Washington Nationals General Manager Bob Boone visited Fresno Wednesday to meet with the press and community members. Photo by Edward Smith
Written by Edward Smith
Even as former affiliate Houston Astros prepare to battle it out for the American League Championship Series title, the Fresno Grizzlies are entering a relationship with a new Major League Baseball team.
Washington Nationals General Manager Bob Boone donned the Fresno Tacos hat Wednesday at a Chukchansi Park press conference to commemorate the new two-year player development contract.
“I really believe our organization moving to the Pacific Coast League is going to be beneficial to us,” Boone said.
The deal between the Grizzlies and the Astros came to a close this year, and as other prospective teams declared their affiliations, it became clearer that the two teams whom Grizzlies President Derek Franks said are “maybe the two furthest teams from each other in the country” would come together.
The distance means a long plane ride for Minor League players making the big league team.
“There’s an inconvenience for us in stealing players from you during the season that we found very easy to do in our other affiliates,” Boone said.
But, he said, “from a selfish standpoint,” the ability to play more games without rainouts or inclement weather means players will have more opportunity to grow.
The Nationals’ previous Triple-A affiliate had been the Syracuse Chiefs in New York, who had a record of 64-76 this year.
Because of the scouting program, which Boone says has improved since his entry into the organization in the mid-2000s, younger players will move up the ranks quicker than before.
“When you’re talking development we usually don’t talk a lot about winning and losing, because the main reason is to get guys better so they can play in the big leagues,” said Boone, who added that he thinks they have a better chance of winning here than in the past.
Attendance at Chukchansi Park peaked under the San Francisco Giants, according to the Pacific Coast League website. The Giants changed their Triple-A team following the 2014 season. In 2008, Grizzlies attendance hit 526,754. In 2014, attendance was 467,000. In 2018, it was 405,403.
“There was a time in our history where affiliation change was unknown or kind of a scary thing to people in our market,” Franks said. “I think we’ve lived past that and I think some of the myths about what that means are over.”
The change of affiliation comes at a time when ownership also changed. Under new ownership group Fresno Sports and Events, the focus has been on capital improvements like the left field social area to enhance fan experience.
“It gets people excited to see something different and I think that pairs well with downtown Fresno’s track and where we are in revitalization,” Franks said.