While the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants and American League West contenders Oakland Athletics are within relatively easy driving range for locals, there’s some professional baseball that’s even more centrally located to the 209.
You don’t have to drive any farther than Modesto or Stockton to take in a pro game, the minor league teams showcasing great talent – not to mention some future Major Leaguers.
Both the Stockton Ports and the Modesto Nuts teams are Class A Advanced in the minor league system, the Modesto Nuts are an affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, the Stockton Ports are an Oakland Athletics affiliate. They compete in the North Division of the California League and face each other multiple times during the season.
The Modesto Nuts play their home games at John Thurman Field, 601 Neece Drive in Modesto. The ballpark first opened in 1955 but was renovated and updated in 1997. It can host up to 5000 fans.
The Modesto Nuts is a privately run organization, which has a partnership agreement with Major League baseball’s Colorado Rockies.
“I think we place an emphasis on family fun, we want to make sure when families come to a game they have a great customer service experience and a great experience from an entertainment perspective,” explained Nuts general manager Tyler Richardson.
He said that while the Colorado Rockies organization controls the “player development and player movement” the rest of what the ball club has to offer falls on the locals that are here year-round.
“In the front office, we can control a fan’s experience, we can control how much fun they have and we work hard to make sure when fans leave they had the best experience they possibly could.”
In his 11th year with the Nuts, Richardson started with the organization after getting his business degree from Stanislaus State.
“I started looking at what I wanted to do, post college, and working in sports seemed like it would be cool, the next best thing to playing sports,” he explained. “My first year was a great experience, I got to do a little bit of everything, rotated between departments; I did everything from stadium operations to ticket sales to concessions.”
Working his way up through the ranks, Richardson said having worked in all those departments gave him a better understanding of the entire organization and he has a good grasp of how important every staff member is to making a day at the park the best experience for fans, one that will keep them coming back.
“You learn early on you have to appreciate everyone, everyone has a role in making this happen,” said Richardson, who was named general manager in 2013.
And while there is a staff that works throughout the year, everything ramps up during the time the Nuts are here to play ball.
“In minor league baseball, we get to have fun, from April through the end of August, we have 70 home games, we have fireworks every Friday and Saturday home game, we offer catch on the field Sundays for parents and kids before the game starts, we have a lot of community nights,” Richardson said.
For those looking for information on the various community nights, upcoming special events and more, Richardson advised visiting their website,Modestonuts.com
Well-supported in the region, Modesto earned back-to-back honors as the California League Organization of the Year in 2010 and 2011. The Nuts have captured eight league titles and two division crowns in their history, having been in existence since 1946.
The Nuts are also closely identified with their mascots, which include Wally the Walnut, Al the Almond and Shelley the Pistachio. Paying homage to the rich nut production in the Central Valley, the mascots also make routine public appearances at festivals, parades and gatherings throughout the 209.
In Stockton, the picturesque Banner Island Ballpark opened in 2005 and can accommodate 5,000 fans. In operation officially since 1941, the Ports were among the founding teams in the California League when it was formed that year. The league shut down in 1942 (fallout from World War II) but started up again in 1946, with the Ports back in action. The team has claimed a total of 11 California League championships in its history, the most recent coming in 2008.
The ballpark is at 404 W. Fremont St., Stockton and the team features Splash as its mascot, representing the port city. More information is available on the team’s website,stocktonports.com
Like most Minor League teams, the focus is as much on family fun as the game on the field, with plenty of in-between inning promotions, fan interaction, lots of special theme nights and more. It’s not uncommon to enjoy a fireworks show after the game or dollar hot dogs during – making the minor league games a great way to spend a summer evening without breaking the bank.
And considering ticket prices are a mere pittance compared to big league park prices, the entire family can enjoy several games during the season.
That’s what officials from both teams are hoping and, considering the likes of Dallas Braden and Mike Piazza (Ports) along with Jose Canseco and Troy Tulowitski (Nuts) have taken the field at the Central Valley parks, it’s a perfect way to get to know and support the superstars of the future.