Brian VanderBeek

Baseball means spring is here

Depending on where you live, spring emerges in stages.

When I lived on the East Coast, spring began on the opening Thursday morning of the Masters, at the moment the television camera led the viewer on the obligatory amble up Magnolia Lane.

Back in these parts, I always considered the emerging almond blossoms as the first sign of spring. Well, they've come and gone and have been replaced by the second stage — our first stretch of 70-degree days.

The final sign spring has arrived? Opening day.

Spring training doesn't count, a fact for which Giants fans are grateful. But thanks to the Internet, those of us who spend a great deal of our warmer months at John Thurman Field can get an early idea of the youngsters who will wear Nuts uniforms this season.

And yes, there are reasons to get excited.

But first, since spring is the season for change there is one sign of the times in our little minor-league baseball world that must be noted.

Barring some last-minute adjustment by the Oakland organization, there will be no holdover from the 30-year run of the Modesto A's anywhere within the Stockton Ports — not on the roster, the coaching staff or even in the front office.

Hey, the last image of the Modesto A's did come way back in 2004, as the team bus was departing from the ballpark in Lancaster with the California League championship trophy on board. It's about time the break with Oakland is complete for Modesto folk.

It means we're long overdue to recognize and accept the way the Colorado Rockies' organization does business with their prospects.

Like every other Class-A team, the rosters won't be set until a week from today. Despite that, we know what kind of squad the Rockies will place in Modesto. We know because Colorado has developed a successful pattern with its young players -- one that paid off for the franchise on a national stage last October.

The 2008 Nuts will be young and will spend much of April proving to themselves they aren't overmatched. The pitchers will be far ahead of the hitters, and because of those arms the team won't fall too far out of the race until the offense begins to catch up in mid-May.

There will be excellent team speed -- much better than we ever saw with any Modesto A's team during the Billy Beane era -- and the team will be above average defensively.

We have an idea about some of the players we'll see when the Nuts open in Stockton one week from Thursday (and in Modesto for the April 7 home opener.)

We should see another exciting shortstop in 20-year-old Hector Gomez, who was a South Atlantic League all-star last year but will have quite a ways to go to match the Modesto exploits of Troy Tulowitzki and Chris Nelson.

The Rockies appear to have another catcher in the mold of Chris Iannetta with Mike McKenry. Like Iannetta, McKenry is touted as an excellent receiver with power (22 homers with Asheville in 2007) and an excellent eye at the plate.

It will be difficult to match the overall game of Eric Young Jr., but the Rockies plan to send another speedy second baseman our way in Daniel Mayora. The 22-year-old from the Dominican Republic hit .312 with 14 homers last year with Asheville.

And of course, it just wouldn't be the Nuts without an eye-popping arm or two, and we're going to see at least one with right-hander Esmil Rogers -- a converted shortstop who turned to pitching last season.

As an added bonus, Modestans should have the chance to enjoy a rarity of the homegrown variety. Anthony Jackson, who played at Davis High, Modesto Junior College and University of the Pacific before signing with the Rockies, is earmarked to be a member of the Nuts' outfield.

He hit .244, stole 34 bases and had 12 triples last season with Asheville. The gaps at Thurman Field should be a nice part of Jackson's summer if he becomes the first native position player for Modesto's minor-league team since Bruce Amador roamed the infield for the 1984 Modesto A's.

That's right. It's 70 degrees outside. If you try real hard, you still can smell the blossoms and we're talking baseball.

Spring must be here.

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at or 578-2300.