Much of my love for Minor League Baseball is because I grew up going to San José Giants games. Their affiliation started in 1988—right at the beginning of my baseball fandom*—and the idea of seeing players who I could later see at Candlestick was definitely compelling right out of the gate. But the games were just fun. A more raucous environment. Being able to sit nice and close. Crazy contests like Smash for Cash.** They all made me appreciate minor league ball and we were quickly going to multiple games a year and I even had my birthday party at a game.
*I knew about the Bees and even got the one and only foul ball I’ve ever gotten when I was walking past a Bees game a the exact right moment but never went to a game.
**Late in the game when the Peter Gunn theme started and the Rotten Robbie truck rolled out onto the field was always a highlight.
I missed going to a game when I was visiting California in 2019 and had zero idea that it would be another three years before I had a chance to go back. Thankfully I finally got back to a game last week. Turkey Mike’s BBQ is still there. As are the Churro guy* and the Beer Batter.** Since our tickets were free we got BBQ and churros. Unfortunately though Smash for Cash is gone…so it goes.
*I still need to get his card.
**A gimmick that Trenton tried this year but hasn’t figured out how to do it as well as San José. Sadly it looks like Martinelli’s has dropped its sponsorship so he’s no longer the apple juice batter after the 7th inning.
The big news is that the Giants are in Low-A now. And it kind of shows with baseball that’s closer to what I saw in the Draft League at Trenton than in AA Somerset. The Giants spotted Stockton with a 7–0 lead after 1.5 innings (making us question whether we’d wasted our money on the tickets) and proceeded to tie everything up at 8 apiece via a grand slam and Earl Weaver through three complete.
Utterly wild but absolutely in keeping with this level of ball where no lead is big enough and no pitcher can be relied on. Or fielder. The second Giants pitcher (Joe Kemlage) took over in the 3rd and pitched a great game—2 earned runs in 5 innings—with his biggest problems coming as a result of some sloppy shortstop play that gifted Stockton a run.
Unfortunately the Giants could never get the lead despite making it exciting in the 9th and lost 10–9. Kemlage got hung with an undeserved Loss but we went home happy after a game that started off so badly ended up being surprisingly crisp and exciting.
Oh, and the Beer Batter hit the absolute tar out of the ball all night as he not only never came close to a strikeout but got thrown out trying to stretch his second double into the cycle in the 9th inning.
The boys and I also got some autographing in. Travis Ishikawa is the Giants hitting coach and we caught him before the game. San José Muni is one of the lousiest places I’ve ever seen to get autographs* so I counted that as a win. Both boys know Ishikawa and his eponymous game so they were very happy too.
*It wasn’t easy when I was a kid but it’s gotten worse. There’s basically zero access to the players on the field and no place to hang around after the game.
We got some excitement as well. Dave Righetti and Bruce Bochy were in the house that night (probably in town for that weekend’s 2012 reunion). We saw both by the cages and it was nice to say hi. We had nothing proper to get signed (plus we’ve gotten them TTM) so we didn’t bother them much. It was funny to see the boys get a bit star struck by Boch since they did not expect him to be so big.
Really interesting for me to compare the player behavior to what I see on Somerset. Guys in San José are clearly still excited to have cards and are perfectly willing to not only sign a ton but chat about what pens they prefer. A shame they lose that joy by the time they reach AA.
All in all a great night. San José Muni is celebrating its 80th birthday this season which sent me to the googles to see how many professional baseball stadiums in the US are older than it. From what I can tell there are 7 older stadiums (5 MiLB and 2 MLB) currently in regular use which is about what I expected.
Stadiums don’t really last that long and Muni is definitely showing its age. It’s almost embarrassingly bare bones compared to Trenton or Somerset but it’s got a lot of character and has definitely gone around to being funky old instead of just a dump (replacing the fiberglass bleachers with aluminum ones helped a ton) and as the Bay Area has gotten increasingly new and shiny and characterless it’s nice to spend time in those places that essentially haven’t changed.