Sports

Modesto fans come out to watch award winners

The addition of a new scoreboard at Modetso's John Thurman Field was the biggest improvement to the baseball park since it was renovated in 1997.  Numerous fans got to see it up close as the Nuts drew a franchise record in attendance last season.
The addition of a new scoreboard at Modetso's John Thurman Field was the biggest improvement to the baseball park since it was renovated in 1997. Numerous fans got to see it up close as the Nuts drew a franchise record in attendance last season. Modesto Bee

The announcement that the Colorado Rockies had been named baseball's top organization for 2007 came during the winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn., but good tidings reverberated all the way back to Modesto.

The Modesto Nuts, coming off their third season as the Rockies' High-A minor league affiliate, have been helped by the additional interest in the Colorado organization since the team's first World Series appearance.

"We've been using the World Series and being named the organization of the year in selling our ticket plans," said Nuts vice president Mike Gorrasi. "Our season-ticket and mini-plan sales are up, and in a lot of those conversations the fans are talking about having seen Troy Tulowitzki and Seth Smith play right here."

Modesto is coming off a successful season at John Thurman Field, drawing a franchise-record 158,936 fans. In doing so, it was able to reinvent the local baseball experience through use of the new state-of-the-scoreboard -- easily the most significant upgrade to the ballpark since its 1997 renovation.

There will be no such grand upgrades for the 2008 season, which opens April 3 at Stockton. The home opener will be April 7 against San Jose. The meeting center/banquet hall project in the former left field bullpen area, originally slated to open next year, has been pushed back for a 2009 opening.

Gorrasi said the club is looking into adding press box-level party decks, which would extend from the sides of the existing VIP suites, but those plans have yet to be made final.

"We still need the pricing for that project," Gorrasi said. "We don't want to spend too much and undercut our banquet facility for 2009."

The only other change fans will notice in the coming season will be at the concession stands. Gorrasi said some redesign work will be done in order to speed customers through the food-buying process -- one of the major complaints in 2007.

With the playing surface going through a laser-leveling last season, the only on-field change will be in the dugout. The Rockies on Friday announced that former major league hitting coach Duane Espy will take over that same role in Modesto in 2008, joining returning manager Jerry Weinstein and pitching coach Butch Hughes.

Dave Hajek, who took over as the Nuts hitting coach midway through the 2006 season, was named Friday as the hitting coach in Double-A Tulsa.

Another Nuts move has occurred behind the scenes. Gorassi, as mentioned above, is now the team's vice president. Alex Schwerin, who has been with the team since 2004, has been promoted to general manager.

"Alex will be handling the day-to-day operations, and I'll be spending more time on the long-range projects, such as overseeing the banquet facility project and pursing ballpark naming rights," Gorassi said.

In minor league baseball, the only thing that stays the same is the constant flow of new talent in and out of the farm clubs. In the case of Modesto's three-year relationship with the Rockies, that has been a high-grade flow, as recognized by the Baseball America award.

"We had a great time in Nashville," said Marc Gustafson, Colorado's director of player development. "It's so much fun to celebrate with the folks who have been with us for so long, and that's what this award is all about. We enjoy being in Modesto and we enjoy being in the California League."

To comment, click on the link with this story at

www.modbee.com. Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek

can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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