Written by The Business Journal Staff
For the first time in franchise history, the Fresno Grizzlies are headed for their second consecutive winning season.
With just five games left to go at home against the rival Sacramento River Cats, the team is just inches away from another playoff run, dependent on whether they win these last games and how current Pacific Coast League (PCL) Pacific Northern division leader Tacoma plays in their last run—the Tacoma Rainiers were just a few games ahead of the Grizzlies as of Aug. 16.
Playoff bound or not, Baseball Operations Coordinator Paul Braverman said the last two seasons have been phenomenal for the Grizzlies.
In 2015, the team triumphed under its new Houston Astros affiliate, earning a franchise-best record of 84-59 in the regular season and winning the PCL Pacific Northern division by 13.5 games. The postseason also brought glory to the Grizzlies, who won their first Pacific Coast League Championship and the Gildan Triple-A National Championship.
For a team that had not even advanced to the postseason since its inaugural year in 1998, the feat was sweet for players and fans alike. Now poised for another winning season — the record was 66-56 as of Aug. 16 — Braverman said it’s a good time to be a Fresno Grizzly.
“Last year’s team had the best record in Grizzlies history and this year, we’ve been competitive on the field again,” Braverman said. “We’re five games out of the division behind Tacoma [as of Aug. 11] for a playoff spot with six to play so we’re still alive; we’re not out of it yet.”
In addition to enjoying back-to-back winning seasons, Braverman said there has been excitement on the field as the Fresno Triple-A team has been host to some big baseball prospects.
The most popular player this season, Braverman said, is outfielder Tony Kemp, who played ball for Vanderbilt University and was named an All-American and Southeastern Conference Baseball Player of the Year in 2013.
“Tony moved up from Double-A halfway through last year and made a splash and was a hit with fans,” Braverman said. “He came back to Fresno and was just called up again. In this brief Astros era, he is probably the most popular player we’ve had.”
Shortstop and third baseman Alex Bregman also did a brief stint with the Grizzlies this season.
“Essentially the time he was here, Alex was the best prospect in minor league baseball, and he hit 340-something when he was here and had a bunch of home runs,” Braverman said. “He is up at the Astros right now. He is kind of their big centerpiece for the future and is projected to be a big league star. We had him here for three weeks, maybe eight or nine home games, so it was brief but it was cool having that kind of celebrity and star power in town.”
These standouts, though, won’t be with the Grizzlies during their final home stretch against the River Cats. However, home field advantage should give the Grizzlies an edge over their Giants-affiliated rival.
“It is obviously an interesting rivalry,” Braverman said. “Those are the only two California teams in this league and there is some relative proximity and fans go to each ballpark and make it fun and when the Giants left Fresno, they went to Sacramento…The last couple of years we’ve had the advantage in the standings where as when we were with the Giants and they were with the Oakland A’s, they won four championships so they had a big run of success where we were looking up at them in the standings and now it is reversed.”
The Grizzlies last five home games against the River Cats will be held Aug. 24-28. The first four game days have a start time of 7:05 p.m., while Sunday’s final game begins at 5:05 p.m. For more information, visit http://www.milb.com/index.jsp?sid=t259