Tristen Beck to the mound and face Jay Groome for the Chihuahuas. Groome who is still one of San Diego’s Top 30 prospects was originally drafted in the first round by the Boston Red Sox but came to the Padres last season in the trade that sent Eric Hosmer to the Sox.

Groome did not fair to well giving up six runs off five hits in five innings and walking four including a 385-foot to Will Wilson for his first homerun of the year.  I’m superstition so I feel like I should be taking some of the blame for this one. The first time I ever saw Groome pitch was in the Pacific Coast League Championship game against the Reno Aces last fall in Las Vegas. Groome was lit up that night giving up four runs in 1.2 innings pitched which gave Reno the Pacific Coast League title. Tristen Beck picked up his first win of the season going five innings, giving up two runs, and leading the River Cats to their second win in a row as they defeated the Chihuahuas by a score of 9-4.

Melvin Adon, who is pitching for the River Cats for the first time since 2019, and the last remaining player from the team that won the Triple-A National Championship that year, closed out the game for the Cats. Adon looked typical to say the least, 100 miles an hour rockets coming out of his hand, but you never know where they’re going to end up.

This homestand has to be one the most star-studded series I’ve seen at Sutter Health Park in recent memory. Outside of Tatis, we’ve seen Joe Musgrove, and now tonight you can add Joey Bart who is on a rehab assignment, and former Yankees and Twins catcher Gary Sanchez to the mix who will be making his debut for the Giants organization after signing a Minor League deal last week. I wonder if that “I jus’ wanted to see a Yankee” guy from last year has come to these games? This is a very weird situation in my eyes. Bart, a former number two pick overall by the Giants, has seemed to lose favor with the team as they continue to bring in catchers looking for the right fit. While both of these players realize that this is a business, and that there is someone always looking to take away your job, I can only imagine how taxing it is when your bosses’ every word in reported on, and the guy looking to take your job is more experienced and sitting right next to you in the dugout. Don’t get me wrong, Bart is the guy for now, but those breathing down his neck are right there waiting for their chance. In Sanchez, a two time All Star, also has a stipulation in his contract that states if he is not promoted to the Majors by May 1, 2023, he can walk and sign elsewhere. That too is an interesting situation as Sanchez was sitting there with no other offers when the Giants came knocking so we will see what happens come May 1st.

The River Cats would roll over the Chihuahuas by a score of 12-4 for their third straight win with help from a big bottom of the third inning the team would bust out seven runs which started when Michael Gigliotti doubled down the right field line scoring two. Bart and Sanchez would also add to the excitement by knocking in a combined three RBI in the inning. River Cats pitching would have their most dominant night of this young season as Walker, Waites, Marciano, Hildenberger, Guzman, and Dabovich would only give up two walks on the night, a far cry from earlier this week.

The River Cats had won three straight coming into Sunday’s final game of the series and they would be looking to Kyle Harrison on the mound once again to keep the winning streak alive. The Chihuahuas started Julio Teheran on the mound who made quick work of the River Cats as he looked like the Teheran of old allowing one run in six innings while striking out eight.

Harrison started the game with ten straight balls and would not make it out of the first inning throwing thirty-five pitches of which only twelve were thrown for strikes. Harrison couldn’t help but look amused at himself in disbelief as Dave Brundage came out to take the ball from him.

That look pretty much sums up the final game of the series, but the cherry on top was when right fielder Clint Coulter came into to pitch to Taylor Kohlwey in the top of the ninth with two outs and the River Cats trailing by a score of 8-1. Kohlwey would fly out to Coulter’s replacement in right, Shane Matheny, on the first pitch to end the inning. This would be Coulter’s professional pitching debut after having played in the Minor Leagues for eleven years as he became the first position player to pitch for the River Cats in 2023.

While the two teams split the six-game series evenly, it was not pretty and I’m writing that off as still being early spring. Ryan Walker has quietly been the pitcher to watch early on this season as he has not allowed a run in his three appearances and has six strikeouts and two walks in 6.1 innings of work. On the other side of the coin, Will Wilson finds himself struggling to start as he is dwelling in the cellar with a .138 batting average with 11 strikeouts in 29 at bats. The River Cats look to bounce back from it all as they start a series against the Aces tonight in Reno.

Now Batting…Morgan Wallen?

The River Cats come into Tuesday’s home opener against the El Paso Chihuahuas with a record of 1-2 from their opening series in Salt Lake. Opening Day was scheduled for Friday, March 31, but a blanket of snow on the Smith’s Ballpark field postponed the game until Saturday which turned into a midday doubleheader. Due to the weather, Opening Day now fell on the shoulders of Tristen Beck in game one. The final score was 2-0 with both runs being charged to Beck who gave up a solo homerun to Chad Wallach in the third, and got into a bases loaded jam in the fourth where reliever Ryan Walker did just that, and walked in a run before retiring the inning.

The River Cats would pick their first win of 2023 as they split the season opening doubleheader by defeating the Bees by a score of 7-4. The River Cats used Mauricio Llovera as an opener for one inning before handing the ball over to Sammy Long who would pick up the win. The River Cats offense was lead by Ricardo Genoves and Michael Gigliotti who combined for five RBI on the night. Cole Waites would bring his deceptive fastball in to close out the game and earn his first save. The River Cats closer has topped out at 100.6 in his career but normally sits around 95-98 which appears much faster watching him through from behind the plate as he bores into right-handed batters.

