The Fresno Grizzlies now know when they will return to the diamond.
Minor League Baseball released its scheduled for all teams. The Grizzlies open the season on May 4 at San Jose, with the home opener on May 11 against Visalia.
The team will prepare to play with fans in attendance, according to team spokesman Jonathan Bravo. Season ticket sales will start shortly.
A link to the schedule can be found here.
Game times will be set in the coming weeks. The schedule features a July 4 date, and 18 games against the Giants affiliate and six games against the Dodgers’ prospects.
After the entire 2020 minor league schedule was canceled and an off-season filled with dramatics, the Grizzlies will come out of hibernation as the Low-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.
It will be the first time Fresno has fielded a team at the lower level since the Fresno Suns played in 1988. That team left down and the minors returned to Fresno 10 years later, as the Grizzlies — a Triple-A team in the Pacific Coast League.
A New Minor League System
Only the rules on the field will remain the same.
The shuffling of the minors now has Fresno affiliated with a western team with players most likely to be a year or two post-amateur draft. Playing 23 years as a Triple-A team, the Grizzlies hosted the top prospects for the Giants (1998-2014), Astros (2015-2018) and Nationals (2019-2020).
And, technically, the Grizzlies and its seven other league mates, will not be playing in the California League. The grouping will officially play in the league known as Low-A West.
The names such as the Cal League or PCL belong to the leagues themselves and were not part of the reorganization. The generic names will be used for 2021. There is a chance, baseball officials have said, that the familiar league names could return next year.
All of the changes are part of the drastic reorganization of the farm system enacted by Major League Baseball. Once separate entities bound together by a contract, MLB took over the minor league system when the agreement expired at the end of last season.
That meant the loss of 40 affiliated teams, the demotion of the Grizzlies, and shuffling around league teams and names. Instead of two- or four-year contracts linking a minor league team with an MLB parent club, teams are now linked by a 10-year Player Development License, with geographical considerations in mind.
During the off season, the club, the city and MLB exchanged terse letters over the team’s future. At one point, MLB threatened to yank the team if they did not accept a demotion to A-level ball. Eventually, the sides settled on a 10-year agreement to keep baseball at Chukchansi Park.
A Different Schedule
Under normal times, the minor league baseball season starts in early April and ends on Labor Day.
But, in the non-normal times of pandemic baseball, the later start means a conclusion of Sept. 19. There is no All Star Game this year.
It is also unclear about a post-season. The California League offered a split season, where champions of the first half and second half qualified. Nothing has been announced for 2021.
The makeup of the schedule was built to reduce travel during the pandemic and its associated costs.
Instead of the usual four-game series and eight-game homestand (144 overall), teams in Low-A West will play six-game series and 120 games overall (60 home, 60 away). Seven of the nine homestands will be just a six-game series; the other two will be 12 games.
The entire league has every Monday off.
Joining the Grizzlies in the Low-A West north division are the Modesto Nuts (Seattle), San Jose Giants (San Francisco) and Stockton Ports (Oakland).
The south division consists of Inland Empire (Los Angeles Angels), Lake Elsinore (San Diego), Rancho Cucamonga (Los Angles Dodgers) and Visalia (Arizona).
The number of games versus each team will be unbalanced. Fresno will play 24 games each against division foes Modesto and Stockton, but 30 versus San Jose (18 home, 12 away).
Battles between Fresno and its new presumable geographic rival Visalia, just 45 minutes away, will happen 24 times (12 home, 12 away).
But, the Grizzlies will face the other three south division opponents for just one six-game series apiece — home against Rancho Cucamonga, but away against Lake Elsinore and Inland Empire.
The average Low-A West team will travel 2,356 miles to play. That’s down 56% from the 5,386 miles average in the Cal League in 2019.