A Giant Game in Sacramento

New look Giants make rare Sacramento appearance in advance of 2024 season

Back Web Only Apr 4, 2024 By Steve Martarano

The San Francisco Giants arrived at Sutter Health Park on March 24 as the official opening event of the River Cats’ 25th season in West Sacramento, and it was a welcome visit. The exhibition is always a highly anticipated sellout — a rare appearance that’s now occurred just three times since 2016 — and the Cats hadn’t seen a sellout, regular season or otherwise, since 2019.

A very different version of the Giants made its way to Sacramento this year compared to what last rolled into town in 2018, when they were still managed by Bruce Bochy.

Giants rookie Jung Hoo Lee, a free agent outfielder from South Korea signed in the offseason, enjoys a moment by the batting cage during pregame drills March 24 at Sutter Health Park.

Numerous intriguing narratives surrounded the start of the 2024 season, which would officially begin for both teams in just a few days. The Giants failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons — after soaring to 107 wins in 2021 — and are now free of all remnants of the Giants’ 2010, 2012 and 2014 championship teams that won three World Series titles in five years. Gone is Bochy, along with fan favorites such as Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Madison Bumgarner and Brandon Crawford, who is now a member of the St. Louis Cardinals.

In their place were an impressive supply of new additions, including manager Bob Melvin, South Korean free agent outfielder Jung Hoo Lee and All-Star third baseman Matt Chapman. Last season’s Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, who was signed as a free agent just days before the exhibition, and slugger Jorge Soler didn’t make it to Sacramento, but are key additions to the team. Also, former Giants manager and Sacramento native Dusty Baker has returned to San Francisco as a special assistant, and he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the March 24 game.

The newcomers were accompanied by continuing favorites such as Rocklin High School’s Logan Webb and Mike Yastrzemski, and there was a nostalgia-tinged appearance by World Series hero Pablo Sandoval, 37, who was attempting to make the Giants roster after being away from the game since 2021. Sandoval, nicknamed the “Kung Fu Panda,” was seemingly everywhere, jovially taking batting practice, signing autographs and then hitting a single in his only at-bat after a nice ovation from the crowd. When the final roster was chosen a few days later, however, Sandoval, was released as expected.

The River Cats ultimately took the win 8-1 in a sloppy contest that featured 16 combined walks, three hit batsmen and just four Giants hits. But the fans didn’t seem to mind; a new season was on the way.

“Hey Logan, this is gonna be your Cy Young year!” one young fan, with ball outstretched, yelled to Webb, trying to cajole an autograph from among the swath of fans lining the left field stands.

Adding to the intrigue of the game were rumors that Sacramento might become the possible home of the Oakland A’s for the 2025-2027 seasons. The A’s, who announced last year they plan to move to Las Vegas in time for the 2028 season, will play out their lease in Oakland this season but have continued negotiating with the city, as well as other minor league cities including Sacramento, about playing there before the Las Vegas ballpark is completed.

Recently signed third baseman Matt Chapman was expected to bring solid offense to SF. He had a two-homer game in the Giants’ second game of the season on March 29 in San Diego.

Those rumors increased in intensity before the Giants exhibition, prompting concerns about the fate of the River Cats should they have to configure their Pacific Coast League schedule to accommodate a MLB team next year. At press time, no decision on the A’s home had been announced.

“The River Cats are not going anywhere,” River Cats general manager Chip Maxon said two days after the exhibition during an unveiling of the team’s locker room upgrade. “And that’s one thing we do want to communicate. We are Sacramento’s team. If someone else were to play here, we made it clear that we want to make sure we play all 75 home games for the River Cats for the foreseeable future.”

Giants manager Melvin, who managed the A’s for several years when the River Cats were Oakland’s Triple A affiliate, knows Sacramento well.

“I’m very familiar with how Sacramento supports baseball,” Melvin said before the game. “It is just a great baseball town.”

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