The River Cats would close out Opening Day weekend with yet another loss to the Bees. The Bees took advantage of 14 walks issued by River Cats pitching on their way to reaching base 21 times in the game and defeating the River Cats 8-3 after an outstanding performance by pitcher who shutout the River Cats through five innings and striking out six.

Sacramento’s home opener on April 4th, brings the Triple-A debut of San Francisco Giants’ #1, and MLB’s #18, prospect Kyle Harrison who averaged 14.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 2022 is getting the ball for the River Cats as they face the El Paso Chihuahuas, Triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres, and the reigning Pacific Coast League East Division Champions. Look for former Red Sox 2016 first-round draft pick Jay Groome to take the mound for the Chihuahuas during this six game series, but the bigger story is that Fernando Tatis Jr is expected to play for the Chihuahuas this series. Tatis who is coming off an 80-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance last August, is eligible to return to the Padres on April 20th. A little fun fact about Tatis is that when he suits up for the Chihuahuas for the first time, it will also mark the first time he will play at the Triple-A level having jumped from Double-A to the Majors in 2019.

The 2023 Minor League Baseball season is just a few days old, and before the River Cats started their three-day series in Salt Lake City against the Bees I had a chance to get to know some of the players on this year’s team.

One of the more interesting players to watch this year will be Ronald Guzman who is starting 2023 on the injured list after suffering a pronator strain in a Spring Training game against the A’s. Guzman, the 6’4” former Texas Rangers slugger has now converted into a relief pitcher whose fastball reaches the mid-90s will be playing with the River Cats when he returns in 6-8 weeks to the field of play in 6-8 weeks. I am curious to see if the Giants organization plans to utilize his bat still or if he will put 100% of his focus into pitching.

The San Francisco Giants have also signed two time Major League All Star Gary Sanchez to a Minor League deal and have assigned him to the River Cats. Sanchez will first report to the Giants Spring Training facility in Scottsdale, Arizona for an undisclosed amount of time before joining Sacramento which should be fairly soon as his contract allows Sanchez to opt out if he isn’t on the Major League roster by May 1st. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out as the Giants options behind the plate do not appear to be making any lasting impressions on the front office.

The fans will have many familiar faces returning in 2023 as Heliot Ramos, Casey Schmitt, Cole Waites, Tristan Beck, and Isan Diaz, just to name a few, will once again wear the River Cats jersey. This team is a good mix of guys who are already familiar with each other and will be spending another season together, but while they are a team, they’re still their own individual selves.

Kyle Harrison spent time in the Dominican Republic at one of the baseball academies where the culture shock hit hard. Kyle visited an orphanage and had his eyes open to how people live there in the DR, and he also saw the difficulties that Dominican baseball players face as they try to climb up the organization ladder. While he thought it was a cool experience to have, he discussed having to live eight to a room in bunkbeds at the baseball academy which gave him the appreciation for what players in the United States have.

Will Wilson had a busy off season by moving from North Carolina to Florida where you can go to the beach without freezing during the off season. Will also just started to golf, and admitted has a way to go having only broken 90 once thus far.

Giants fourth ranked prospect Casey Schmitt, the recent winner of the Barney Nugent Award given annually to the player who best exemplifies the spirit of the San Francisco Giants is an avid UFC fan who likes to bring the joy of wrestling into the clubhouse. I was surprised that all hell didn’t break loose during this interview as Schmitt and Wilson went back and forth about the the number of pins Schmitt has suffered at the hands of Wilson, who claims four while Schmitt argues that they are “unconfirmed”; River Cats manager Dave Brundage was unavailable for comment on the matter, but as you can tell by this picture, it’s pretty obvious to see who Daddy is.

Casey Schmitt & Will Wilson

The teams’ musical tastes was far less diverse than expected but a few stood out such as Kyle Harrison and his love for rap artist Gunna who I had to look up, but now I wish I could have asked Kyle what his thoughts were on Gunna cutting a deal on a case and snitching on YSL? Considering Harrison has spent time in the DR he should talk to Heliot Ramos about his musical choice Eladio Carrion a Puerto Rican rapper and reggaeton singer.

Pitcher Ryan Walker an accomplished guitarist who has played since he was eight years old, and can shred along to the best rock solos, or slow it down and fingerpick his way through a ballad confessed to strumming his guitar to Lainey Wilson’s “Heart Like a Truck” while sipping on whiskey these days.

The one thing that many of the players had in common was their love for pop country singer Morgan Wallen. In case you don’t know, Wallen is the hottest thing since sliced butter on the country charts, but he’s also the guy who casually dropped the “hard R” in 2021 when Wallen was 28 years old. The use of the word was justified by fans as Wallen trying to be a tough guy, and after some sensitivity training Wallen apologized and saw the error in his ways, but was he contrite? Money and a number one hit song will erase a lot of sins, but there is no doubt in my mind how Wallen truly feels because he showed us, and the fear of being “cancelled” is a powerful thing, and that power is where the true danger really lies. Cancel culture doesn’t resolve anything, but just makes it worse by driving the ignorance and hate underground, while the resentment is buried and grows deeper within. Let a person show their true colors, and accept them for who they are, the good and the bad, but own the reflection of yourself as well. Anyway, anyone who listens to Morgan’s music knows he’s not much of a tough guy anyway.