Here's a riddle: How is the 2009 California League baseball schedule not like a major cable news network?
The answer is easy: It can't claim to be either fair or balanced.
The nuts and bolts remain the same. The league will still have 10 teams for perhaps one more season, with Bakersfield and High Desert sticking around for one more year. And every team will play 140 games, grossly unbalanced to favor games within each team's division.
The Modesto Nuts open with Bakersfield on April 9, the start of a seven-game homestand. Bakersfield also will be the opponent July 3, which is when the Nuts will mark Independence Day. The regular season ends Sept. 7, about a week later than normal.
The Nuts will play 29 games against Bakersfield (the Texas Rangers' affiliate) and 28 against Visalia (Arizona Diamondbacks). You never know about a team's strength from year to year, but with the Rangers' and Diamondbacks' farm systems in rebuilding mode, this could be a huge break for the Nuts.
Bakersfield and Visalia each make 17 trips to Modesto with the Nuts returning the favor 10 times to each ballpark. Next year's radio play-by-play announcer -- whomever that turns out to be -- will appreciate that bit of scheduling relief, since Visalia's press box is outdoors and Bakersfield's is a tiny sweat box.
The Nuts played San Jose 31 times in 2008. That number has been shaved to 28 for 2009, but 18 are on the road. The Giants' final regular-season visit to Modesto is June 30, and the teams won't meet at all over the final 47 games after their July 18 meeting in San Jose.
If the idea of the schedule is to reduce travel costs, consider it a failure that the best rivalry and shortest commuter game in the North Division (Modesto vs. Stockton at 32 miles) will occur only 21 times. Nine of those games will be played in Modesto, and the Ports visit John Thurman Field only three times in the second half. Meanwhile, Stockton and San Jose (the league's second-longest commuter game at 81 miles one way) meet 34 times.
The Nuts play 105 games against their four northern rivals and 35 against the five South teams. Modesto will make one trip to every South Division park, and each South team will make one trip to Thurman Field.
Rancho Cucamonga makes its lone trip to Modesto early (May 5-7), but the Nuts' first game against Lake Elsinore won't be until Aug. 24. Modesto visits the Storm on Sept. 1, the first game of a season-ending seven-game trip through Lake Elsinore and High Desert.
It's obvious the schedule was built more for front-office financial reasons than player development. The vast majority of games within the South Division are money-saving commutes and not overnight stays, and limiting travel costs is the top priority of the California League when it creates a schedule.
"Overall, it's a good schedule for us," Nuts General Manager Alex Schwerin said. "We have a lot of Thursday-through-Saturday series. I know the team would like to have a lot of variety in the teams they play, and so would the fans. But it is good that the teams have to travel to the south only once."
Once more with 10 teams
The Rangers have agreed to keep their team in Bakersfield for one more season, while Seattle and High Desert's ownership have renewed their agreement through 2010. Meanwhile, Lancaster and Salem, Va., have swapped affiliates, with the Red Sox going to Salem and the Astros to Lancaster.
This marks the first time Houston has been represented in the Cal League since 1964, when the Colt 45s ended a three-year stay at Modesto's Del Webb Field.
The Texas and Houston affiliates will seek to move to the Carolina League as early as 2010, which would allow Seattle to abandon High Desert for Lancaster. What would be left is an eight-team California League made up of the affiliates of the five major-league teams in California, plus Seattle, Arizona and Colorado.
Chacin is honored Baseball America placed Asheville/Modesto ace Jhoulys Chacin on its first-team minor-league all-star team. He was the only Cal Leaguer to make the team, which is made up of players from every minor-league level. Chacin led the minors with 18 wins, and despite being limited to five innings per start over his last nine starts, Chacin's 177º innings of work ranked second in the minors.
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.