Tagged: Sacramento River Cats 2016

On the Road: Ribs and Donut Burgers in Sacramento

To see all posts from my August 1 visit to the Sacramento River Cats, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

Heading into my West Coast road trip, I was shocked and borderline appalled that no one had volunteered to be my designated eater in Sacramento. I expect that in smaller markets — your Princeton, West Virginia’s and what have you — but California’s capital city? Perhaps my reach, which I assumed to be vaster than a 1001 galaxies, is less than I thought.

Nonetheless, I still had a designated eater in Sacramento. Two, in fact. They were recruited by the River Cats.

Kyle Moses is on the left, Mike Hager is on the right.

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Kyle and Mike are the best of pals. They’re both from Tracy, California (about an hour south of Sacramento) and have been fans of the River Cats ever since the team arrived on the scene in the year 2000. Kyle and Mike grew up together, played with and against one another in various sports and now work together (at Rise Medical Staffing). Oh, and they’re roommates. There’s a picture in their living room of the two of them in their travel team baseball uniforms, hanging out in a Raley Park suite.

And now, they’re designated eaters together, tasked with the job of consuming the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits. But speaking of gluten-free, the River Cats food and beverage team (led, in this case, by sous chef Ryan) whipped up a few dishes for me.

There was shrimp and broccoli over rice, enlivened with pepper flakes.

img_0005There were also lettuce wraps, with citrus brine turkey, apple cider vinegar mustard and tomatoes.

img_0006I enjoyed both of these items, but the lettuce wrap was particularly excellent, a great mix of texture and flavors. Everything was a blur at this point. The food was being placed before us and taken away at a rate that was making my head spin.

So let’s get back to Kyle and Mike, as they’re the stars of the show here. Or perhaps the real star of the show is this plate of barbecue ribs.

img_0007Have at it, guys:

Kyle immediately praised the sauce, which chef Ryan said was Sweet Baby Ray’s.

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“The meat falls right off the bone,” said Mike. “Barbecue is where I can be most critical, but this is prime.”

Mike can be critical of barbecue because Mike is a true barbecue aficionado. He bases road trips around visiting restaurants and does it himself in the backyard. This is a passion he inherited from his father, a regular in barbecue competitions and former manager of a Kinders restaurant (a California-based barbecue chain).

Next up was a turkey cheddar panini (with bacon), served with house made chips and a French onion dipping sauce. Kyle and Ryan can be seen brandishing their paninis in the photo at the top of this post.

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“I like the way it’s pressed, it has a nice texture,” said Kyle. “Some places do a mediocre job with that.”

“I didn’t have a problem with it,” said Mike. “Everything was good.”

We then moved on to the piece de resistance, a donut bacon cheeseburger.

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Another view:

img_2210Specifically, this consists of a third-pound never-frozen burger topped with two bacon rounds and tomatoes. The donuts are from a local bakery.

While Mike said he liked the “sweet and saltiness,” Kyle said that if he ordered it again then he’d abstain from the tomato.

“If I’m gonna go with something that’s 800 calories, then I don’t need a tomato,” he said. “The meat, bacon and donut is fantastic. I don’t think it gets better than that.”

img_0013And that was it for Kyle and Mike, best friends until the end.

“I’d get everything again,” said Mike. “I’ve never not been satisfied here with what I’ve gotten. I’ve never left Raley Field hungry.”

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: A Heads-Up Approach in Sacramento

To see all posts from my August 1 visit to the Sacramento River Cats, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

Welcome to the second of three posts concerning the Sacramento River Cats, who play at Raley Field.

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I visited the River Cats on a Monday night. Teams hate when I visit on Mondays, as they want a man of my vast influence and prestige to witness them at their best (read: fullest). Some of my Monday evening victims accept their fate. Others, like River Cats marketing manager Emily Williams, resort to blatant acts of censorship when I attempt to document the surroundings.

img_0030To be fair, the River Cats have been at or near the top of Minor League attendance rankings ever since their 2000 inception. In 2015, the first year of their affiliation with the Giants, they drew 672,354 to lead all of Minor League Baseball.

And, regardless, it was a beautiful night in a beautiful ballpark. The game time temperature was 84 degrees, the skies were clear and there was a slight breeze in the air. Fans seeking additional shade had the option of sitting beneath what I believe are the biggest berm trees in Minor League Baseball.

