“I jus’ wanted to see a Yankee…”

A couple of weeks back I got into this phase where I kept saying, “How can you not be romantic about baseball”? The quote made famous by Brad Pitt in his portrayal of Billy Bean in the 2011 movie Money Ball. It’s a line that rings true for me whenever I’m told how boring baseball is, because to me, baseball is much bigger than the players on the field, and the game between the foul lines. Baseball is life and touches the lives of so many whether they hate it, or love it, many of us have some memory about baseball.

I was feeling very unmotivated during the last River Cats homestand against the Salt Lake Bees, and this past week while they played in Las Vegas. I wasn’t finding any inspiration in the games themselves and had a hard time capturing moments with my camera to tell a story. I then decided to turn my attention toward the fans, and that’s when the excitement came back. I remembered why I loved baseball, and I smiled.

Looking into the stands I saw children screaming for baseballs, arms outstretched, faces pressed to the netting to keep them safe from foul balls. Families sitting together with popcorn, and hot dogs, wearing their River Cats shirts, and San Francisco Giants hats, glove in one hand and a souvenir cup in the other. Grown men shoulder to shoulder with kids, baseballs and cards, and pens in hand asking, “sign mine”? There were couples on first dates, and couples of forty years; how many games had they been to? What memories do they have? Which players have they seen? Drunken frat boys, and screaming sorority sisters, laughed, and cheered creating lifelong friendship through baseball. Then there was one thing that really struck me, and humbled me, and reminded me to be grateful for the easy access that I have to baseball.

Baseball is America’s Pastime, but it is played around the world and in 2020, roughly 31% of Major League players hailed from Latin American countries. Most of us see baseball and its high salaries as a luxury, but to the Latin American players, it’s a way out of poverty for not only themselves and their families, but many times for those in their community who benefit from the charitable acts that the few players who do make it give back. While today’s stars of Latin America are known to us who follow the game, those players weren’t just born with the desire to play. They were influenced by generations of players who we never heard of, and by stories of those who were legends both here and overseas; Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, and Willie Mays, all superstars who helped spread the game around the world. Yet even if those names did not resound themselves, there was one team that did. The New York Yankees, owners of a record 27 World Championships, you’d be hard pressed to find many families around the world who had not heard of the New York Yankees.

The crowd had just finished singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the middle of the seventh inning on this Friday night, and as usual people were coming down the aisles of the stadium seats, many milling around by the photo well trying to get a peek and the attention of their favorite players, and as the inning was about to start, one gentleman remained. A Latino, probably in his mid-thirties just stood there staring toward the batter’s box while Salt Lake’s pitcher Ty Buttrey was finishing up his warmup throws to catcher Austin Romine. The man got my attention and asked me as he pointed to the box, “Is that Austin Romine”? to which I replied in the affirmative and went back to what I was doing. I knew that he would be asked to take his seat once the game began, but it wasn’t my job to do, and I remember what it’s like to be on that side of the railing.

Austin Romine

Security came up to the gentleman and kindly asked him to take his seat, to which the man did not argue, but just before he left, he said the most authentic thing I’ve heard all season. In a heavily accented voice, and speaking of Bees catcher Austin Romine, “I jus’ wanted to see a Yankee. He played for the Yankees” as he pointed to Austin Romine behind the plate, then turned around and left. He returned to take his seat, wherever they may have been, but I was instantly moved by the power of his words. Austin Romine hasn’t played for the Yankees since 2019, and Salt Lake City is worlds apart from New York, yet this man with the look of excitement and joy on his face said in his heavily accented voice, “I jus’ wanted to see a Yankee, and he used to play for the Yankees”, that statement was all I could think about the rest of the night. This man’s wish, his dream for who knows how long, had probably been going to New York, watching a Yankees game, and fulfilling a dream, but the desire for that was so strong in him, that he was in awe of a man, who simply had put on the Yankees uniform.

Immediately after the game, without even considering that Austin had just caught nine innings of baseball, sorry about that Austin, I approached him and said I had a story to tell. Reluctantly Austin gave me a look like whatever, just say it. I could see the boredom and tiredness in his face as I gave him a quick background as to what had just happened, but when I said those words, “He just wanted to see a Yankee”, Austin’s demeanor changed, you could see he was touched, and said, “I wish I could have met him to say hi, thank you for telling me that, that’s really special”. How can you not be romantic about baseball?

A Dugout Tale with Jessica Kleinschmidt

May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month and like the various heritage and Pride months that are celebrated in the United States I find it to be both a celebration of cultures and big neon sign that says we live in a society that is so backwards that we still must remember our diverse communities and force ourselves to think about what they have endured and continue to endure in some ways. Let us first look at some reasons as to why we celebrate, and how we can do so respectfully.

Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month is set aside to acknowledge the contributions that members of this community have made to the United States and all over the world. The need to remember the contributions of the AAPI has reached a point of urgency as the anti-Asian hate crimes have seen a spike over the last couple of years since the start of the Covid pandemic.

May was chosen as AAPI Heritage Month because long before we cared to remember the first Japanese immigrants arrive in the county in May of 1843; and just over 25 years later, the transcontinental railroad was complete and worked out by roughly 200,000 Chinese immigrants under some of the worst conditions.

The United States would finally acknowledge AAPI in 1979 when President Carter signed a proclamation if the first AAPI week, and another thirteen years until Congress would pass an amendment that created AAPI Month. Through these political actions, May is now use to celebrate and amplify AAPI voices and concerns as the uptick in violence toward the community was up 150% in 2020, even when overall hate crimes were down according to a study done by the group Stop AAPI Hate.

While this is a time for AAPI to celebrate, the rest of us must consider taking the time to understand and educate ourselves about a culture other than our own. I took this opportunity to sit down with Jessica Kleinschmidt, multimedia journalist for the Oakland Athletics of Major League Baseball, and speak to her about baseball, her Filipino ethnicity, and what AAPI Heritage Month means to her.

Sitting down with Jessica made me realize that I have never really given much thought about my Mexican ethnicity. I have a background in sociology, so I know what I am supposed to know about my ethnicity, but I never really considered how I learned about who I was or where my family came from. Jessica shared a story of how she first discovered that she was different through a bowl of rice, and pizza.

“When we would make food, we would always have rice, and I spent the night at a friend’s house, and I was waiting for us to eat, and we had pizza…I was waiting while they all started eating, and my friend’s mom asked, “what are you waiting for, aren’t you going to eat?”, and I [asked] when is the rice going to come”?

Jessica shared that when she got home the next day and told her mother about what took place at her friend’s house her mother took the time to share her family’s background and culture and it was from there that she began to see and understand her life in a different way.

What does AAPI Heritage Month mean to you?

It’s about awareness and about embracing the fact that we’re different. Understanding there’s a lot of stereotypes and racism out there so when people meet me, they’re like, “Well, you don’t look Asian”, and that’s where it kind of stems from. It was actually Tony Kemp, one of the players here who taught me about how racist things are; he would be told, “well, you don’t sound black… you sound educated”. For me, it was the same thing. I was like, what does an Asian look like to you? Don’t ever ask that to people, because, of course, that adds to the stereotypes, but it was also about the fact that’s what I wanted to learn, like why am I different and to embrace the fact that I’m different. There are a lot of shitty things going on in the Asian community, there’s a lot of violent crimes and hate crimes that I wasn’t even aware of, especially living in the Bay Area where that population is so significant. I want to know what’s going on, and there [are] ways to help and to show people that being Asian doesn’t mean you have to look a certain way and or act a certain way and we’re still here, and we’re so proud of our lineage. My family worked really hard to come to America and I love that for them. So being able to celebrate how hard we worked to make a better life for ourselves is just phenomenal.

What do you think people can do to raise awareness about the important issues that impact your community?

Its just starting with asking the right questions, it doesn’t even have to be the right question, just be curious, and instead of saying, “you don’t look Asian” [ask], “tell me about your background” or “do you still practice the culture that you grew up having”? For us, it started with food, and then that turned into asking, “When did you guys come over to America”? “What was it like being raised in the Philippines”, and online has tons of stuff you can look up, take classes, and my DMs are always open. Tony and Michelle Kemp’s DMs are always open because they want to teach about the +1 Effect [and] systematic racism, racial injustice, and police brutality.

Jessica is now proud of her ethnicity, but it took time to grow, understand and accept who she was at first.

