Wednesday night’s exhibition game between the Giants and River Cats was not Bruce Bochy’s first visit to Raley Field. That came in 2001 – and the experience was unusual.
“I never made the field,” the Giants’ manager said.
Bochy was managing the San Diego Padres, who had scheduled a preseason game in Sacramento. As Bochy recounted Wednesday, the day before that game he was involved in a motorcycle accident that would lead him to manage the first six weeks of the 2001 season on crutches. So while the Padres were tuning up against the Triple-A River Cats, Bochy was sitting in the clubhouse, taking painkillers for his injured ankle.
This time, Bochy made it onto the field and into the third-base dugout, where he watched the Giants make their firstappearance at the home of their newest Triple-A affiliate. The Giants won 8-4.
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“It’s a nice park,” Bochy said.
The Giants’ presence at Raley Field brought a sold-out crowd that checkered the seats and the grass hill in right field in black and orange and clamored along the third-base line for autographs before the game. Excitement about the game – tickets for lawn seats were going for more than $100 on some third-party websites early Wednesday – underscored the region’s affinity for the Giants, who became the parent club of the River Cats before the 2015 season.
River Cats president Jeff Savage said he could think of only one other single-day event in the team’s 17-year existence that generated as much enthusiasm from fans: Opening Day in 2000, the River Cats’ first season in Sacramento.
“This is just so huge to have the Giants in town,” Savage said. “You can really feel the buzz.”
Fans began to gather outside the main Raley Field gate several hours before first pitch. Among them were Brendon and Jessica Thomson, sitting in lawn chairs, with their sons Dylan, 10, and Landon, 7. The schedule was kind to the Sacramento family – it was a half-day at school.
“Anytime you want to see Giants players, you have to drive two hours in traffic,” said Brendon. “It’s nice to be able to see them locally, try to get some autographs for the kids, and for (the Giants) to show the willingness to recognize the fans in Sacramento, too.”
Dave and Debi Jeffries of Colfax said they had paid $60 apiece for tickets behind the plate. Though both are longtime Giants fans, Debi said it would be the first time for her seeing the team play in person.
“Too many people (in San Francisco), and you know the traffic,” she explained. “But this stadium, you can’t beat it.”
The Giants and River Cats began discussing an exhibition matchup shortly after reaching their affiliate agreement in late 2014. It made for some logistical challenges. The Giants had their final Cactus League game Tuesday night, so while some regulars stayed in Arizona for that, most of the team flew to California on Tuesday morning and bused to Sacramento on Wednesday. A quick turnaround follows to the opener of their annual Bay Bridge exhibition series against the A’s on Thursday night.
Giants right fielder Hunter Pence said it made for scheduling that felt “a little awkward. Taking a bus ride over, we don’t know where our stuff is, don’t know if (Angel Pagan) even has a bat here. So it’s kind of weird. But we’re going to find a way to make do.”
Pence played several games for the River Cats at Raley Field last season while rehabbing from injury and said he had taken note of how fans in Sacramento embraced him. “It was pretty exciting,” he said, “it was a very enthusiastic crowd.”
After taking batting practice Wednesday, he spent 10 minutes signing autographs – also posing for a selfie with Daniela De La O, 34, of Antelope.
“He’s my favorite,” she said. “He wants to make sure everybody knows that he knows we’re there.”
Earlier this spring, the Giants and River Cats agreed to a four-year affiliation extension through the 2020 season, an indication that both sides value the partnership.
“I had a few (rehab) starts down here last year, and being able to come down and see the support for the guys coming through the organization, it’s nice to have that,” said Giants pitcher Matt Cain. “I think that’s a benefit. It’s definitely going to help the guys coming through the system.”