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Beyond the berm, there lurks a city skyline view. That’s the Tower Bridge on the left, whose two golden towers combine to form an “au” pair.

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My wanderings, at this stage in the evening, didn’t last very long. The River Cats have a nightly “Heads of State” race featuring a triumvirate of California governors: Gray Davis, Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Davis may not be as memorable as the other two, but you may be able to recall him).

I was invited to participate in the race, and chose to run as Ronald Reagan.

As the above tweet describes (albeit with a typo), I won. Here’s the proof (you can also see how close I came to losing my head).

The race itself was tiring, given how top-heavy the costume is and the fact that I’m maybe not in the best shape. But what was really difficult was the race’s aftermath. We entered the stands at the home plate side of the ballpark, trodding up the stairs and then on to the concourse. Thus began a long, slow walk back to our outfield changing area (aka “the groundskeeper’s shed”) during which we were accosted by fans for high-fives and photos. At first I enjoyed this, the way I always enjoy being in a mascot suit of any kind. It’s a surreal feeling, knowing that the “you” that people are interacting with is different than the “you” that is in the suit. It’s a liberating, and exhilarating, sensation, this transformation into a larger-than-life figure who people want to see, know and touch.

But I don’t have the stamina for it. As our walk progressed, a deep, dizzy fatigue set in and along with it an increasing desperation to no longer be Ronald Reagan. If the stands had been a little more crowded, or the weather a little hotter, I think I would have passed out. And, believe me, no one wants to see an unconscious Ronald Reagan sprawled on the concourse of a Minor League Baseball stadium.

Finally, after what seemed like hours but was only minutes, we were able to leave the public eye. I no longer had to be Ronnie. The only thing trickling down was the sweat on my brow.

img_221310 minutes later, I returned to wandering ballpark blogger mode. It was as if nothing had ever happened.

I soon met with River Cats president Jeff Savage, whose late father, Art, bought the Pacific Coast League’s Vancouver franchise and relocated it to Sacramento. The Savage name is synonymous with River Cats baseball. Susan Savage, Jeff’s mom, is the team’s CEO and majority owner. Brent, his brother, works for the team as well. Brent is confined to a wheelchair, and Jeff said that one of the reasons his dad wanted a team in Sacramento was so that Brent “always had a place he wanted to be.”

Raley Field, a privately-owned facility, was built in just nine months and opened in May of 2000. Jeff said that, prior to the stadium’s opening, its West Sacramento location was a desolate industrial area.

“No one in their right mind would come to West Sacramento,” he said. “You just didn’t do it.”

In this ceiling mural, Art Savage can be seen in the top left, wearing a green shirt.

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This mural, titled “Here and Now”, has an interesting concept. Sacramento baseball greats are seen mingling with their younger selves.

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Prior to the River Cats, Sacramento had hosted a team in the form of the PCL’s “Solons.” Solon is an archaic term for a politician, coined in honor of the Greek lawmaker who went by that name. The Solons’ farewell occurred in 1976.

Since the 2000 opening of Raley Field, the ownership group has made improvements whenever they’ve had the means to do so. A fairly recent upgrade is the Legacy Club, a premium group area which opened in 2015.

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In the Legacy Club, you can turn your back to the game to watch the game.

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There’s always room for more improvement, such as this undeveloped area deep behind the outfield. Currently, it is a picnic table graveyard which, truth be told, I found very appealing.

img_0043I mentioned this billboard in my previous post but, man, it’s a huge billboard (and sunshade).

img_0046The River Cats introduced “Sac Town” merchandise prior to the season (designed in house), which has proven to be popular in the area.

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img_0048I concluded my evening in the press box, as the River Cats wrapped up a 7-0 victory over Salt Lake.

img_2217With the game over, there was only one thing left to do: Write and disseminate a Subversive and Groundbreaking Ballpark Joke.

They can’t all be winners.

