MODESTO — These guys have a lot to learn.
But the same can be said every year on Opening Day, when 25 athletes from around the world, thrown together by baseball kismet, step on the diamond to begin their summer as representatives of Modesto.
Most of them never have been to California before this week, and even fewer know why the word "Nuts" is on the front of their jersey.
"I have no idea about Modesto except we're the Nuts," said Trevor Story, a 20-year-old shortstop from Texas who is one of the two first-round draft picks on this year's roster.
Story was told about the mascots, Al the Almond and Wally the Walnut, and how the area is rich with nut orchards, and he seemed to understand why the local franchise picked a name that's easy derisive fodder for every fan in the nine other California League ballparks.
Modesto's professional sports team will open its 67th California League season tonight in San Bernardino. It will be the ninth season as the Nuts and as an affiliate of the Colorado Rockies and by a quirk of the schedule local fans won't get a chance to cheer the home team until a week from tonight.
This first road trip takes them for seven games through the heart of the league's South Division, to San Bernard0ino and then Rancho Cucamonga, and if nothing else it will give the new players a chance to sample the state's diverse topography, from Central Valley to the Grapevine and into desert.
"I know nothing about Modesto," said Tyler Anderson, the team's other first-round draft pick and tonight's starting pitcher. "I grew up in Las Vegas, so I know a lot about Southern California and have been through Bakersfield and San Bernardino and some of the towns we'll play in down there."
As a public service, here are three pieces of advice every Nuts player should heed.
1. Get ready to sneeze
These guys are coming to Modesto in allergy season, which tends to meld right into the peak of the summer dust season, and the nasal symptoms suffered by many of these area newcomers have been debilitating.
Five years ago, catcher Michael McKenry (now with the Pittsburgh Pirates) was charged with several passed balls simply because he was too busy sneezing to follow the flight of the pitch. Yes, that's dangerous. But ever try to sneeze with your eyes open?
McKenry got his allergies somewhat under control by using what over the seasons has become a standard medical cocktail in the Nuts' clubhouse chasing your prescription allergy medication each morning with a spoonful of locally produced raw honey, and giving your sinuses a few weeks to adapt.
Attention, local honey producers: That's a promotional hanging curve just waiting for you to swat out of the park.
2. Dress in layers
Batting practice when the Nuts are home ends about 4:45 p.m., or the hottest part of the day. In April it can be a perfect 70 degrees when the Modesto players retreat to the clubhouse, and 48 by the seventh inning.
During next Thursday's first home game, this temperature plunge will take the majority of players by surprise.
The real eye-opener will come the following night, when several players still will be surprised. Some guys just require more sensory input than others.
Of course, this changes when summer hits. The scoreboard at Thurman Field always registers a higher local temperature than does the weather service, likely because the weather service generally does not encase thermometers in black metal scoreboards.
Since batting practice scoreboard temperatures of 108 degrees are common in the summer, the players need to learn simply to not fret and to stay hydrated.
Because once the sun goes down, there's no more comfortable ballpark anywhere for fans and players than John Thurman Field on a warm summer night.
3. Don't let the ballpark get you down
Two days before the 2003 season opener, Modesto A's outfielder Nick Swisher (now with the Cleveland Indians) was taking batting practice at Thurman Field.
It was a chilly and blustery day, with showers in the area, and the switch-hitting Swisher, batting right-handed, was crushing pitch after pitch deep toward the scoreboard in left-center.
These were soaring rockets that would have been home runs in any other park, including Yosemite, but in Modesto in early April they became fly balls that dropped meekly in front of the warning track.
After his final swing, which resulted in another majestic fly ball, Swisher slammed his bat to the ground, stormed out of the cage and made this (heavily cleansed) statement loudly in his West Virginia twang for all to hear:
"Oh dear me," begins the translation. "Other players have told me about this wonderful ballpark and its intriguing dimensions and about how I will have to do my very best to hit home runs here, and I take all the blame because I just didn't believe them."
I walked up to Swisher and told him about how the ballpark plays very large in April and May, but how it becomes more fair when the air dries out and it gets warmer in June.
"June?" Swisher said, beginning the cockiest reply I've ever heard from a baseball player. "Hell, I'm not going to be here in June."
Swisher was promoted to Double-A Midland on June 5.
Thurman Field is the toughest place in the California League in which to hit home runs. According to the publication Baseball America, an average of 1.03 home runs are hit per game in Modesto, which ranks 101st among the country's 110 minor-league parks.
On the other hand, every time incoming players read about the California League, the league's name is prefaced by the words "hitter-friendly."
And it is a hitter-friendly league. That same statistical study showed that of the 10 major league-affiliated minor leagues the California League ranked first in runs per game (10.8), second in hits per game (19.1) and second in home runs per game (1.85.) Games played at High Desert in Adelanto average more than three homers and 15 runs per game.
Let's just say that Modesto tends to bring those numbers down.
So when opening night starter Anderson was asked if he knew anything about Modesto, he said that he had heard that it's a good place to hit. It was guilt by association, because at that point he hadn't taken a moment to see the field.
Here was a chance to see a pitcher's first impression of his new spacious office. As the tall lefty walked out of the clubhouse, past the batting cage and raised bullpen platform, the expanse of Thurman's outfield began to sink in, and he smiled.
"This is a nice yard," said Anderson. "There's lots of room out here, but if you leave the ball up it's going to go out anyway.
"I saw balls hit 500 feet in Asheville (N.C.) that would have gone out anywhere some real bombs. My old pitching coach always said that he'd never seen a ground ball leave the yard."
They might in High Desert, but that's just a rumor a California League lesson for a later date.
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2150. Follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek.