“These students right here are students of influence in their school,” says Asaro as he looks upon the students in attendance on a Wednesday in May. “They are changing the culture of their community. These are the leaders of the future.”
The trip to Raley Field isn’t something that happened overnight. The teachers and students have been looking forward to the day for some time.
“Tony (Asaro) came to our school a few months ago and we had our U.S. Bank AAA Assembly,” said Julia Patrick, an English teacher at Westmore Oaks Elementary in West Sacramento. “The kids are really receptive to him. He’s very dynamic.”
Tony speaks with 150 schools annually, but this year is on pace to speak with more than 200 schools.
“We go and set the tone with the motivational assembly,” Asaro says. “They set their goals for the year and at the end of the year they come out here.”
After students were recognized for academics and character, River Cats Manager Darren Bush and catcher Anthony Recker spoke with the students. Talking about their childhood experiences with school and athletics, Bush and Recker let the kids know about the importance of academics and character.
Bush, a graduate at Valdosta State University in Georgia, told the kids that good character is “making the good choices, not the easy ones.”
Bush and Recker then put themselves out there, allowing kids to ask them an assortment of questions, enabling the students to speak with the player and manager they will see on the field later in the day.
Although the kids are out here because of their academics, the students have been looking forward to watching some baseball. For some, it is their first time at the ballpark.
“For some kids athletics is the only thing they connect to, so to me it is very important,” said Miss Patrick. “You would be surprised how many kids in Sacramento haven’t been able to come to a River Cats game.”
For some kids, their first time to the ballpark could be their only time, but Tony wants to make sure these kids leave understanding the importance of good character, with the River Cats being a prime example.
“It’s the only way you can be successful in life,” Asaro said. “We here at the River Cats can teach anyone to be part of our organization, whether it’s in the media, marketing, whatever. We try to make sure the character is there first.”
John Harris, a seventh grade math teacher at Southport Elementary in West Sacramento, has been to Raley Field before.
“Last year the kids got to speak with the manager and a couple of the players,” said Mr. Harris. “We brought them back because it was close to where we are and it’s a lot of fun. We get to be outside and watch baseball.”
Bush and Recker aren’t the only River Cats who have made academics a priority. Teammates Adrian Cardenas is currently enrolled at New York University, while Michael Taylor is working toward a degree at Stanford. Many more River Cats players have graduated college and had successful careers in and out of baseball.
For many of the kids it was nice to see their new team come away with the win. But for teachers like Miss Patrick and Mr. Harris, that win is just a symbol for what the future holds for their students and the thousands of other students who were able to make it out to the ballpark.
Whether instructing hitting or fielding, baseball coaches consistently tell players to keep their eyes on the ball. Sacramento infielder Eric Sogard keeps four eyes on the ball.
It may not be the improvement Charlie Sheen’s character Ricky Vaughn saw in the movie “Major League,” but Sogard believes he is “winning” with his spectacles.
“It’s something I’ve been doing since my sophomore year of high school,” said Sogard, the River Cats leadoff batter and shortstop. “I just see the ball better with them on.”
Although contacts are a quick fix for most players, Sogard found early on that he feels most comfortable with glasses. So, in his sophomore year at Thunderbird High in Phoenix, he made the switch to glasses. He used contacts in the classroom, but when he got to the field, he came with his glove, bat and glasses in hand.
“I would go to school with the contacts on and practice and play games with my glasses,” he said.
What he did was working, as Sogard was ranked as the seventh-best prep prospect in Arizona out of high school in 2004. Sogard played for Arizona State from 2005-2007, where he hit .371, including a .400 average and 100 hits in 2007. After the season, Sogard was drafted in the second round of the 2007 MLB Draft by the San Diego Padres, a team 350 miles down the road.
After moving around the Minors from 2007-09, Sogard has landed in Sacramento the last two seasons. Last season, “Sogie,” as he is known around the clubhouse, hit .300 with 65 RBIs and 82 runs.
“His game’s not going to wow you,” said River Cats Hitting Coach Todd Steverson. “It’s consistent. He’s a pest, and he just ends up grinding you. He doesn’t strike out a lot. He puts the ball in play. That’s the best way to go.”
Sogard could have hit .400 with 40 home runs and his teammates would still find a way to poke fun.
“I’ve been called Harry Potter, The Mad Scientist, little nicknames like that,” Sogard said. “But it’s all in good fun.”
There have been a few situations in Sacramento when his glasses became an issue. It happened last season at a very in-opportune time for Sogard.
“I was on deck and I was bending my glasses when they just snapped,” Sogard said. “The next swing was a hit by (Michael) Taylor so I didn’t have a lot of time. Luckily I always have an extra pair in the clubhouse so someone ran in and grabbed them for me.”
It’s not common that MLB players sport seeing-eye glasses; Sogard looks to add his name to the short list of players. Last year in Oakland, he played in four games where he hit for .429 in seven at bats. This season, Sogard is hitting .288 with a team-high 49 runs and 13 steals through July 6.
“I don’t care what he wears up there,” Steverson said. “He can wear a facemask with a prescription in it for all I care, as long as he keeps swinging the way he does.”
Fresno continued what it started a week ago, winning their fourth game in a row against Sacramento.
Guillermo Moscoso continued what he has done all season, pitching well for Sacramento and Oakland. However, it wouldn’t be enough as Fresno came away with the 3-2 victory before 10,511 fans at Raley Field.
The right-hander struck out nine while allowing five hits and three runs (two earned) on Thursday night. Moscoso started the season in Sacramento, going 3-2 with a 4.02 ERA before making the jump to the Majors on May 24. In Oakland, he had a 3-4 record with an outstanding 2.16 ERA. Thursday night was Moscoso’s second start against Fresno, as he pitched against the Grizzlies last August, allowing one run and striking out three in 6.1 innings.
Both teams seemed rusty coming off the All-Star break, as each team committed three errors on the night. Sacramento committed two errors on the same play in the first inning, allowing Fresno shortstop Edgar Gonzalez to score from first on an infield single. Fresno committed three errors, as well, but the two they had in the third inning cost them.
Matt Carson walked early in the inning and reached third on a throwing error, following a single by Jermaine Mitchell. In the ensuing at-bat, Eric Sogard reached on a force attempt but a fielding error by Fresno’s Brandon Belt allowed Carson to score. It wouldn’t be the River Cats’ last run, as Daric Barton drove in Mitchell with a single to put Sacramento ahead, 2-1.
Despite a strong performance from Moscoso, two of the five hits he allowed were sent out of the park, one in the fourth and one in the sixth. Gonzalez hitting the game-tying home run before Belt sent one to the River Cats’ bullpen for a 3-2 lead in the sixth.
Belt’s home run would have cued a pitching move or at least a visit to the mound for most other pitchers, but Moscoso stayed in and struck out two of the next three batters.
Vinnie Chulk, Jerry Blevins and Fernando Cabrera pitched a combined three shutout innings, but Sacramento was unable to put another run on the board.
Adrian Cardenas and Sogard are still very confident despite losing four in a row against Fresno.
“From a team standpoint I think our record speaks for itself,” Cardenas said. “We’ve been a really good team from Day 1 and we’ve had so many ups and downs with (play movement), yet we still lead the division.”
Las Vegas’ win Thursday trimmed Sacramento’s division lead from 8.0 to 7.0 games.
“As a team we’re having a great season,” Cardenas said. “We went through a little cold streak there but we swept Las Vegas before the break putting us back where we were before. Our pitching had been outstanding and we continue to have guys coming down from the Big Leagues with (Josh) Outman, Moscoso, and Graham (Godfrey) so that’s always going to be helpful.”
The River Cats must win three in a row this weekend in order to win their first series against Fresno this season. If not, Sacramento will wait until the August 24-28 when they face Fresno the last time this season.
The River Cats look to get on track with right-hander Graham Godfrey (8-1, 2.32) and left-hander Josh Outman (5-1, 4.64) going Friday and Saturday for Sacramento.
Graham Koonce, Retired (River Cats, 2003-2004)
Drafted in the 60th round of the 1993 MLB draft, Koonce was a player who left his imprint on an upstart Minor League franchise but was never able to stick in the Major Leagues. With just eight at-bats in Oakland in 2003, Koonce’s only hit was a double, striking out six of the seven other times he was at the plate.