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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On the Road: Surveying the Scene in Sacramento

To see all posts from my August 1 visit to the Sacramento River Cats, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

My third and final road trip of the Minor League season was a long, sprawling and often counter-intuitive journey, one that started in Sacramento and ended in Spokane. So let’s start at the beginning; Sacramento, California’s capital city and the home of the River Cats. The River Cats, Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, have played at Raley Field since the stadium opened in 2000.

img_0002Immediately upon arriving, I met with media relations coordinator Robert Barsanti. He ushered me down a pathway situated betwixt outfield wall and ribbon board, with the net overhead protecting us from batting practice dingers and other skyborne hazards.

img_0004The dusty road led us to the clubhouses, which led me to a scheduled interview with River Cats manager Jose Alguacil. This scheduled interview led to a feature story, which I invite you to read by clicking HERE. Jose, whom everyone calls “Auggie,” is an interesting and likable guy and if he’s not managing or coaching in in the big leagues within three years I’ll eat my hat.

My interview with Auggie led to a pregame meeting with my designated eaters, which will be documented shortly. When the designated eating was complete, I was able to partake in the activity that most truly speaks to the core of my inner being: aimless wandering.

This was the scene from the outfield berm as the Monday evening crowd trickled in. That Roseville Automall billboard, which doubles as a sunshade, may just be the largest sign to have ever been situated in a Minor League Baseball stadium.

img_0018In the visitor’s bullpen, Salt Lake Bees starter Zach Nuding was getting warmed up for a game he would (spoiler alert) lose.

img_0019I think what I was trying to convey with the below picture is that the River Cats have various gardens on the stadium premises, a fine microcosm of the region’s robust agriculture industry.

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After admiring the foliage, I followed this ponytailed man down the concourse walkway. When in doubt, always follow a ponytailed man.

img_0021As you can see in the above picture, steel beams on the concourse are enlivened with the vibrant work of young local artists.

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This one’s my favorite:

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Also enlivening the concourse is this family of River Cats fans living above the team store. I stared at this guy for hours and not once did he put down his binoculars. I bet that, when he looks in the mirror, he sees a human raccoon.

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When I returned to this very spot, more than three hours later, the kid’s ice cream hadn’t melted nor had the gentleman taken even one sip of his beer.
img_0023This picture bellow is — let’s face it — kind of lousy. But I include it to point out that California only recently legalized 50-50 raffles and, thus, 2016 marked the first season that the River Cats were able to stage them.

img_0024Speaking of 50-50, last season the River Cats gave away “Barry Zito dual replica jerseys.”

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The Oakland/San Francisco split also describes the River Cats themselves, who were affiliated with the former for the first 15 years of their existence (2000-2014).

This third base-side beer garden, in the tradition of great beer gardens everywhere, serves beer and paninis. There may be plans in the works to expand the menu.

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I could go on…and I will! But not in this post. I’ll go on in the next one. Stay tuned for much more from Sacramento.

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

About Last Night: Sacramento River Cats, August 1, 2016

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll write a quick blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, when I return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and perhaps even love. On Monday night I visited Sacramento, California, the first stop on my sprawling 10-team California-Nevada-Idaho-Washington road trip.

August 1: Sacramento River Cats (Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants) 

Opponent: Salt Lake Bees, 7:05 p.m.

Raley Field, from the outside: 

IMG_0002Raley Field, from within: 

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Culinary Creation: Bacon Donut Cheeseburger

IMG_2211Ballpark Characters: California Governors Davis, Reagan and Schwarzenegger compete in a nightly “Heads of State” race (I was Ronnie).

IMG_5660 At Random: A big River Cats fan hanging out above the team store.

IMG_0022Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

Up Next: 

August 2: Stockton Ports (vs. Rancho Cucamonga, 7:10 p.m.)

August 3: Modesto Nuts (vs. Visalia, 7:05 p.m.)

August 4: San Jose Giants (vs. Modesto, 6:30 p.m.)

August 5: Visalia Rawhide (vs. Inland Empire, 7:00 p.m.)

August 6: Las Vegas 51s (vs. Fresno, 7:05 p.m.)

August 8: Reno Aces (vs. Salt Lake, 7:05 p.m.)

August 10: Boise Hawks (vs. Hillsboro, 7:15 p.m.)

August 11: Tri-City Dust Devils (vs. Spokane, TBD)

August 12: Spokane Indians (vs. Eugene, 6:30 p.m.)

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz