Derek Franks speaks during a news conference in February to introduce the team's new Major League Baseball Affiliate, the Colorado Rockies. Screenshot via the Grizzlies
Written by Edward Smith
After a year without minor league baseball, the Fresno Grizzlies announced the beginning of the new season and their 10-year affiliation with the Colorado Rockies.
The now Single-A baseball team held a press conference Wednesday with its Major League Baseball affiliate describing what their relationship will be like in the time of Covid. Under the agreement, the Grizzlies will be associated with the Rockies until 2031.
Previous franchise deals with the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals lasted for two-year stints.
Zach Wilson, assistant general manager of player development for the Rockies, said longer contract deals make developing young baseball players easier.
“To not have to worry about those things in the long term is going to help us truly establish ourselves in the Fresno community,” said Wilson.
In previous affiliations, Rockies players held autograph events and made appearances at hospitals, he said. Most Single-A teams are in small towns. Being in a city such as Fresno would be good for players, he said, adding that players would be visible in the community.
“The frosting on the cake is this beautiful gem of a stadium you have here,” Wilson said.
Fresno Grizzlies President Derek Franks said that a long-term deal has benefits for the local team as well.
“When you have certainty over a longer period of time, we’re excited about tapping into tools and technology that Major League Baseball can bring,” said Franks.
Being in the Single-A league means player experience will be different than at Triple-A, said Wilson, adding that “the excitement of the players isn’t going to change.”
Regarding the Grizzlies’ Single-A status, Franks said that anything can change, but “we’re not focused on that.”
Because of moves over the past years made by the Rockies to transition players in development to the Majors, the lower development leagues may be primed to see some of the Rockies recent acquisitions and prime players.
Baseball starting in May is still contingent on Fresno County reaching the Orange Tier for Covid restrictions.
“We are continuing to work closely with state and local health officials to lock in our plans and guidance,” said Franks. “If we don’t reach the orange tier, it will be up to Major League Baseball if they ask us to open up with no fans in the stands.”
Franks said that social distancing measures would be in place in the stadium.
Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias said that he was hopeful Fresno County would meet its target by opening day.
“When it safe to do so, baseball will be back in Fresno,” Arias said.
Games may be limited to 2,000 in attendance. Because of that, concession sales may be impacted.
There would be “pod-type” seating with six foot-spacing between households. Franks said as the season progresses, games should return to normalcy.
Grizzlies have won multiple awards for promotions at the stadium. Franks said they’ll be able to rollover many of the promotions they had planned for the 2020 season. An announcement March 2 will come regarding Taco Truck Throwdown.
Being in the California Low-A League pits the Fresno Grizzlies against the Visalia Rawhide. The Visalia Rawhide most recently won the championship for that league in 2019 after establishing a record as the team to appear the most times in a championship without winning it all — in a all of sports. The Sigal family purchased the Rawhide in 2019.
“We know who our natural rival is going to be,” said Franks.
The Grizzlies home opener May 11 will be against the Visalia Rawhide.