This is the 10th anniversary of the most bittersweet week in Modesto minor-league baseball history.
On Sept. 20, 2004, the Modesto A’s won the California League championship in a remarkable five-game series against Lancaster.
Two days later, the Oakland A’s announced an end to their 30-year relationship with Modesto and that they were moving to the new ballpark in Stockton. The following day, Modesto announced it would be dropping the A’s name as it began a new chapter with the Colorado Rockies.
The outrage was palpable. Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour wrote a letter to Oakland general manager Billy Beane, not seeking a second chance but asking what the city could have done better. Beane didn’t reply. Seems Ridenour had spelled Beane’s name wrong on the letter, leaving off the “e.”
The bond was lost in a quick and quiet divorce, and fans were hurt by not being considered in the custody battle. Today, there are Giants fans in Fresno and A’s fans in Sacramento going through the same separation anxiety.
The moves first reported in the Modesto Bee on July 11 have been made official. The A’s Triple-A affiliate will be in Nashville, Tenn., in 2015, while the Giants will move their prospects from Fresno to Sacramento. The Houston Astros’ Pacific Coast League team will play in Fresno’s Chukchansi Park.
“The similarity is that we were close in proximity to the teams we lost, and Fresno losing the Giants will be more difficult for those fans than Sacramento losing the A’s,” said Mike Gorrasi, former Nuts general manager and vice president of HWS Baseball, the company that owns the Modesto franchise. “But once you get back on the playing field, it all starts to go away.”
There was a brief hangover when the A’s left town. The 2005 Modesto Nuts drew 136,612 fans to John Thurman Field, a 5.8 percent attendance drop from the previous season. But in 2007, the Nuts began a run in which they set ballpark attendance records for five straight years. The credit for that goes to the Nuts’ energetic and innovative front-office staff.
The transition will be easier for Sacramento and Fresno than it was for Modesto. The Modesto front office not only had to deal with the end of a 30-year marriage but had to have a completely new brand in place by the following Opening Day – a process more involved than phasing out Peanut the Elephant for Al and Wally.
The arrival of the Giants in Sacramento will be a boon if the front office is successful in its marketing of the new affiliation. It shouldn’t be difficult, since Giants fans far outnumber A’s fans in the River City.
Fresno’s challenge to make something positive of the new affiliation will be much more difficult, especially since the relationship with Houston is likely to end in 2016 if the Astros bolt for Round Rock, Texas, as expected. Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan sits on the Astros’ executive board, while his son Reese is president of the Round Rock team.
Yet when the River Cats and Grizzlies line up next April, it will matter to very few fans that the home sides will be representing new major-league teams. The River Cats will remain Sacramento’s team and the Grizzlies will remain Fresno’s boys of summer.
Modesto eventually got over the affiliation change, and so will Sacramento and Fresno.
“We were disappointed that the A’s left, but we got to create a new brand,” Gorrasi said. “Fresno and Sacramento are two of the top minor-league organizations in the country and they will make it work.”