Fresno, CA– It took 610 days between pitches for Fresno Grizzlies baseball to return to Chukchansi Park. During that stretch, the organization went through some major changes, which included a new affiliate (Colorado Rockies), level (Low-A) and group of players and coaches. Under the leadership of manager Robinson Cancel, development
Fresno, CA– It took 610 days between pitches for Fresno Grizzlies baseball to return to Chukchansi Park. During that stretch, the organization went through some major changes, which included a new affiliate (Colorado Rockies), level (Low-A) and group of players and coaches. Under the leadership of manager Robinson Cancel, development supervisor Steve Soliz, pitching coach Mark Brewer, hitting coach Nic Wilson, strength coach John Gentile and athletic trainer Justin Wilson, the Grizzlies roared back on their way to a historic season.
Throughout the 2021 season, the Fresno Grizzlies broke numerous team and individual records despite only playing 115 regular season games. The Grizzlies 74-41 record was the best record in Low-A West and propelled them to a North Division title. Fresno would go on to play in the Low-A West championship series, ultimately falling to the San Jose Giants. With the 74-41 mark, the Grizzlies finished with a .643 winning percentage, the best in Grizzlies franchise history and tied for third in Fresno baseball history.
One of the best games the Grizzlies played during the 2021 season came on July 15th at Stockton. The 18-0 rout of the Ports gave the Grizzlies their largest shutout margin of victory in franchise history and their second biggest run-differential game ever. That game in Stockton was one of the 11 straight games Fresno won during that span. The 11-game win streak is now tied for second all-time in Grizzlies team history.
In addition to the Low-A West best record, the Grizzlies asserted their dominance against three teams in the league. Fresno went 19-5 against the Visalia Rawhide, 17-7 versus the Stockton Ports and 16-14 in the regular season against the San Jose Giants. The 19, 17 and 16 wins are the most versus one team in a single-season in Grizzlies history. The most prior to these records was 13 wins.
The Fresno Grizzlies ran wild on the basepaths during the 2021 regular season. Fresno led the Low-A West and were fourth in all of Minor League Baseball with 221 stolen bases. The 2021 Grizzlies broke the franchise record for the most team steals in a single-season, which was initially held by the 2011 team (209). Julio Carreras was the recipient of the record-breaking steal in the fourth inning on September 4th at Stockton.
In addition to winning games on the basepaths, the Grizzlies also got it done on the bump. The 2021 Grizzlies pitching staff broke six records during their 115 regular season games. This included team ERA (3.79), fewest hits (917), runs (506), earned runs (432), home runs allowed (83) and walks (394). A big reason for the success came from the bullpen, where they recorded sub-2.70 ERA and a 20-4 record in the months of July and August.
The Grizzlies success was amplified by the electric crowds that showed up at Chukchansi Park in 2021. On the season, Growlifornia saw six walk-offs (one at least per month), including the incredible comeback on July 3rd (Grant Lavigne homer). Fresno concluded the season with a home attendance of 188,925 (3,047 average), which was the best in Low-A West. On July 4th, the Grizzlies announced a crowd of 10,877, which was the fifth-highest attended game in the Minor Leagues during 2021 and in Game 2 of the Championship series against the Giants, the crowd of 7,337 was the largest attendance in Low-A West/California League history for a playoff game. The fantastic crowds were also treated to quick games, as the Grizzlies averaged 2 hours and 37 minutes, the fastest in all of professional baseball.
To round out team records, the Grizzlies had 46 transactions, which was due en large part to a solid core of record-setting players.
Of the Grizzlies 221 stolen bases, Eddy Diaz led the way with 48 swipes in 62 attempts. Diaz ranked first in the Low-A West (48) and was tied for second in all of Minor League Baseball with 59 steals over two levels. His 48 swipes placed him second all-time on the Grizzlies single-season franchise list, just 12 behind Tyler Graham’s mark in 2011 and is now tied for seventh on the all-time stolen bases Grizzlies career list. Diaz’s 48 Fresno stolen bases were more than four full season Minor League teams (Rochester, Las Vegas, Portland and Harrisburg) and his 59 swipes between two levels were more than nine full season Minor League clubs.
Diaz was not the only Grizzlies player to swipe a lot of bags during the year. Rockies #8 overall and top catching prospect Drew Romo had 23 stolen bases on the season, which placed him fourth on the club. Romo’s 23 swipes are the most ever by a Grizzlies catcher and second all-time on the Fresno catcher leaderboard. The only player still ahead of Romo is Roland LeBlanc, who stole 29 bases in 1955 for the Fresno Cardinals (California League).
Not to be outdone by either of his teammates is Rockies top prospect Zac Veen. The Spruce Creek High School product swiped 36 bases on the season, putting him in a tie for fifth place on the Grizzlies single-season stolen bases list. Veen stole four of his 36 bases on September 3rd at Stockton, tying him with Emmanuel Burriss (2011) and Romo (four days after him) for the most steals in a single-game. Besides his speed, Veen also delivered at the plate.
Veen recorded the first cycle by a Grizzlies player at Chukchansi Park in team history on August 24th versus Modesto. He recorded a grand slam as a part of his cycle. The former first round pick also had a video-game like series against the Stockton Ports from July 12-18th. Veen went 12-for-18 (.667) with five homers, one double, 14 RBI, 12 runs, five walks, one hit-by-pitch and one stolen base. In the top of the fifth on July 17th, Veen singled to right to set the all-time California League/Low-A West record for reaching base safely 15 consecutive times. He broke Thad Bosleyʼs record of 14, set with the Salinas Angels in 1976. In that streak, Veen had 10 hits, four walks and one hit-by-pitch. Four of those 10 hits were homers.
Besides the records above, there were a few other memorable moments in the Grizzlies historic season. On August 13th, Julio Carreras laced two triples, tying the most tallied in a single-game. On May 19th, manager Robinson Cancel broke 200 wins as a minor league manager. Finally, starters Sam Weatherly (July 5-11) and Mike Ruff (May 10-16) were awarded pitchers of the week for their performances. As the season ended, Veen (Team MVP), Romo (Hitter of the Year), Robinson Hernandez (Pitcher of the Year) and Austin Kitchen (Community Player of the Year) were awarded plaques in recognition of their Grizzlies seasons.
The 2021 season of Fresno Grizzlies baseball was one of the most unprecedented seasons in recent memory but we are so thankful for the experiences that this year brought us. Thank you to the coaches, players, front office and you the fans for one of the most unforgettable seasons in Grizzlies history. We can’t wait to see you on April 8th, 2022 for the team’s 20th year in downtown Fresno.