Koonce was a player who put Sacramento fans on the edge of their seat. His .259 average won’t be found in the top-10 for the River Cats all-time, but it seems everything else can be.
In two seasons for Sacramento, Koonce put up gaudy numbers. In 2003, he had the best year of any Sacramento power hitter, hitting 34 homers and 115 RBIs. He currently ranks first in both home runs (56) and walks (175), third in RBIs (192) and seventh in runs (155).
Soon after the 2004 season, the 29-year-old was granted free agency and bounced from team to team the rest of his career. Koonce was a victim of terrible circumstance. Stuck behind a guy by the name of Cecil Fielder when he was drafted by Detroit in 1993, much of the same would happen throughout his career. Stuck behind Wally Joyner on the San Diego Padres, Jason Giambi, Carlos Pena and Dan Johnson on the A’s, his career would close stuck behind another Fielder in Milwaukee.
Gio Gonzalez, Oakland Athletics (River Cats, 2008-2009)
A teammate of current River Cat Adrian Cardenas at Monsignor Edward Pace High in Miami Gardens, Fla., Gonzalez has gone on to be a star in Oakland.
The first-round pick (38th) by the Chicago White Sox in the 2004 MLB draft, Gonzalez was traded four years later in a deal involving former River Cat Nick Swisher.
Gonzalez soon found himself pitching for a champion in the second year of Sacramento’s back-to-back Triple-A titles. Gonzalez finished the 2008 season with an 8-7 record and 4.24 ERA, but followed that season with a year that would warrant a trip to Oakland. In 2009, Gonzalez was 4-1 with a 2.51 ERA in 12 games for Sacramento, allowing him to trade his River Cat red for some green and gold.
Although he pitched for Oakland in 2008 and 2009, it was in 2010 that Gonzalez found his groove. A 15-9 record with a 3.23 ERA and 171 strikeouts in 2010, Gonzalez looks to improve on that this season. Through 17 starts in 2011, he is 8-5 with a 2.31 ERA and 106 strikeouts, earning a spot on the American League All-Star team.
Clayton Mortensen, Colorado Rockies (River Cats, 2009-2010)
Mortensen was a PCL All-Star for the River Cats last season, boasting a 13-6 record with a 4.25 ERA while leading the team with 112 strikeouts. Months after the River Cats season came to a close, so did Mortensen’s time with the club, as he was dealt to the Colorado Rockies for Ethan Hollingsworth.
A first-round pick (36th by the St. Louis Cardinals) in 2007, Mortensen has pitched in 16 games for Colorado this year (six starts). The 26-year-old right-hander is currently 2-4 with a 3.86 ERA.
In June, Mortensen went a span of five games (June 6-25) allowing just three earned runs in 13 innings of relief pitching.
Matthew Sulentic, Midland RockHounds
Double-A Midland may not scare anyone with its 30-46 record, but Matthew Sulentic has used the last month to open eyes that may have lost sight of him since he was drafted by the A’s in third round of the 2006 Amateur Draft.
The 23-year-old outfielder from New Jersey hit .256 in April and .253 in May. This June, Suletic has flipped the switch, hitting .358 from through June 29. His spectacular June has turned his lowly .254 average at the beginning of the month to .287, second highest on the team.
Sulentic has jumped around the A’s minor league system that last few seasons, playing for Vancouver, Kane County, Stockton and Midland. Sulentic made the jump from Vancouver to Stockton in two seasons, and hit .309 in 95 games for the Ports. His next stop was in Midland where he has found himself playing the last three years.
He hit above .275 the last two seasons while scoring 50-plus runs while driving in 45 or more. If he can continue at the rate he is going, the kid from New Jersey may find himself wearing a new jersey soon, making his last step until the majors.
Michael Gilmartin, Stockton Ports
Someone forgot to tell Michael Gilmartin that the talent level goes up as you make your way up the farm system.
The Stockton Ports second baseman played in Vancouver and Kane County the two seasons, prior to suiting up Stockton (High-A). However, he has had better numbers this season than in past seasons. In 60 games for Vancouver, Gilmartin hit .232 with 10 doubles, one triple, three home runs, 34 runs, 22 RBI and five steals. In 119 games for Kane County Gilmartin hit .245, 30 doubles, four triples, five home runs, with 41 runs, 53 RBI and 15 steals.
Through 61 games this season, Gilmartin has matched many of those numbers while adding on to personal numbers that he has already surpassed. As of June 29, Gilmartin is hitting .298 for Stockton with 13 doubles, six triples, seven home runs, with 40 runs, 38 RBI and three steals. Numbers any 27th round-pick would be proud to have. Or any Minor Leaguer for that matter.
In the River Cats’ 11 seasons, hundreds of players have called Sacramento home, winning championships at the Minor League level while aspiring to break into the Majors.
Jeff Baisley, Salt Lake Bees (River Cats, 2008-10)
Jeff Baisley was part of a 2008 team that was the last team standing in the Pacific Coast League. Three years late Baisley can be found in the same league putting up numbers that are better than he has ever had.
In Sacramento Baisley played 228 games hitting .271(226-for-833) with 60 doubles, two triples, 24 home runs, 115 runs and 114 RBI. This year Baisley boasts a .308 average, with 14 doubles, two triples, 15 home runs, 50 runs and 55 RBI. His play has gained the attention it deserves as he is sixth overall in the all-star balloting while leading all PCL third baseman in total votes.
Corey Wimberly, Indianapolis Indians (River Cats, 2010)
Wimberly quickly became a fan favorite for Sacramento last season with his pre-game front flip and lighting speed on the field. The 5-foot-8 170 lb. giant left his mark in the River Cats record book and an imprint on the minds of River Cats fans last season.
Last year Wimberly crushed the steal record that was set by Eric Patterson in 2009. Last season the speedy Wimberly stole 13 more bases finishing the season with 56, moving into second all-time in River Cats history. Wimberly also ranks fourth in total runs over one season (97), fifth in triples (7) and seventh in total games (135).
Following the season Wimberly was traded to Pittsburgh for 23-year-old right-hander Ryan Kelly who never pitched a game in the A’s system. Wimberly has played in 32 games for the Indianapolis Indians (Triple-A Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate) hitting .225 with two doubles, two triples, 10 runs, eight RBI and seven steals.
Josh Outman, Oakland A’s (River Cats, 2008 & 2011)
Josh Outman was the opening day starter for the Sacramento River Cats this season but has found himself in Oakland for the first time since 2009 when he went down with an elbow injury. That elbow injury in 2009 lead to Tommy John surgery that took him out for the rest of 2009 and all of 2010. Before his elbow injury in 2009 Outman posted a 4-1 record with a 3.48 ERA in his rookie season.
Outman appeared in just five games for Sacramento in 2008 but returned to Sacramento on his long road back to the show this past Spring having a 1-0 record while sustaining a 1.76 ERA. Outman showed River Cats’ fans that the two years prior was no fluke and he made it back to where he was before the injury.
The combination of his play in Sacramento and injuries to the Oakland rotation opened up and avenue that allowed him to make the move last month. The 26-year-old lefty has had even better numbers since he made his most recent jump to the majors. In six games in green and gold Outman has recorded a 3-1 record with a 2.86 ERA. With the way he’s been pitching it might be a while until we see him in Sacramento again.
Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies (River Cats, 2008)
Our Andre Ethier of this week is Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. It’s easy to look back and say we should have done this or done that, but Cargo was as average as they come for Sacramento. In 2008 Gonzalez played in 46 games hitting .283 (49-for-173) with nine doubles, four homers, 23 runs and 28 RBI. Numbers that have turned into MVP candidate worthy numbers 1200 miles away in Colorado.
Gonzalez didn’t start the year how he would have liked coming off a year in which he won a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger award. Cargo, who was third in MVP voting last season has began to turn things around this year after making the switch from the No. 3 spot in the lineup to No. 1 position. Gonzalez had turned his average from .254 to .281 in that period.
Since June 7 Carlos Gonzalez is hitting .370 (27-for-73) with seven doubles, two homers, nine RBI, 12 runs, four walks and three stolen bases.