Grizzlies Celebrate Two Decades of Baseball in Fresno
May 23, 2017 11:00AM
By Kimberly Horg
Rip Roarin' Good Time
Story by Kimberly Horg
Photos courtesy of Fresno Grizzlies
For 20 years, the Fresno Grizzlies have been playing Triple-A, Pacific Coast League baseball. In 1998, when the former Phoenix Firebirds franchise relocated to the Central Valley, the Grizzlies arrived on the scene. This marked the return of professional baseball to the Valley after a 10-year absence.
For the team’s first four seasons, it played at Pete Beiden Field on Fresno State University’s campus. And in the 2002 season, it moved into what was then known as Grizzlies Stadium, now called Chukchansi Park.
According to Paul Braverman, the Grizzlies’ media relations coordinator, pro baseball first came to Fresno in 1898 with a
team in the original California League. The team dropped out of the league following that season, but baseball returned in 1905. In 1906, the Tacoma Tigers of the Pacific Coast League moved to Fresno, playing as the Fresno Raisin Eaters for one season before relocating to Sacramento for 1907. In the intervening years before the arrival of the Grizzlies, Fresno fielded teams in the California State League in 1910 and 1913, and in the current California League from 1941 through 1988, including the Fresno Cardinals (1941-1956), Fresno Sun Sox (1957), Fresno Giants (1958-1987) and Fresno Suns (1988).
“This is an entertainment venue not every town has, which raises the profile of the city and keeps Fresno on the map,” he says.
When the stadium opened, Fresno was one of the biggest cities to not have a team of its own, he says. The Grizzlies brand has grown among Fresno residents.“There is a lot of civic pride,” Braverman says.
The Grizzlies are not only a high-level sports team that offers family-friendly entertainment, but it also brings people downtown. The team plays at the 12,500 seat Chukchansi Park, a downtown centerpiece.
Average attendance is about 5,800 to 6,500 a game, but the two biggest events are the opening game and Taco Truck Throwdown, where it reaches full capacity. Taco night is in its seventh year, and the stadium packs in as many taco trucks as it can so fans can sample and vote for their favorite tacos. This year’s event is July 28. “Since tacos are such a Central Valley thing, this has really grown and become unique to the Valley,” Braverman says. There were 10 trucks when it first began, and now there are around 30 from Fresno and neighboring towns.
The Grizzlies have 71 home games from April to September, and they have had back-to-back winning seasons. In their first season as an Astros affiliate in 2015, the Grizzlies captured their first Pacific Coast League and Triple-A national championships.
Although season ticket holders make up the base of the fans, the Grizzlies build a crowd with individual tickets. Braverman says. Promotions like taco truck night bring in young and old alike.
“It is a full-scale experience 20 years into it,” he says. “Even if someone isn’t a hardcore fan, people come out and experience it for themselves and become a new fan. They see the mascot doing relay races with kids or the team wearing Ninja Turtle jerseys and having a sense of humor about it.”
This year’s commemorative jerseys also include uniforms that will be worn June 1 to honor the Beatles’ classic “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album on the 40th anniversary of its release.
Most team members have been professionals for five years or longer, and will often sign autographs and interact with the public. And because it is the minor leagues, the games are affordable. Tickets start at $8.
The Grizzlies also have three bobble head series which feature four major leaguers, three all-stars and a bear which people can get free with ticket packages. This is the basis for the 20th season’s greatest players. All three bobble heads will be available only to those who purchase a seven-game mini plan.
The most sought after bobble will debut on June 24, when the Grizzlies play the Sacramento River Cats. A statue of Giants ace Madison Bumgarner, known for his pitching and larger-than-life exploits away from the diamond, is pitted against a bear in an arm-wrestling match.
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