That bowl of rice reminded me how different I was and how much we just marched to the beat of our own drum. When I was little, that was weird. It was weird to have rice with everything and that turned into me embracing the fact that this is what I like to do, this is what my family likes to do and it’s okay to be different, if anything it’s way more beautiful to be different. When you’re so young, learning that is difficult because you want to be like everybody else. You don’t want to be the last one picked in dodgeball. You want to be the first or the second and not have to stand there waiting and now it’s like, you want to be proud of who you are, you’re going to rub people the wrong way. Also, just the fact that knowing that I did have a different background than a lot of people, that immediately made me know I was going to handle my career and personal relationships differently. It is just really cool to know that I was able to say I’m different than everybody else, and it all has to do with my somewhat insane Filipino mother.

Having been raised in a Mexican household, I very much could relate to having rice with every meal, coupled with beans of course. Thanksgiving meals were always, turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and a side of rice and beans.

I began to cover the Bay Bridge Series back in 2019 when I started writing my book about the River Cats because of the ties that both teams have to Sacramento. In 2021 I had the opportunity to meet Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, who I have been a fan of since her days at the Sacramento Bee in the 90s. I’ve enjoyed her work and her career for not only what she’s accomplished in this profession but how she went about doing it. It was an awkward moment for me as I stumbled over my words and shook her hand. Susan was ever so gracious and humble throughout the whole thing and I’m grateful for the time she gave to me. In preparing to meet with Jessica I discovered that Susan has also been an inspiration in her career as well.

Susan Slusser certainly does [inspire me], and I feel like it’s because she taught me just to stay true to who I was…I remember watching her and she stayed true to who she was. She also asked the questions she was genuinely curious about and watching her ask questions, from a journalistic perspective made me ask questions from a personal perspective, and whether it’s, “Hey, can you help me with something”? and seeing how she carries herself with confidence helped me with my career.

It was at this point in our conversation that I thought back to just prior to sitting down with Jessica today during A’s Maganger Mark Kotsay’s pre-game interview. I happened to be standing behind Jessica during the media conference and while I stood there with my voice recorder, I could see Jessica with her recorder in hand, and an old-fashioned pen and notebook, jotting down quotes, and seamlessly asking the right questions. Watching her in that interview was a work of art, and she inspired me, humbled me, and made me think of the day I first met her.

I introduced myself to Jessica before the final game of the Bay Bridge series in Oakland last year. I had just started to follow her on Twitter and Instagram earlier in the year because of her podcast with Rachel Luba called Cork’d Up. While it was a brief encounter I was surprised when Jessica said that she recognized my username on Twitter and gave me a hug when we met as though we had known each other for years. I was a bit shocked that she had even known that I existed and taken aback at how forward she was with the hug, but I’ve learned since then, that’s just Jessica; honest and real to herself. While my first interaction is not as significant, I can see the similarities in Jessica’s story of meeting Susan Slusser for the first time.

I saw her [Susan Slusser] at A’s FanFest 2018 And I just walked in front of her and said, “nice to meet you”, and she goes, “you do a really good job”, and for somebody that does a phenomenal job to say that was sensational. At the time of course we worked together on the A’s beat, and now not only do I look up to her as a mentor, she is one of my closest friends.

In a 2021 interview with Nevada Sport Net, Jessica said about her journalism style as wanting to “Think about these guys as the heartbeats underneath their uniforms”, and I felt that. Having studied sociology I try to focus on more of the human element of a story than I do the numbers when writing my own work, so I wanted to know what Jessica felt was the most difficult part of this journalistic style for her.

I think it’s developing the relationships and even that’s not necessarily challenging, but I have to remind myself that that’s the reason why I’m so different, people are going to embrace that in a different way. You’re used to a game story, you’re going to get the slash line, you’re going to say this is how Paul Blackburn did, and that’s fine; but I want to talk about the fact that he got a little emotional talking about how he shares an ERA group with Justin Verlander, or how he talked about Shohei Ohtani’s numbers being like that of a video game. [James Kaprielian walks by us] There is James Kaprielian and he emulates what Kobe Bryant does because he looks up to Kobe Bryant. Tony Kemp, I talk to him as a dad and a husband. People are going to want to know about the curveballs, and I can still talk about that, but I want you to know who these people actually are. Yes, they are superstars, but they go home to their families, and I think it’s the normal things that can be the challenging part.

I fell ass backwards into writing about baseball through a fit of desperation, and the Sacramento River Cats allowed me to cut my teeth with their organization and its been full speed ahead ever since. I studied sociology in college, took one journalism class on mass media as an undergrad just for the transfer units, and while I could write a good research paper, I lacked the experience in writing a gripping story, or being able to ask the right question, or even how to just get in there and ask any question. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, but I was starting to feel like I was beginning to make some progress as a freelance journalist this year. Sitting down with Jessica made me realize that she just gave me a Master’s course in twenty minutes.

Having been at this now since 2018, I still like to take a step back and take in what I get to experience every summer, and last week after a game in Sacramento, I asked a cohort who has been on assignment, if she ever does the same. We reminisced of when we used to sit in the stands, and to those thoughts of wishing we could walk on the field with the players, and here we were, doing just that. Looking up into the crowd from the field is a different feeling. Whether it be at Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton, California for Single-A ball, or in Sacramento’s Sutter Health Park for Triple-A, or seeing the massive stadiums in the Majors, the feeling always humbles me, but this isn’t my livelihood. I don’t rely on what I’m producing to pay my bills, so I asked Jessica if she as a professional has ever taken the time to reflect on where she is in her career.

That’s a great question. I need to do that more often because I ask the players that a lot. I just asked Paul Blackburn last night, “You’ve come a long way, do you have a chance to think about that”? He’s like, “No I haven’t”, and not in a bad way, I’m jealous of him because he just doesn’t over think things, and I’m like, oh that must be nice; but every now then sure. I need to do that more though because I also know that when I do interviews with people, I do like to have that connection with them, and I do get to step back and think about it. Overall, though, no. Every now and then I do need to just sit in the crowd for fun because at the end of the day, I grew up a baseball fan. I grew up playing baseball.

Jessica wasn’t only a baseball fan, but she was an A’s fan, and her dreams began here at the Coliseum when she was 12 years old.

What I’m most proud of about my career is the fact that I was 12 years old at this exact stadium watching Eric Chavez hit a homerun, and the moment I got home I told my dad, “I’m going to be the A’s reporter one day. I’m going to do it” and the best part was he just said, “Ok, lets do it”. Unfortunately, it was the last game that he and I ever went to, Major League Baseball wise, but it was the fact that I said I wanted to do it, and I did it. I also know that a lot of girls and young women are looking up to me, and to give them advice has been phenomenal. I keep it real, and as many mentors as I possess, I’m mentoring a lot of people, and I think that’s something that I’m very proud of.

The Oakland A’s have been managed by Bob Melvin for the entirety of Jessica’s professional career until this season when Mark Kotsay took the reins, and I was curious about the changes she has seen with the new skipper at the helm.

Its really interesting that you ask that because A’s managers seem to have a specific vibe about them, and that’s laid back. For Bob, he was my manager for four years and I learned so much from him. I just saw him recently when the A’s were playing the Padres right after the Sean Manaea trade, so everyone was emotional. Not just the fact that Bob was returning to the A’s Spring Training facility where he was for a decade, but he gave me a big hug, and I didn’t even know he was a hugger. For Kotsay, he worked under BoMel, and he was able to learn so much from him but also his managerial style is very Kotsay, its very So. Cal guy and he’s fine. He’s easy to talk to and he’s still trying to figure it out which I understand…but the best part of the two, and the most imperative for the A’s is they let the players be themselves, and that’s beyond the playing field.

Jessica is well aware of the heartache that every A’s fan goes through during the off season when one of their favorite players is traded away for young talent. This past off season, the fans were dealt some hard blows when Matt Olsen was sent to Atlanta, and Matt Chapman was shipped north of the border to Toronto. Trades that sent ripples through baseball, but at the same time were par for the course here in Oakland. Having a finger on the pulse of all things A’s I asked Jessica about the fans reactions and how they are accepting the newest members of the organization.

We can’t really make an assessment on them until they are in the Bigs because they’re all playing in the PCL, which I joke that I’m hitting .300 in the PCL, because the balls fly there. I’m a Reno Aces girl and I hated interviewing the pitchers after those games, but I also know that you have to give them the benefit of the doubt. You look at Christian Pache, when Olson was traded, a lot of baseball fans who are Braves fan said, “you got so spoiled”, not one person said you guys overpaid with Matt Olson. With Langeliers who you mentioned, the guy is just solid. I’ve watched him hit, and I think he can do a really good job with transitioning. With Pache, his defense is second to none. He’s a lot like Ramon Laureano where if the ball is near him, runners are not going to run. His offense hasn’t been great, but I talked to Kotsay about it yesterday and the ones that stood out to everybody were his hard-hit balls. He’s getting unlucky, hitting them where everybody is, which is difficult, but at the same time, when it comes to that he’s going to figure it out. He’s still young, he’s so important to this organization, just from a flashy player perspective, and that’s the diving catches, and the fact that he’s very approachable, and he loves the young fans. He’s very imperative to the success of this place.

