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Flipping through the pages of 2004 (Or “Killing time until Opening Night”)

March 22, 2011

I’m the sort of person who keeps the stubs from movie tickets. If I dug around enough, I could probably find a crumpled piece of stiff paper with Harry Potter- The Prisoner of Azkaban or Ice Age typed in block letters along with “Screen 7″ and “$5.00″. So its not all that surprising that I ran into a Fresno Grizzlies program from 2004 the other day while fishing for something in my desk.

The program is for August 21-24: Fresno Grizzlies vs. Sacramento River Cats. Brian Dallimore, #7, is on the cover. On the next page are the probable starters. Ryan Jensen, Jesse Foppert, Chad Zerbe, Jason Jacome…you remember those names? Oh, and Joe Blanton is listed under Sunday for Sacramento. That’s a long way from Philadelphia.

Turn the page and there’s a “Grizzlies Alumni Report” on Russ Ortiz. There’s a few pictures and some general gushing and then there’s this gem of a quote: “The Giants traded Ortiz to the Braves before the 2004 season in a somewhat controversial move. The Giants obtained their current top prospect Merkin Valdez in the deal…”. Yup, once a upon a time Valdez was ranked ranked the #40 overall prospect by Baseball America. A year later he was #58. In 2010 he pitched to the tune of a 7.91 ERA in 58 innings for Toronto’s AAA team. That’s a sobering thought. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Finally, a page a cheesy quotes and a Mariachi Festival advertisement later, there’s the gold that is the roster. Dave Aardsma: 2.64 ERA, 47.2 IP. Jesse Foppert (he of the tombstone-esque BBR page): 3.00 ERA, 3 IP. Jack Taschner: who later was in this photo and is now…MIA? Or at least, MLB Trade Rumors isn’t telling me where he is this Spring Training. There are Ryan Jensen, two years removed from 171.2 innings in San Francisco; and Scott Munter, who a year later would throw 38 innings at a 2.56 ERA for the big club thanks to a little bit of luck.

There’s Brian Dallimore, who had made his MLB debut in April of that year. Below him is Lance Niekro in all his “first baseman of the future” glory. I never knew what to think about him. On one hand, he and Cody Ransom gave me my first pair of autographs ever after hitting home runs at a Fresno game. On the other hand, he spent his time in San Francisco taking at bats away from J.T. Snow. These were the makings of an intense love-hate baseball relationship for 12 year old me. Fun fact of the night via Wikipedia: in 2009 Niekro made an attempt to come back as a knuckleballer with the Atlanta Braves. He’s now a coach at Florida Southern College, so I guess that didn’t work out too well.

Under “Outfielders” are Jason Ellison and Tony Torcato (one-time champion amateur boxer). By 2004 Torcato had long since worn off the shine of his first-round pick and was doing…not much, in Fresno. The numbers, .289/.316/.376 with 3 home runs, are distinctly “meh”. Ellison was right in the middle of his second full season at AAA and hitting .332/.376/.457 with 23 steals and 8 home runs. Just a few days later he would be called up to San Francisco where in 13 games and 4 ABs he’d manage a home run, 2 stolen bases, 3 RBIs, and 4 runs scored. Small sample size and all, that’s quite the fun month for a minor league call-up.

There are other names too, now mostly forgotten: James Garcia, Lee Gardner, Craig Kuzmic, Dave Doster, Jamie Athas, Adam Shabala…the list goes on. Oh, and there’s “Hitting Coach: #25 Steve Decker“.

The stand-out name for the Rivercats is Nick Swisher with his .255 average and .401 OBP.

Next is “Greenwald’s Grab Bag” of obscure PCL trivia. “The first-ever African-American umpire to work in the Major Leagues came from the PCL. Can you name him?” “Name the former San Francisco Seal who has a sandwich named in his honor at the Stage Deli in New York City?” Then in that ever-so-obnoxious way of these things “…you’re going to have to wait until the next Playball edition to get the answers.”

Then ads (Carl’s Jr. this time), some meaningless records (i.e. “Most Pitchers Used – 21 in 2003), more ads (Coca-cola), more records (Longest Winning Streak in 1998 – 11), and more ads (MedWatch and FresnoBee.com).

If I’m remembering right, the Fresno Bee was throwing out bean bags in between innings at one of these games. My dad caught one, it was exciting at the time. And the silly thing is still sitting on my bookshelf.

There’s some more baseball trivia, this time with the answers at the bottom. Did you know that in 1964 Masanori Murakami of the Fresno Giants became the first Asian born player to win a game in Organized Baseball? Now you do. Take that to next weeks trivia night.

On the last page is something titled “This Homstand In History”. Its a timeline, and I have no idea what most of it has to do with the Grizzlies, but here’s a final piece of baseball knowledge for you:

August 23, 1961: Five Giants (Cepeda, F. Alou, Davenport, Mays & Orins0) hit homers in the game tying a major league record in a 14-0 win over the Reds.

And now with 8 days, 17 hours and 46 minutes until the Giants kick off the season vs. the Dodgers, I’ll quit boring you with my rambling and say good night.

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