The Modesto Nuts are nearing another milestone this season, and fortunately this one has nothing to do with the team’s win-loss record.
The franchise, which has been around since 1946, entered Saturday’s game 9,680 fans away from the 6-million mark in all-time attendance, and the Nuts have put together a substantial prize package for the fan who is lucky enough to trip the turnstile at the correct time.
The package includes 2015 season tickets, a team replica jersey, autographed team ball, a night in a VIP suite, other assorted Nuts merchandise and the opportunity to throw out the first pitch on Opening Night next season.
Never before has it taken so few years for the Modesto franchise to jump from one million-fan milestone to the next. The Nuts welcomed their 5 millionth fan on May 17, 2009.
That fan was Shel Thompson's, a 60-year-old Modesto native whose arrival at the ballpark that day was delayed by a phone call from his daughter in New Orleans - one of those family chats that, fortunately for Thompson, never seemed to end.
"What I wanted to do was come about an hour early," Thompson said that afternoon. "I thought there might be a good crowd today and a few hundred fans would line up ahead of time. But our daughter from New Orleans called and kept us on the phone forever. We didn't get here until the end of the second inning."
It turned out that the winner of the prize had a baseball background that could not have been scripted better for Modesto.
He and his wife, Marie-Merced Thompson, got to the game in the middle of the second inning and were greeted at the gate by the Nuts' mascots and members of the front office.
Thompson said his grandmother, born in 1893 in Newman, once attended a game between the Newman and Modesto city teams as a teenager, and how his father sold sodas and near-beer at semi-pro games in Modesto in 1933. And Thompson himself bought a kids’ season pass in 1962 to watch the Modesto Colts - a team that featured a young second baseman named Joe Morgan.
Then, while coaching Little League Baseball in 1996, he brought his team to a Modesto A’s game at Thurman Field. He caught a foul ball in that game off the bat of Modesto shortstop Miguel Tejada, which he got autographed and still owns.
Thompson’s goal that day was to arrive at the ballpark in time to see the ceremony honoring the 5 millionth fan, never thinking that he’d become its focus.
When I originally wrote that story, I did so as a short-sidebar - a kind of a human interest throwaway piece to accompany the story on the Nuts-San Jose Giants game that night.
But within two hours of the story appearing online at modbee.com, it caught the eye of a Website editor at Yahoo.com, who decided to feature it on the front page of the Yahoo news site.
Within three hours, the story received a million hits worldwide, and to this day is the only story in the history of modbee.com to receive more than one million hits.
NUTS MAKE MORE MOVES
The promotion of Jayson Aquino to Double-A Tulsa left Modesto with a 24-man roster for Friday’s game, a situation that was rectified prior to Saturday’s first pitch.
First, Shane Broyles – the most consistent reliever for Modesto in the second half of the season – was promoted to Double-A. He has a 1.19 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP in 18 outings (30 1/3 innings) since the All-Star break, with 33 strikeouts against seven walks.
His promotion left two holes on the Nuts’ staff, which were filled by righthanders Jacob Newberry and Huascar Brazoban. Newberry opened the 2014 season in Modesto, but went on the disabled list on June 7. He had three outings with Tri-Cty before being sent back to Modesto.
Brazoban, 24 and a native of the Domincan Republic, will be making his first trip to the Modesto roster. He was 1-0, 3.23 in 20 relief appearances in Asheville, posting 23 strikeouts against 8 walks in 30 2/3 innings.