Kevin Smith has been doing a fabulous job as well. He was acquired in the Chapman trade, and I think he’s trying to get a feel for the actual foul space right now, and I asked Kotsay about him today and he said he’s becoming a more natural third baseman, he’s usually a shortstop so its good to see him transition from that. His hitting has been really good…and he carries himself well. I think the [fans] just need to have faith. The front office always knows what they’re doing with the budget that they’re given, and I’ve been very impressed so far.

The Oakland A’s did their part in celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islanders Heritage Month this weekend but it was extra special in that Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Angels rolled into town. Jessica tells of the Saturday double-header that included a walk off home run by Luis Barrera in Game 1, and Shohei Ohtani’s 100th career home run in Game 2.

From a journalistic perspective, it was great, but in a different way. Like I love a walk off and I love the Shohei home run, but one of our communications assistants, Sergio, it was his time to shine. He went on TV and got to be the interpreter for Luis [Barrera] and that made me like a happy big sister. I’ve been covering Luis Barrera for years, he got his big-league debut last season, so it was emotional to see him not only do well, but he had a crappy couple of innings…and we forgot about that because he had a walk off home run. That’s the beauty of baseball is that you get a chance to redeem yourself every time. I try to look at that from both a career perspective and life perspective. You can fuck up, but you’re going to have another chance to make it better. Then of course there is Shohei Ohtani who I think every home run he hits is a big deal but for him to do it here is great and I love how even the fans embrace how much of a superstar he is because he is so important to the game. A two-way player is going to help kids too…and I think that’s important as well. He’s done amazing things, and I love to see the culture he brings, he’s an international superstar and that’s important to the game.

Sitting down with Jessica was an amazing experience. She talks about wanting to connect with the players, and with her audience, and I can attest to that during my time in the dugout with her. On a superficial level, she comes off like your best friend that you can sit down with to enjoy the game and eat nachos while sipping on your favorite adult beverage, but Jessica’s like an onion, she has layers. She is an advocate for understanding diversity and ending hate, she’s a role model to women, she’s Filipina and she’s proud; but at the end of the day, and for as much as I’ve hyped her up, Jessica Kleinschmidt is still a human who embraces her “silliness” and “stupidness”, and once accidentally said “fart” live on the air.

So, what’s next for Jessica Kleinschmidt? She loves being in front of the camera, on the radio, in podcasts, and producing content, and wants to be, in her own words, “The Mike Trout of baseball media”. She’s no longer wet behind the ears in her journalism career, but her star is only beginning to shine. You can follow Jessica on Twitter @KleinschmidtJD or Instagram @jessicakleinschmidt.

Grow A Mustache…It’s Better For Your Health

Mustaches and baseball go together like mustaches and 70’s porn. There have been some great mustaches in the history of the game especially with the Oakland A’s of the early 70’s and most notably Rollie Fingers and his beautiful handlebar mustache which to me sets the standard for a quality baseball mustache. There have been a multitude of mustaches around baseball, but I think Dennis Eckersley, Rich Gossage, Don Mattingly, and Rod Beck set the bar pretty high when it comes to everyday mustache grooming standards; and of course, who can forget the “Mad Hungarian” Al Hrabosky’s mutton chop-like horseshoe mustache which had a life of its own.

Facial hair in general seemed to start to make a powerful comeback in baseball right around 2004 with the Boston Red Sox, but as of late I really see the mustache becoming the go to, especially in May for Mustache May. In my opinion the best mustache for current players hands down goes to Daniel Mengden of the Omaha Storm Chasers of the International League and Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. Mengden who pitched in the Major for the Oakland Athletics sports a classic handlebar mustache a la Rollie Fingers. Runner-up in the category would have to go to J.P. France of the Sugar Land Space Cowboys who also uses the handlebar.

Okay, okay, so why are we talking about mustaches? Well, because its May, and May is “Mustache May”! What’s Mustache May? Its basically a bunch of guys sitting around getting bored with nothing better to do besides be lazy and look for an excuse not to shave while giving the finger to “The Man”. That’s the simple version of it really, and too the best of my knowledge, that’s how it started back in 2001 when a group of river guides in Moab, Utah were annoyed that their employer required them to stay clean shaven. The loophole though was that they were allowed to have mustaches, and so, Mustache May was born.

While Movember was designed to specifically raise awareness for men’s health issues during the month of November, Mustache May was just a thing to do. Mustache May appears to have less of an impact than Movember, but it continues to follow suit for the last decade, and that is that reason that I will be participating in Mustache May this year.

I have selected “Beauty 2 The Streetz”, an organization run by Shirley Raines who provides makeup, showers, and hair color for the homeless women of Skid Row in Los Angeles, California. Shirley was named the 2021 CNN Hero of the Year for the work that she does for her “Queens” and “Kings”. Shirley has been able to expand her services beyond the hygiene needs for those who lack resources and provides food, clothing, and safety to thousands each week. For more information and to donate please go to Beauty 2 The Streetz

As a bonus, for anyone who donates between May 1-31, 2022, please take a screenshot and DM me a receipt to be entered into a drawing for a special prize which will be announced later. The winner will be announced with my post on Monday, June 6, 2022.

There are so many good causes to choose from that I was overwhelmed, but grateful for Ella Stone-Kerr who is an advocate for the marginalized, unseen, and unwanted populations in our communities who pointed me in Shirley’s direction, so a big thank you to her for this inspiration.

Wearing a mustache means something different to everyone who participates, but for those who do, celebrate that fine ‘stache by taking a stand for something and wearing it proudly.

Where it started……
Mustache May – Day 1

Mondongo

I wasn’t planning on writing about mondongo today, but life happens, and you adjust accordingly. Mondongo is a stew made from tripe and vegetables with different variations throughout Latin America. Growing up in a Mexican household I knew it as “menudo”. While I’m more of a pozole guy myself, I was looking forward to trying a Columbian style mondongo until the San Francisco Giants ruined my plans.

Heliot Ramos, one of the Giants’ Top 5 prospects started the season in Triple-A Sacramento as the 2022 season got underway this past week, and today he made his Major League debut. So, how does any of this have to do with mondongo? Well for that let me take you back to last weekend…

I had the opportunity to talk to Heliot last week about his Spring, and what his goals were for 2022. We got a little sidetracked and as usual with me the topic food came up, and he was telling me about who a group of the guys would go out to eat mondongo before every game. He couldn’t remember the name of the place, and said that he would get back to me. Well, I guess that’s not happening any time soon because after his debut performance in San Francisco, I don’t think he’ll be putting on a River Cats jersey any time soon.

Heliot said that when he’s at the plate he tries to keep his mind clear, stay patient at the plate and look for the best pitch he could hit and put his best swing on. That patience paid off five days later for the 22-year-old. Originally drafted with the 19th pick of the 2017 Major League Draft at just 17 years old out of Puerto Rico, Ramos quickly ascended through the Giants’ minor league system and reaching Triple-A Sacramento at the end of 2021.

Over the last two Spring Trainings, Ramos continued to show the Giants’ brass that he would be an impact player, and when he started this season in Triple-A, it was on his first swing of the season that he unloaded on a 3-0 pitch that was sent over the left field fence for a two-run home run. In just four games this season Ramos had one home run, four RBI, and a .950 OPS, impressive enough for the Giants to call and he came out of Saturday night’s River Cats game after the third inning.

Today’s River Cats and San Francisco Giants games both were scheduled for 1:05pm start times which really put a damper on watching Heliot’s debut, but thankfully cell phones were tuned into the Giants’ game all around; including inside of the River Cats dugout where in a touching moment of humanity the entire bench circled around to watch Heliot get his first Major League hit, in his first Major League at bat against Marlin’s ace Trevor Rogers. I don’t know Heliot on a personal level, but he seemed to be a nice and humble young man, but to those who know him, he must really be special. In a cutthroat business like professional baseball, to have your very professional Triple-A manager, Dave Brundage, and your teammates, break concentration and take a minute away from their jobs to cheer you on 90 miles away speaks volumes about Heliot’s character.

Ramos was given a standing ovation by the Oracle Park crowd as he came to bat for the first time in the bottom of the second wearing a pair of leopard print orange and black cleats given to him by Brandon Crawford to which Ramos said, “I got flow now papi”. Ramos shined in his debut going 2-3 with a run scored. After the game Giants’ manager Gabe Kapler said,

I don’t think you can draw up any better. A hit in your first at-bat kind of creates a little bit of confidence and swagger. He maintained that swagger throughout. He’s been driving to this moment his entire life. He got here and took advantage of it.

