We had lots of good food and saw some interesting sights, and while she was wrapping up some conference notes, I caught a Minor League game at Raley Field, home of the Sacramento River Cats.
Ever since the Rockies began play in 1993, I had only seen Major League games. Before that, I did see the Denver Zephyrs a couple times in the cavernous Mile High Stadium, gigantic by Minor League standards. In fact, that could be where my first-ever baseball cards came from, now that I think about it.
I made sure to snap a #walletcard shot while enjoying some snacks before the game. Ballpark food in Sacramento wasn't markedly different from any other stadium I've been to, but the slider trio with a side of potato chips and a cold beer really hit the spot on a hot August day.
The River Cats, Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, squared off against the Salt Lake Bees, part of the Angels farm system (the Salt Lake Bees of Utah?), the same team that Jon Gray faced before his Major League debut.
|2015 Sacramento River Cats Team Set #03 Clayton Blackburn|
I did purchase this River Cats team set at the souvenir store, and it was half-price since it's the 2015 set. Progress doesn't always happen that quickly in the Minors, so a lot of the same players could be found, including Blackburn.
|2015 Sacramento River Cats Team Set #23 Jarrett Parker|
|2015 Sacramento River Cats Team Set #04 Brett Bochy|
At least he had it out of the way if his Major League career took off.
|2015 Sacramento River Cats Team Set #11 Kevin Correia|
The quality control of these cards is not quite up to Topps' level. The stats all seem correct, but the write up shifted dates by about a decade, saying he was picked in the 2012 Amateur Draft, and made his MLB debut in July 2013.
For a moment, I thought this might be an entirely different Kevin Correia, but it all makes a lot more sense when you just subtract ten years from those dates.
|2011 Topps #276 Miguel Olivo|
Play-by-play stats are rather hard to come by on minor league games, but fortunately the River Cats provided me with a handy scorecard inside the booklet they handed out at the gate. My trusty ballpoint pen recorded the River Cats' side of things, but I didn't track any of the Bees' stats other than their pitchers. It left some time for social media, beer and snack runs, and photos. They also had a fun interactive promo called Baseball Bingo Mondays. Like keeping score, it requires you to pay attention.
At the gate, they handed out bingo cards, and the numbers you can punch out depend on what happens during the game. For example, a home run by the first baseman is G 60. I was not a winner, but it was a fun thing to do on top of keeping score. I imagine that a Minor League crowd would be a bit more into something like that, as I wouldn't expect more casual fans to spend the time showing up to a Triple-A game.
|2015 Topps #364A Travis Ishikawa|
Leave it to Joe Buck to take all the emotion out of "The Giants win the Pennant!" That's not your line, Joe!
Anyway, the long ball was working for Ishikawa that night in Sacramento as he hit two out for five RBIs. Olivo and Parker were both on base for his second shot in the bottom of the 8th, and the fans loved it, especially the ones catching the game from the grassy area beyond right field. A fan chased down one of those home run balls as fast as a professional outfielder.
|2015 Sacramento River Cats Team Set #34 Brad Lawson|
But they're still professional athletes, and trainers and coaches are still needed to keep them in top physical condition. A Minor League team set is just the sort of place for a card of the team Strength and Conditioning Coach. It is a bit underexposed, and they misspelled "New Brunswick" on the back (dropping the c), but I've sure never seen a card of a Major League trainer before.
|2015 Sacramento River Cats Team Set #37 Dinger|
The back of this card has quite the genesis story, mentioning "strange sounds...echoing through the air at the Raley Field construction site" on a "cold blustery night". Dinger the mascot was discovered on the river bank under the Tower Bridge (that yellow bridge you see in my Wallet Card shot). It turns out that Dinger's "energy and fun personality were a perfect fit for the official mascot of the Sacramento River Cats."
If Topps put out team sets like this for sale at the ballpark instead of just some rehashed cards from Flagship, I'd snap one up in a heartbeat. The kids would probably enjoy it too, because who doesn't love a mascot?
I still say the Rockies have dibs on the Dinger name. But either way, a mascot named Dinger has been leading the fans at nearly every single game I've ever been to. Even in Sacramento.