The hail pounded down Tuesday afternoon at Raley Field, bouncing off the stadium seats and the infield like so many wayward golf balls.
River Cats players had no idea of the elements because they were in the clubhouse, getting to know each other, filling out paperwork for media guides, feeling their way around the place, signing baseballs and pink bats for charity events, all the while wondering what all the racket was outside.
It was media day, and only the weather was in a foul mood.
“We were safe inside, but we could hear the hail,” River Cats manager Bob Mariano said as he looked at the sky before leading the team in light drills in light rain. “Nice to know it rains here.”
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Of course, that hasn’t been the case in Sacramento, or much of the state, nor was moisture a part of spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz. Instead, Mariano said, it was a sweatbox – and a crash course in getting to know new faces, some with familiar names.
The River Cats start their 16th season in Sacramento – and their first as the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate – with an eight-game home stand that starts Thursday at Raley Field. In 15 seasons as the A’s top farm team, the River Cats won 12 division titles and set attendance records.
The River Cats don’t expect that to change. River Cats president Jeff Savage and general manager Chip Maxson described the positive response from fans about the switch in affiliation, in person, via e-mail and during speaking engagements.
Mariano is entering his fourth season as a Triple-A manager, the previous three seasons with the then-Giants affiliate Fresno Grizzlies, who compete in the same division with the River Cats. While in Fresno, Mariano managed Brandon Belt, Joe Panik and Pablo Sandoval, key players for the Giants’ championship team last season.
The River Cats’ roster has several players with local ties, including catcher Andrew Susac of Jesuit High School and outfielder John Bowker of Rio Americano. Susac won a World Series ring last season with the Giants, as did two new River Cats teammates, outfielder Juan Perez and pitcher Hunter Strickland. Those three combined to play 26 games in October for the Giants.
“We’re feeling good, excited, and it’s good to be here,” Mariano said. “Spring training was a bear for these guys and our staff. It’s seven days a week for six weeks. And I really don’t know a lot about of some of these guys. We’re getting to know each other. That’s part of it.”
Susac and Strickland held court in the clubhouse, talking about Raley Field and the River Cats’ reputation of sending players to the big leagues.
“Very excited to be here, and to be pitching,” Strickland said. “We all want to be in the big leagues but understand the process. It’s not disappointing to be here. The goal is to get better, help this team win a championship and get back to the bigs. We’ll be ready to rock.”
Susac’s promising spring was derailed by a wrist injury and a root canal and included a two-day stay at a Scottsdale hospital.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” Susac said of starting the season in Triple A. “I understand the reasoning. The Giants want me to play every day. We’ve got some guys with big-league experience, and sometimes it comes down to roster movement, where everyone fits. But I’m excited, too. It’s a great consolation to be playing here at home.”
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.