(AP)

As of his own performance Ramos said,

Best moment of my life. It was great. After I got the first hit, I was more relaxed and it was pretty good, honestly. I’ve been waiting for this moment, so I just went out there and played and do what I do.

(AP)

Yes, keep doing what you do Heliot, you got the flow now, and I can’t wait to watch you pimp those home runs in The Show like you did on Opening Night in Sacramento.

Anyway, you didn’t think I’d leave you without giving you a recipe for mondongo did you? Enjoy!
https://www.mycolombianrecipes.com/mondongo-colombiano-pork-tripe-and-chorizo-soup/

Hot Diggity Dog!!

Happy New Year!! No, you’re not in some alternate universe, for me the new year starts on baseball’s Opening Day, and that time has come for the Minor Leagues. The green freshly cut grass, the bright white uniforms, the smell of hot dogs and beer lingering in the air amid the hustle and bustle of the fans, yes, this indeed is another happy new year.

While I patiently waited all off-season, and even endured the 99-day lockout imposed by Major League owners, there’s one thing I’m looking forward to the most this year, and it’s not watching the best prospects. Yes, I’m still excited to watch Heliot Ramos, Sean Hjelle, and Michael Plassmeyer work their way to the Majors, and there will be veterans like Carlos Martinez trying to make it back for one more run, but this year, this year is different. This year I’m looking forward to hot dogs.

The ever famous $2 Dog, Dinger Dogs, Green Chili Queso Dogs, the Diablo Dog, and my oh so favorite Greek Dog. These specialty dogs use locally produced Miller’s Hot Dogs who are based in Lodi, California, and topped with an amazing combination of flavors that will keep your mouth watering, your wallets thin, and you belly bulging. Here’s a quick description of the three gourmet dogs:

Green Chili Queso Dog, topped with white cheddar queso, hatch green chiles, and hickory smoked bacon. It’s a south of the border twist on an American classic that goes well with a Modelo beer.

Diablo Dog, smeared with cream cheese and topped with a house-made jalapeno relish, raspberry jam, and bacon. Its sweet, salty, with just the right amount of kick from the jalapeno relish. Oh, and the raspberry jam goes surprisingly well, so come with an open mind, and an empty belly because your tastebuds will thank you for it.

Greek Dog, topped with Tzatziki, tomatoes, cucumbers, and feta. You get a piece of the Mediterranean at Sutter Health Park, and make sure you class it up with a glass of wine from Bogle Chardonnay. Yes, this is what I’m having for dinner tonight.

If you’re not a hot dog fan, don’t worry, Sutter Health Park has a wide array of food options from ballpark classics, pizza, barbeque, tri-tip, and Mexican just to name a few. You’re bound to find something no matter what you’re craving. Of course, Sutter Health Park has more than food to offer, it is a Triple-A baseball park too.

The start of the new season brings opportunities. Opportunities to try new food, opportunities to watch the stars of tomorrow today, the opportunity to make new friends, and more importantly create memories. Those memories are not just for the fans who come out to the games, but players make their own memories as well. Heliot Ramos reflected on his time in Sacramento and the memories that he created for himself last year. From going out to eat “mondongo”, Columbia’s version of what many of you might know as “menudo”, every day with coach Jolbert Cabrera to playing against his brother, and 2019 River Cats alum, Henry Ramos in a professional game to which he said,

“Honestly that was one of the best experiences. I’ve watched my brother since I was like ten years old play professionally, and I look up to him a lot, he’s my role model. So, seeing him and playing against him, he hit a lot of homers playing against us, so its cool seeing him play like that. To me, he’s a superstar”.

Of course, not every athlete has a chance to play with or against their brother at the professional level, and their memories can be as pedestrian as the ones we make at work every day. Bryce Johnson shared his memory about when Mike Tauchman joined the team last year in early August,

“Mike Tauchman, came to us in Salt Lake, and he ended up coaching first base over there in the box, and [the pitcher] picks off over there [at first base] and I kid you not, like 45 seconds after the ball was already thrown back to the pitcher by the first baseman, he screams, “Back”!! telling the runner to get back. Of course, the runner’s already standing back on first base, but Mike Tauchman has a bunch of memories I can take from, I love that guy. He’s a character and he’s always got some trick up his sleeve that makes everyone laugh; he’s a great guy”.

What memories are you looking to create this year? Or what are some of your favorite memories from the past 22 seasons of River Cats baseball? I’d love to read what you have to say in the comments. If you’re looking for more memories from the Sacramento River Cats, check out my new book, “Let’s Get It All”, a memoir of the amazing 2019 River Cats run to the Triple-A Championship. Part One is available now for FREE on this website at https://dugoutblog.com/lets-get-it-all/

56-71

Minor League baseball is a bit of a weird animal. While one would expect a Major League team to be good or bad based on their previous season, Minor League teams never know what their rosters will be like from one day to the next. So, when the River Cats were introduced as “Your Tiple-A National Champions” before each game, it always was a little weird to me as only a handful of players from that 2019 Championship were still on this year’s team. That said, the River Cats ended their season last week with a record of 56-71, which includes their 4-6 record in this weird playoff thing that Minor League Baseball decided to do this year. It was a far cry from 2019, but so much in the world has changed since 2019, hasn’t it?


There were some good times and some bad, but worldwide pandemic aside, I should have taken my tweet from February 4th as a sign of what was to come. In response to the Minnesota Twins tweeting out the announcement that they had acquired Shaun Anderson from the San Francisco Giants for Lamonte Wade Jr, I replied, “You got the better deal I think”. While Wade would start the season with Triple-A Sacramento, he would become a valuable part to the Giants lineup this year, and even was named winner of the Willie Mac Award, awarded annually by the Giants to a player for their individual achievements, as well as competitive spirit, and leadership. Anderson found himself bouncing up and down with four different Major League clubs and a total of eight teams in eight months. While I was hoping for more of a season like Wade’s, my year ended up a lot more like Anderson’s.


I opened the 2021 Minor League Baseball season in Las Vegas. After writing about the River Cats 2019 championship season, I decided that it would be important to write about the first game post pandemic. Minor League Baseball had lost a season, teams were lost, but baseball endured. Game 1 of the 2021 season brought the return of Tyler Beede after undergoing Tommy John surgery the previous Spring, it showcased a piece of the future of the San Francisco Giants with Joey Bart hitting a homerun in his Triple-A debut. The Ballpark was electric, and although it was opening night and the first game since 2019, the game played second string to the return of Las Vegas native Drew Robinson, making his return to professional baseball a year after his attempted suicide which cost him his right eye. Drew had a rough night going 0-4 with four strikeouts in front of his hometown crowd, but the weird part for me was heading out to the Vegas Strip after the game and every channel had something to say about the River Cats and Drew Robinson. Robinson would have a memorable moment in front of his friends and family when in the final game of the series in Las Vegas, he hit a home run and the crowd erupted. Robinson didn’t find much success and saw his playing time dwindle until he ultimately retired during the year to take a new position with the Giants organization as a mental health advocate with their End the Stigma program.


Memorial Day marked a special night as local boy Sammy Long made his Triple-A debut and out of the blue we had a star. Tying a Major League record of striking out the first eight batters he faced, I couldn’t find a Minor League record, but I feel safe in saying this set the mark. Long, who had just a couple of years earlier been contemplating giving up his career now found himself on the fast track to the Majors and would spend the rest of the season going up and down with the Giants.


Sacramento was also the beginning of another Scott Kazmir comeback. After being out of organized baseball since 2017, although he did pitch for a Sugarland Skeeters developmental team Eastern Reyes del Tigre last season prior to Sugarland’s promotion into Triple-A baseball. Kazmir made his was way back to the Majors with the Giants as well as being a member of the Silver Medal winning USA Baseball Team at the Tokyo Olympics.


In 2019 the River Cats celebrated their 20th anniversary, and 2021 would mark 20 years since the last River Cats no-hitter, a 7-inning gem pitched by Micah Bowie. There had never been a 9-inning no hitter in River Cats history, but that changed in front of 4,458 reported fans on a warm summer night in September. Four pitchers combined their efforts to accomplish the feat, most notably with Norwith Gudino who started the game by striking out the first 7 of 9 hitters. He would end the night with a career high 9 in four innings. Tyler Cyr, Connor Menez, and Trevor Gott would round out the relief pitchers for the rest of the night who shut down the Salt Lake Bees offense.


2021 may not have been the season River Cats fans were hoping for, but the future looks bright with up and coming stars like Marco Luciano, Luis Matos, and Hunter Bishop. For now, let’s be grateful that we have baseball back in the City of Trees and let’s look back at some of the players that brought smiles to our faces as the River Cats released their annual player awards.


Press release from the Sacramento River Cats by Maverick Pallack
The Sacramento River Cats, the San Francisco Giants’ Triple-A affiliate, finished off an exciting season on Sunday with the reveal of their team awards. Seven different River Cats were named the winners of eight awards, which were voted on by their teammates and coaches.
Offensive Player of the Year and Team MVP: Infielder Jason Krizan
Infielder Jason Krizan was a constant presence in the River Cats lineup, finishing the season as the Triple-A West hit king with 136 in 2021. Krizan hit .316 while leading Sacramento with 67 runs, 26 doubles, 73 RBIs, 38 multi-hit games, and 18 multi-RBI games. He was also second on the team with 16 home runs, and even threw 1.1 scoreless innings on the mound.
Pitcher of the Year: Right-Hander Kervin Castro
In his first season above Single-A, 22-year-old Kervin Castro forced his way to San Francisco with a great Triple-A debut. After a quick adjustment period, Castro impressed going 6-1 with a 2.86 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, a .197 opposing batting average, and 60 strikeouts over 44.0 innings. He also had Triple-A West’s longest streak of consecutive games with a strikeout, punching out a batter in all 30 games before his promotion.
Defensive Player of the Year: Outfielder Bryce Johnson
It’s one thing to make a full-extension diving catch, it’s another to do it twice in the same game, but outfielder Bryce Johnson did it on back-to-back batters twice this season. The speedy outfielder consistently flashed the leather and made highlight plays for the River Cats. He also had a great season with the bat, hitting .286 with 65 runs, nine home runs, 44 RBIs, 48 walks, and a Triple-A West leading 30 stolen bases.
Most Exciting Player: Infielder Thairo Estrada
Prior to his promotion to San Francisco on June 29, infielder Thairo Estrada was arguably the best hitter in Minor League Baseball, leading Triple-A West with a .385 batting average and a 1.057 OPS. Estrada continued to impress with the Giants, hitting .273 with 19 runs, seven home runs, and 22 RBIs in 52 games. Estrada is the second straight infielder acquired from the Yankees organization to win the Most Exciting Player Award, with Abiatal Avelino taking it home in 2019.
Most Versatile Player: Infielder/Outfielder Will Toffey
Will Toffey has done everything the team has asked, playing left field, right field, first base, second base, and third base. He even caught some bullpens when the River Cats were in need. Despite the many different gloves worn this season, Toffey had a .988 fielding percentage. The midseason trade acquisition from the Mets hit .270 with 15 runs, two home runs, and nine RBIs in 31 games for Sacramento, his first year at Triple-A.
Most Improved Player: Infielder Peter Maris
Infielder Peter Maris excelled when on the field for Sacramento. During his end-of-season call-up in 2019, Maris was 2-for-35 (.057) in 12 regular season games. In 2021, despite sporadic playing time, Maris became a force at the plate, hitting .289 with 23 runs, nine home runs, 29 RBIs, and a .847 OPS.
Best Teammate: Catcher Ronnie Freeman
If you don’t like Ronnie Freeman, you don’t like people. Freeman is absolutely beloved by his teammates and has played a major role in the River Cats’ success each of the last two seasons. Over his final seven games, Freeman had four runs, three home runs (including the Sept. 30 game-winner), and five RBIs. This is Freeman’s second Best Teammate award, having shared it with catcher Francisco Peña in 2019. (End)


Now the only questions left for the 2021 season is whether Ronnie Freeman retires and if a certain person I know says “yes” to a date with him?? Come back in 2022 for the answer. Until then, Claws Up!

ScapeGOAT 🐐

Take me out to the ballgame, take me out with the crowd, buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks, I don’t care…wait a minute, I do care if I’m ever coming back because I haven’t been to game since September of 2019!!! Here it is, April 7, 2021, and baseball is back, I’m back, there is kind of a crowd, but no peanuts or cracker jacks for me, and things are starting to look right in the world. I had originally planned on attending a scrimmage in Sacramento between the Alternate Site San Francisco Giants against the Alternate Site Oakland Athletics, but here I am in Oakland watching the A’s take on the reigning World Series Champions Los Angeles Dodgers.
Getting the opportunity to watch the Dodgers play is always exciting for me, but today is even more special because the man of the hour, Trevor Bauer will be making his second start for the Dodgers after signing his lucrative contract over the winter, and I tell ya boys, the hype is real. Think what you want about the man, but you can’t deny the talent he has, and last year’s Cy Young, Mickey Mouse or not, was deserved. I’m going out on a limb here and tell ya that he’s repeating in ’21. The was no doubt that Trevor was the attraction of the day especially as he was loosening up in right field where a large crowd gathered to take photos and wish him well.
Bauer went up against Jesus Luzardo for Oakland, and I was excited about an old familiar face starting behind the plate. Long time Giants prospect, and former Sacramento River Cats player Aramis Garcia got the start today and he did an amazing job as Luzardo started off the game a little wild forcing Aramis to work a little harder. He handled it well, and I hope he gets the opportunity to stay a while. Its one of those bittersweet things though with Aramis as another catcher and former River Cats player, a legend in his partial season that he played there, Francisco Pena is down with the Alternate Site team so it would be nice to see him back in the Majors as well. Sadly, Aramis didn’t do so well at the plate against Bauer as he would go down on strikes in two plate appearance before being lifted for Sean Murphy.
I was surprised to see how many Dodgers fans were in attendance, and they easily outnumbered those who were there to root on the hometown A’s. To top it off, throughout the game chants of “Lets Go Dodgers” rang throughout the Coliseum. It wasn’t until the bottom of the 10th that fans started to chant, “Beat LA” and I think that had more to do with just wanting to go home. It was a beautiful California day with temperatures in the low 80s, but with a 12:37pm start I think we were all a little tired of sitting in the sun.
I went to the game as a blogger but being a Dodgers fan for literally 40 years I couldn’t help but get a little excited and jump out of my seat when Zach McKinstry dropped a perfect squeeze that scored Max Muncy to allow the Dodgers to regain the lead. It was also another great outing by Bauer following his Dodgers debut as he pitched 6 2/3 innings, allowing 2 runs on 3 hits while striking out 10. It was pitch number 96 that was the beginning of the end when he gave up a solo shot to Matt Chapman. The Dodgers still lead 3-2 when Bauer was pulled and replaced by Kenley Jansen. The crowd around me was not happy, and I was a little nervous myself. It turns out the bad mojo was all Jansen needed to blow the save. Oakland would ultimately come back to win in 10 with a walk off hit from Mitch Moreland.
Bauer’s outing should have been the story of the game, but it was leaked that some of the baseballs used by Bauer, and presumably other pitchers whose names were not leaked were checked for foreign substances. Now Bauer has been the most vocal about the use of foreign substances on balls to increase spin rate over the past few years, and it was just this past off season that Major League Baseball stated that they would enforce cracking down on pitchers who used the “sticky” stuff. Its no coincidence though that Bauer’s name is the first person to get any attention over the matter. A process that was supposed to be done in secret, yet the leaks and rumors revolved around only one man and that’s a little fishy to me. I’ll call it what it is, and that’s a witch hunt. I honestly don’t know where to stand on the subject matter. Players say that they like that pitchers have such good control over the ball for their own safety, and its also no secret that those early Hall of Fame pitchers used foreign substances, so where do we draw the line to what’s cheating and what’s not? In regard to proving how the substance even got on the ball, former Mets pitcher Carlos Torres said on Instagram that “It’s a joke to every try to pretend you can figure it out”. Like with steroids, baseball has turned a blind eye to this for many years, so what is the sudden about face for now? My guess? A thorn in the side of Rob Manfred and the owners by the name of Trevor Bauer.

Quality Time with Jade Hewitt

Growing up my heroes were found on the front of baseball cards. I can still remember the day that I was introduced to baseball cards, and how my friend gave me a 1987 Topps card #520 Jack Clark. I can still picture it all clearly that morning on the bus to school. The wood framed border. The picture of Jack in the middle of what appears to be a rundown in a Spring Training game. I was fascinated by it all, and when he told me that I could have it, little did either of us know that 34 years later, I’d still be engrossed by the pictures on the front of baseball cards. I’ve made life long friends, and some of my happiest memories come from my baseball cards as baseball cards are a bridge.

Thirty-four years is a long time, as a matter of fact its longer than Jade Hewitt of Jade Hewitt Media and the Quality Time vlog, has been alive yet baseball cards, well actually softball cards from the Athletes Unlimited Professional Softball league is actually how we met. Last season the Topps company, which is celebrating its 70th season of producing baseball cards in 2021, made an On Demand set for Athletes Unlimited Softball, and Jade Hewitt was the photographer. I bought a number of those sets, and one day I noticed that Jade was a recurring buyer of some of the cards I was selling, so I reached out to her and here we are.

Jade played softball about 17 years including four years at Millsaps College in Jackson, MS where she lettered all four years. She was passionate about softball, but her love of videography and photography started in high school when she picked up her dad’s VHS camera.    

“I just thought it was fun to tell stories, and show my friends, and show our experiences. I was that geek that took a camera everywhere I went. I would go to a friend’s house, I’d have a camera, or I’d go to a friend’s party, I’d have a camera. I was always just really drawn to capturing life and telling stories”.

Jade would turn her interest into a small business in 2006, and she started to work professionally in 2008. As she entered college, Jade’s softball coach allowed her to merge her love for both the game and photography into an opportunity that would become her career by allowing her to use the team as the subject matter of her photoshoots and videos.

“Looking back on that stuff now, it was a great learning experience, and just really laid the foundation of working in softball where I was comfortable and using my skills with a camera in a spot where I felt strongly about the game, and it took off from there. So, I wouldn’t say sports was the goal from the get, but it obviously made the most sense for me”.

While working toward her MFA in Film Production from the University of New Orleans, Jade became an intern with the Dallas Charge of the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) League which she credits for developing the building blocks and set the foundation for where she is now.

“In the world of softball, our athletes are so giving and so generous and so open minded. That first summer as an intern, I if I pitched 20 ideas, the athletes were down for all 20, and I think having them always say yes and so willing to try new things, was so influential. It enabled me to fail a lot and to succeed a lot. Just their overall positivity and encouragement that whole summer catapulted me to keep going. Not to mention just the amount of fun that we had. It was myself, the players, our trainer, and our assistant General Manager traveling for three months, and I got to get close with the players and just be right on the ground with them”.

That season would mark many first for Jade such as her the first time her photos were printed, but her favorite memory was when Cat Osterman shared Jade’s photos on social media, “I just about cried of excitement” she recalls, “there were just so many firsts and that’s so special to me; I will never forget that first year”.

The experience would build relationships of trust with the players and introduce her to many across the league as the following year she became the Media Director for the Scrap Yard Dawgs (now Scrap Yard Fast Pitch).

Jade feels that having a background in softball has helped make her a better photographer for the sport because she is able to understand the hard work that the players are putting into their craft. While an average fan might say, Amanda Chidester is a great hitter, but by being able to see the work she puts in allows Jade to experience it from a different level of appreciation, and having played at the collegiate level, knows the sacrifices that these players have had to have made to continue their playing the game they love.

“To be frank, they’re my heroes. I admire them, I look up to them so much, because I know what it takes to be that good…just on a technical level of understanding each athlete and understanding their strengths. For pitchers knowing what pitches they throw, where hitters tend to hit them, where I can capture them best. Knowing certain players and where they move best on the field. There’s a lot of little things I think that they really benefit my photography”.

This understanding helped lead Jade to her most prestigious position in photography when she was selected to be the official photographer for USA Softball on their Stand Beside Her Tour presented by Major League Baseball. After softball was taken out of the Olympics after 2008, it was finally making its return as an Olympic sport in 2020. It was an exciting time for fast pitch softball fans around the world, and Jade was there to watch it firsthand, until Covid shut it down.

“Working for USA softball and being able to wear the red, white and blue was the ultimate for me. When we were on tour and people that you met, or people that you knew, would casually ask, “Where do you want to end up working in life?” I was like, “literally right now”. Working with USA Softball was a dream, and the fact that they were able to have that position for me with Digital Media for the tour just meant so much to me that they really valued media, and brought me on, I was so grateful to USA for that. I mean, if you’re a softball fan, it doesn’t really get better than that. Then obviously, it was put on hiatus, understandable given the state of the COVID pandemic and everyone’s safety, of course, but looking back I think, oh man, we were living the dream. But I can honestly say for those for those few months that we were on tour, I soaked up every single inch that you could soak up. When people say, “Don’t take things for granted” and “Live in the now”, I really tried to do that with the tour. It’s sad that it’s over but it was one of the greatest honors to show up to work and to be able to represent the United States of America. It was such a very, very special time”.

After the Stand Beside Her tour was cancelled, Jade returned home and to Scrap Yard Fast Pitch as an independent contractor for the 2020 season.

2020 will not only be remembered for Covid-19, but for the continued fight for justice against the excessive use of force and brutality by police departments across the country, most notably against those in the black communities. Several protests broke out across the country as the incidents arose but none more prominent than the deaths of Breonna Taylor on March 13, 2020, and George Floyd on May 25, 2020. These incidents continued to separate our country along political and racial divides. No industries were immune and that held true for professional softball. While more and more players along professional sports “took a knee” during the National Anthem to show support for the victims of police brutality and Black Lives Matter, including the Seattle Storm and New York Liberty on July 25th on the WNBA’s Opening Night, the owner of Scrap Yard Fast Pitch sent out a now deleted tweet that included a photo of the players standing for the anthem said,

“Hey @RealDonaldTrump Pro Fastpitch being played live @usssaspacecoast @USSAPride Everyone respecting the FLAG!”

The fallout was drastic as all 18 members of Scrap Yard, including some on the USA Women’s National Team, walked out and refused to play for Scrap Yard. Star player Haylie McCleney tweeted,

“We might be standing in this photo but we SURE AS HELL AREN’T STANDING FOR THIS. I’m embarrassed. I’m heartbroken. I’m DISGUSTED. @ScrapYardFP I will never be associated with your organization again. BLACK LIVES MATTER. The tone deafness on this is UNBELIEVABLE!!!!”

Jade remembers the feelings when it all happened and said,

“It was extraordinarily sad and heartbreaking. It was just a very, very sad moment for everybody. For staff and players included, putting together a pr Softball season is so much work, as any operation…especially in the middle of COVID. Then to finally have this thing that everyone was looking forward to so much, and then literally in an instant, it’s all gone. It was just, it was very sad”.

Jade describes the raw emotion in the locker after the team found out about the tweet, and how their resolve to make something positive is what drove these players to something better.

“It was so hard for everybody, including the players to watch them go through this moment. I’ll never forget being in the locker room, and Kiki Stokes being in there, obviously, as one of the leaders of our franchise….it was very, very sad. And a lot of tears were shed. But ultimately, what came out of it was something that was very positive and continues to be very positive”.

Through all the turmoil, something beautiful developed through the unity, love and respect that these players had for one another, and for those across the country who suffered, and with that This Is Us Softball was born, and Jade Hewitt was there for it.

“This Is Us Softball kind of formed that night. I hold these players in the highest regard, and then to be in the room and watch them build something that was completely and 100% their own was amazing. In the room immediately following everything for those couple of days were the players and myself. I was just there as a set of hands to do whatever they needed. But I watched this group of women build something and start something and work so hard to make this happen. The whole experience, quite frankly, was just life changing. Players are usually concerned about their practice, play, and training and this and that. Now, they have got to worry about how we are going to get rental cars? How are we going to get hotels? They went from putting their playing aside to being the ones who are running the team, and that’s extraordinary when you think about these huge players dealing with buying a website and getting thank you cards printed and figuring out all the logistics. So, I felt so lucky and honored to be in that room to help them build it in whatever way they wanted to. It was a lot of late nights; we did not sleep a lot during those few weeks. There was a lot of hard work, but also a lot of personal growth as well. The players were so open to share and talk about their feelings and talk about the world and talk about what was happening. It was a very open loving understanding space that we were in and it was very life changing when it happened”.

In the wake of it all, Jade produced a powerfully moving video that captures the essence of This Is Us which you can watch here, ‘This Is Us’ Softball announcement (yahoo.com).

“Within the four days following all of that, I worked with a couple of the girls to get a script written and that was really cool to see. You have a couple of girls who are really strong writers, you have another couple of girls who are really great with logistics, you have these other couple of girls who are really great at reaching out to contacts, etc. I just saw everybody go into superhero mode. I worked with a couple of the girls who were great writers, like Ally Carda and Aubrey Leach, and we wrote a script. We filmed it and had the girls who weren’t there send in video. We made that really quickly. I pulled an all-nighter that night to build the website to get everything published as fast as possible. it was just an absolute team effort to get everything done”.

