As in Sacramento vs. Albuquerque, both in the AAA Pacific Coast League, the former affiliated with the Giants and the latter with the Rockies. Another relatively cool night in the Central Valley (headed for a much more typical 100 by week’s end), 81 degrees at game time. The Isotopes are already eliminated from the playoffs, and the River Cats are sitting in first in their division.
AAA is interesting because it is the highest level of the minors, the last stop for young stars on the rise before they make the Show (some even skip AAA and go up from AA) and often populated with big leaguers that get sent down for rehab or because they hit a rough patch in the Show.
The Cats play their home games at Raley Field on the banks of the Sacramento River in West Sacramento. Unlike a lot of minor league parks, it is not named for some dear departed ball player but for the supermarket chain that bought the naming rights. The disease is seeping to ever lower levels! The stadium has a seating capacity of 14,000, which certainly outdoes the 4,000 or so at the most recent Advanced A games I’ve seen and this crowd didn’t begin to tax that capacity. It is a pretty stadium and to my surprise, the luxury boxes on the upper level seemed to be almost fully occupied.
As you can see, there is a fancy Jumbotron and another couple of electronic scoreboards that are easy for geezers like me to read. The only problem was that they went out in the bottom of the first, came back briefly an inning later, and then were in and (partially) out at intervals for the rest of the game.
Unlike the Advanced A games, here (maybe because both teams are affiliated with National League clubs), the pitchers hit for themselves. Chris Rusin, the Isotopes pitcher – who, by the way, was throwing mostly junk, not breaking 90 – drove in two runs with a clean single his first time up, but later, despite several years with the Cubs and Rockies, couldn’t manage in three attempts to lay down a bunt. Any National League pitcher should be able to bunt at any time in any count. But who cares what I think?!
This guy started out with the crew dragging the infield after the 6th inning, but ended up doing a dance and finally jumped up on the wall to entertain the crowd. The minor leagues are really about entertainment rather than baseball, though at the AAA level, there aren’t as many between-inning gimmicks as at the lower levels.
Finally, to the food. There was a pretty wide variety of sandwiches along with the usual fare. The one that caught my eye, that I’ve never seen in another park – not even at the New Orleans Baby Cakes last year – was a muffuletta sandwich. I was skeptical, so I asked the servers if it was authentic and if anyone was from N.O. who could vouch for it. One kid said he was from N.O. but claimed he’d never had a muffuletta sandwich. So I tried it. It was bad. There was a tiny container of muffuletta that was good for about a third of the sandwich, and I had to be satisfied with mustard for the remainder. A cruel hoax. Oh yes, and the prices were definitely big league.
What I said about standings at the beginning didn’t really matter because the Isotopes had the upper hand throughout and won 4-1.
So that’s it for the California Dreamin’ tour folks. I’ve enjoyed it immensely and just hope I managed to send some of the fun your way.