For years, the California League schedule has been set up to allow each of its 10 teams to host a game on either July 3 or 4.
These Independence Day contests are important nights for the teams and franchises. The teams, by this point of the season, want to know whether they’re going to compete for a playoff spot, while the game often draws the largest crowd of the season – a front-office financial boon.
But there’s another factor at play. Many of the 5,127 fans at John Thurman Field on Thursday night were seeing their first game this season. They were lured by the expanded fireworks show, and if the game was good and entertaining, maybe they would come back this season – for the baseball.
But for so much of this season, the Modesto Nuts have been neither good nor entertaining, and one can only hope that this 10-2 loss to San Jose stands out as the low point of the season.
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“This is so disappointing,” said Nuts manager Don Sneddon. “We usually play well on fireworks nights, and tonight we didn’t. Tonight, our bullpen pitched well, and our starting pitching didn’t do well. I can’t figure it out.”
In one way, it is a low point. The Nuts are 27-57, and the last time any Modesto team was 30 games under .500 was the final day of the 2001 season, when the Li’l A’s packed up after a 55-85 campaign under manager Greg Sparks.
Here’s another perspective. The worst record in the history of Modesto minor-league baseball was achieved in 1947, the franchise’s second season, when the Reds went 52-88.
To avoid eclipsing that mark, the Nuts must go at least 26-30 the rest of this season, and considering they haven’t won back-to-back games since May 23-24, the dubious mark appears within reach.
San Jose took the crowd out of the game in the second inning by scoring five runs on six hits against Nuts starter Matt Flemer (7-6.) The Giants then got Flemer out of the game during a four-run fourth.
Modesto scratched out a run in the third when Derek Jones singled and sprinted home when Kyle Von Tungeln followed with a double to the wall in right-center.
Those would be the Nuts’ lone hits against Giants starter Pat Young (6-3) until the sixth, when Von Tungeln was hit by a pitch and eventually scored on Jordan Ribera’s two-out infield single.
There was a bright spot for the Nuts, and it’s one that has been shining for some time.
Shane Broyles relieved Flemer and shut down the Giants on one hit over 2 2/3 innings. Over his last 11 outings, dating to May 30, Broyles has allowed two runs and 13 hits over 181/3 innings.
Broyles has been good. But middle relievers seldom sell tickets or earn great cheers, and on Thursday, the eighth-largest crowd in Modesto baseball history went home with voices intact.
“We’ll keep working at it,” Sneddon said. “We got two runs and three hits. We broke apart tonight, and I don’t have those answers.”