Later that summer, and amidst the Covid pandemic and lockdown that we faced as a country, Jade was fortunate enough to be a part of the media team for a new professional sports league known as Athletes Unlimited (AU).  It was Jade’s reputation and work ethic that gave her the opportunity to be a part of AU. After being referred to AU by Cat Osterman, Jade met with AU to learn about the opportunity in front of her.

“I think what Athletes Unlimited doing is quite literally changing the world for women. AU hire’s such talented people, and the mission of the company is incredible. Athletes Unlimited has been phenomenal, and they’re relentless in their pursuit to better the world by progressing professional sports for women. That’s one of my biggest goals and the one of the things I strive for is, to just keep bettering softball and keep bettering women’s sports for everybody”.

There were plenty of players for softball fans of the past 20 years to cheer for as once again the sport built generational bridges. Names like Cat Osterman, Amanda Chidester, Sam Fischer, and Megan Wiggins, inspired the younger players like Trish Parks, Kamalani Dung, and Paige Halstead. A talented set of 56 women played for Athletes Unlimited last summer, but what for Jade there was one rookie that she thinks we’ll all be watching as her career progresses.

“As for the rookies that we had, I mean, Jordan Roberts; that 310-foot home run, you can’t you forget about that. That was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever witnessed on a softball field for sure. I think that ball is still somewhere up in the air with how hard she hit it. Jordan is just a great person and a fun person to be around, so I would say keep looking out for Jordan Roberts”.

Athletes Unlimited progressive vision is what led to the Topps Company producing softball cards for the first time in their 70-year history. There have been softball cards produced in the past, but none have had the marketing or production that Topps was able to provide. Over 4,200 sets were made for the inaugural season, and another 1,300 for the Championship series, and Jade took every one of those photos.

“We had plenty of staff meetings leading up to season and I remember them talking about Topps cards, but I never connected the two like “Oh, these are going to be on trading cards”. Then when the press release came out, and everyone started texting me, I was like, “Oh, wait, I get it now”. And then I freaked out. I collected baseball cards as a kid, and I was kind of right in the era of Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Griffey Jr. So, I loved baseball cards growing up. The Topps opportunity was a huge deal for me. I think I was more excited than everybody else combined! So that was an extraordinary opportunity, and I’m still very, very excited about it”.

Although Jade had little to do with the selection of photos that Topps used in their sets, she does still have some favorite memories from the pictures that were chosen.

“Sam Fischer’s card was really cool, that was the first home run in Athletes Unlimited history; Jasmine Jackson’s was the first Grand Slam and that was special that they chose that photo. Aubree Munro’s card makes me laugh because she’s so well known for being one of the greatest catchers to ever play our game, yet her picture is of her hitting, which is great. The Championship deck was super cool as well. It was special to me to know what these athletes sacrificed and what they put in to be professional softball players, and then finally, to get that recognition on Topps cards. I would open up Twitter and I would see young girls holding their Topps decks, and that just makes me want to cry. Seeing young girls who get to hold these decks and look at their heroes, but also say to themselves, “I want to be on this card one day” is just super amazing”.

Like the NBA, Athletes Unlimited maintained a bubble, or as they called it, “The Shield” to protect themselves against Covid. Jade gave a behind the scenes look at what it was like for her and the content team.
“There’s a bunch of us that are on the Content Team, and by the time we get home to the hotel every day, we’re pretty tired. Because of COVID, everyone’s trying to keep their distance and whatnot, but I will say, my favorite memory from the shield was that there was a basketball court at our hotel. The content team would go down to the court every couple days, and we would shoot hoops for hours, just blowing off steam and taking a break from work. So yeah, we played a lot of basketball and did a lot of trick shots. Even our one of our founders, Jon Patricof, played with us one night, which was pretty awesome”.

AU is an innovative approach to professional sports that puts the players first and telling you about it would be a story on its own, so please go to auprosports.com to learn more about their exciting vision for professional softball, volleyball, and lacrosse.

For Jade, the most special part of Athletes Unlimited is how heavily invested the players are who are; from the Player Executive Committee, to various other committees, players all had a voice in shaping AU.

“I feel like that’s really setting the league up for success to really give the players the chance to voice their thoughts and their opinions about what they like, and what they don’t like. It’s really special and a testament to Jon (Patricof) and Jonathan (Soros) and the staff on how valued these players are”.

Jade’s optimism about the league carriers over into their future professional sports projects with AU Volleyball scheduled to start on February 27, Lacrosse in July, and the second season of softball to begin in late August of 2021.

“I’m so excited and really anxious and nervous for volleyball…. softball is in my bones. I know it like I know the back of my own hand. But with volleyball, I know the basics, and that’s pretty much it. So, on one hand, I’m terrified, but on the other hand, when you shoot softball for so long, you kind of get into your habits and in a rhythm, and sometimes that kind of stifles creativity; with volleyball, I don’t have any of that. [Volleyball] is going to be a total overload of new experiences and creativity and thinking outside of the box that I don’t even know exists. I’m nervous because I want to do a great job. I’m very excited and I feel like it’s probably going to be similar to my first softball season, when I was an intern; just a whole season of new experiences”.

Jade takes pride in her work and it shows; and for those of you who have Instagram, make sure to follow her @jadehewittmedia to see her work. So what does it take for a photo to stand out among the rest for Jade?

“I like to take photos that tell a story, not just a photo for photo’s sake. I want to tell something that is going to convey emotion, something that is pleasing to look at, something that if it breaks the rules of photography, it’s because there’s a reason and there’s a purpose behind it. I love shooting black and white photos because it just strips away everything except the subject and their emotion. So, a good photo to me is something that kind of gives me a rush when I take it. Usually, the mark of a great photo for me, is when I snap it, I immediately go to the dugout to go look at it, because I’m like, “Is that as good as I think it is?” So, I would definitely say that’s probably the best marker, when I’m being super intentional about what I’m trying to capture and it gets me excited”.

Jade is not lying when she says that she wants her photos to tell a story as she explained a recent post of Aubree Munro throwing the ball down to second base and you can feel her own personal excitement in the photo.

“Aubree Munro’s throwdowns belong in the Louvre. I mean, they’re just the most beautiful things that you will ever see in your entire life. I will never forget the first time I saw it up close, I literally had to pick my jaw up off the floor. I was a collegiate catcher myself, and I can tell you right now that she’s on a completely different level than anybody else on this planet. I love photographing her throwdowns! Aubree has such big expressive eyes, so I love to be on the side of her, which is where I typically photograph her. When I photographed that image, it was between innings and you can see Randi Hennigan kind of walking off a little bit because it was a throwdown. But I just saw that the light was real even, so I stopped mid-walk to squat down and take the photo. Right when I snapped it, I was really excited about it. And then the cool thing was that Aubree was really excited. She texted me about it. She was “Dude this picture.” I’ve only been shooting now for about six or seven years of Pro Softball, but when you find a photo that you’ve never taken before, it’s pretty exciting”.

Jokingly I asked Jade if there was a favorite among the pictures she has taken or if they were all special in their own as if they were her children to which she replied,

“I feel like that should be my answer, but one of my all-time favorites is from 2018 at the WBSC World Championships in Chiba, Japan. I was there with Team USA, and it was the championship game. Monica Abbott and Aubree Munro were throwing their bullpen to warm up, and it’s a shot of the back of them just standing there in their red uniforms before a game with just a beautiful sky and the bright lights on them. It’s just the kind of perspective shot that you go, “This is the moment that I was in at that at that time”. It felt so big, and it felt so special. That’s how it felt to me when USA won gold and qualified for the Olympics. I feel like that’s the picture that will always mark that that memory for me, and I think it’s one of my favorite photographs of all time”.

While interviewing Jade for this post, I learned that she was much more than just a photographer for professional softball, and like her photos, her business name tells a story. Jade Hewitt Media, is simple, and straight forward, yet powerful and all-encompassing just like the work she produces. One of Jade’s newest projects is a vlog called, Quality Time where she visits players during the off season to give fans a sneak peek into their favorite player’s lives. Episode 1 aired in mid-January with Jade visiting Sam Fischer for a week (https://youtu.be/yzh8hhv2wZQ).

“The idea came up really after my first or second summer was Pro Softball. I would shoot during season and it was the greatest time of my life, and then everybody would go home. I was like, man, I miss the athletes. I want to know what they’re doing right now. I want to know how they live their lives. What do they do in the offseason? And so, every offseason, I would just be at my desk going, “I feel like there’s a lot more going on with the athletes”. For a long time, I’d always wanted to do something like this, and then I was planning on going out to Arizona to visit Sam Fisher for a week. I was like, you know, let me bring a camera along. Let me try vlogging and just authow it goes. I was really nervous about it but when I started editing and I was like maybe we have something and then kept editing and revising. Sam was really encouraging and the people who are in my inner circle who knew what I was doing were super encouraging. Now Athletes Unlimited is now behind it, which is an amazing opportunity, so it looks like it’s going to have a good life of its own”.

Since you’ve read this far, I hope that you take the time to watch Episode One of Quality Time, you’ll find that Sam takes Jade on her first trip to Costco, and tries to influence Jade that Costco is far superior to Sam’s Club. Unfortunately, the video doesn’t tell you Jade’s answer to the most burning question of the vlog, so for the first time, to the masses, in her own words we have an answer as to whether she thinks Costco, or Sam’s Club is the superior store.

“You know what, I thought Costco was amazing. Being during COVID they weren’t handing out samples, which was a bummer, but I think if I had to pledge my allegiance, I think I would agree”.

There you have it; Costco, I think she deserves a free year membership. Episode Two of Quality Time has just been released and it features the legendary Cat Osterman (https://youtu.be/K8FMZImeFM8). Due to the athletes’ tight schedule because of the Olympics coming up, and Jade’s commitment to UA Volleyball, there is no set time frame for more episodes to follow but ideally, she would like to have them out about once a month.

Jade certainly has her hands full, and I was grateful to have taken up so much of her time for this interview. So, what’s next for Jade? She has already accomplished so much, and is having the time of her life, what more does she hope to find out there?

“I find it very hard to believe that I would leave women’s sports for anything. I just love it so much. It’s in my soul. It’s in my bones. There’s nothing else that I so much firmly believe in as I do in these professional athletes and in women’s sports. I love being the photographer for Athletes Unlimited and hopefully, maybe in five years, Quality Time has really taken off, and we’re still doing it and evolving it and involving other people in it. So, you know, I’m on the Athletes Unlimited train, and I’m super excited to see where they go and hope to continue to be a part of it”.

I’m new to baseball writing, and photography. In the two years that I decided to dabble in this profession, I have been honored to learn from amazing photographers here in Sacramento like, Ralph Thompson, Steve Martarano, Kaylee Creevan, and Ricky Cazares. I get lucky with my shots, and I’m grateful for all the tips they have taught me, especially with the limited equipment that I use. The one thing I’ve learned though over the years is that although many of my heroes are still on the front of baseball cards, you never know who or when someone will touch your life, inspire your work, and become a hero to you, whether they’re on a baseball card or taking the picture that is on the card itself. Thank you Jade for inspiring me, thank you for being that hero behind the camera that I never expected to find.  

My Jackie

Every April 15th, Major League Baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day but due to Covid, that celebration had been moved to August 28th, and it couldn’t have fallen during a more appropriate time.  Although the date itself is significant in Jackie’s history as the day that he met Branch Rickey in 1945 to discuss joining the Dodgers, it proved to be a day when racial injustice was again the main topic of the day and fitting that it was also the 65th anniversary of the lynching of 14 year old Emmett Till. Protests have sparked across the county this week after the August 23rd shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rioting began that night as the Kenosha County Courthouse, and the violence continued into Tuesday, when an armed “militia” arrived to “protect their city”. Video shows that the police department encouraged the vigilantes while the department publicly said that they were not invited and not welcomed. The violence would lead to 17 year old Kyle Rittenhouse from Illinois shooting three protestors, killing two. It has been reported that after the shootings Rittenhouse tried to turn himself into police, and even approached them with his hands up. The police did not stop or question him even as other witnesses were telling them that he was the shooter.

Outraged, players from the NBA and WNBA protested by not playing their games scheduled for that evening as a sign of solidarity with black communities, by using their platforms to raise awareness to this ongoing problem, and demand change. Six Major League Baseball teams, the Reds, Brewers, Mariners, Padres, Giants, and Dodgers also decided not to play. Although the Oakland Athletics would decide to not play their Thursday night game, it did not go unnoticed that the team from a city with such a large black population, and historically known for its vocal and demonstrative fights for social justice, did not postpone their game on Wednesday night.

On Friday Jackie Robinson day was celebrated across the league. Every team wore the #42 on their jerseys as a remembrance, and even more so players told their stories of racial inequality and injustice. I personally learned about Posy Lombard, mother of Dodgers first base coach George Lombard, and her civil rights activism throughout her life until her tragic death in 1985. Oddly enough the Athletics found themselves not playing again as the Astros, whose previous two games had been postponed due to Hurricane Laura, chose not to play their game Friday night as it was their first opportunity to show their support for the Black Lives movement. In a memorable pre-game ceremony, the two teams went on to the field and placed an Astros and an A’s #42 jersey in the batter’s box with a Black Lives Matter shirt on home plate as they observed a moment of silence before exiting the field. Coincidentally Jackie Robinson Day came to a close with the news that actor Chadwick Boseman died after battling colon cancer for four years. Boseman will be most remember for his role as Black Panther, but he is also known for portraying Jackie Robinson in the 2013 Brian Helgeland film, “42”.  All of this took place while Rittenhouse, who was charged with first degree intentional homicide, first degree reckless homicide, and two counts of first degree recklessly endangering safety, and possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under the age of 18, had his extradition hearing originally scheduled for Friday the 28th pushed back to September 25th.

On Jackie Robinson Day, La Vida Baseball (@lavidabaseball) asked in a tweet, “What does this day mean to you”? I had never considered the importance of this day and how it affected me. I kept the question in the back of my mind as I went about my day when it finally hit me that Jackie Robinson was bigger than breaking the color barrier in baseball. I replied to the tweet in this manner, “As we approach the 50th anniversary of the death of Ruben Salazar, Jackie Robinson reminds me that there are many more Jackie Robinsons in many different fields. As a Mexican-American striving to be a journalist that matters, I’m remembering Salazar and his contribution for us”. Ruben Salazar was a Mexican-American writer for the Los Angeles Times, and today, August 29th, marks the 50th anniversary of his death while covering the National Chicano Moratorium March in 1970.

The March began as a protest over the disproportionate number of Latinos who served and were killed during the Vietnam War.  Los Angeles County Sheriff Deputies were already on the scene for the rally after the march, and as the protest became more violent, Salazar went to take a break and get a drink at a local bar. As the rioting escalated, the Sheriff’s Department bussed in untrained cadets for backup, and a tear gas projectile flew into the bar striking Salazar in the head and killing him. The death was ruled a homicide, as many believed it was actually an assassination, but Deputy Tom Wilson was never prosecuted. Gustavo Arellano of the Los Angeles Times recently described Salazar’s writing as “the Chicano version of the Gnostic Gospels”. He was a pioneer in journalism for Mexican-Americans, our Jackie Robinson if you will.

Salazar’s headlines could fit into any news story we read today, and while much has changed since his death, we are still dealing with the same problems we faced as a nation 50 years ago; war, police brutality, racial tension, and civil unrest, it all remains the same. The 70s would go on to produce a new wave of Mexican-American activists who challenged our values of the past. The Chicano Power Movement was strong leading to many more Mexican-American voices joining forces to be heard, to include the Brown Berets who were inspired by the Black Panthers to bring attention to police brutality against Latinos. So why aren’t more people today talking about Latinos killed by police? They represented 16% of those shot by police in 2016, second only to blacks at 25% according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. I’m not trying to cry foul, but to point out that Latino civil rights issues are too focused on immigration issues, and mainly that of the undocumented. Unfortunately, immigration only makes the issue of police brutality that much more difficult for Latinos as the media seems to only focus on black and white incidents. This in turn takes the focus away from all other cases of police brutality, and if the focus is small, that can only mean that the attention given to other injustices will also be small.

Baseball, with all the good its trying to do now by supporting Black Lives Matter, and their programs to make the game more accessible to inner city kids, still has a problem with minorities. On August 9, 2020, Jim Passon (@PassonJim) tweeted stats showing the teams that had the lowest percentage of plate appearances by players born outside of the United States. While teams like the Yankees, Padres, and Giants boasted numbers over 30%, the Rockies had 3.9%, while the Mariners had 0% as of August 9, 2020. Some speculate that this is intentional by Mariners ownership and cite the gender and racial discrimination case filed by their former high-performance director Lorena Martin.

Minorities all have a right to equal justice, and if you have a problem with what is going on in our country, think about this quote by Ruben Salazar, “The point is that whatever one may think of the merits of either side of these cases, grassroot movements such as the school walkouts bring out these important overall issues. And that is what democracy is about”. Salazar is remembered as a martyr, but we must rediscover, and remember him as a reporter.