Fresno wins the game, El Paso shines in the spotlight

The Fresno Grizzlies took control early and cruised to victory in the Gildan Triple-A National Championship game at Southwest University Park Tuesday.  But if anyone shared in the victory, it was the entire city of El Paso and its Chihuahuas’ franchise.

Fresno (Houston Astros) of the Pacific Coast League, scored three runs in the first inning and two more in the second en route to a 7-0 pasting of the Columbus Clippers (Cleveland Indians) of the International League.

The game was so one-sided that Columbus didn’t manage to get a single player to reach second base.

“That was one of the cleanest games we’ve had all year,” said Fresno Manager Tony DeFrancesco. “The guys got on base early, we played excellent defense and got great pitching by [Chris] Devenski, who really earned that MVP award.”

Grizzlies at Clippers-16Devenski, the #18 prospect for the Astros, was in total control from the start, allowing just one hit in seven innings. He struck out nine batters (a new Triple-A championship game record) and out of the 81 pitches he threw, 66 of them were strikes.

“Every time I go out on the mound I try to challenge myself to see how far I can go,” said Devenski, who spent most of the year in Double-A and was making his first Triple-A start of the season, “I wasn’t really nervous tonight, I had a lot of confidence coming into the game.

“I’m just pretty happy that I was able to come up big for my team.”

Also coming up big for Fresno was right fielder Alex Presley, who collected three hits, scored two runs and knocked in another. Third baseman Tyler White had two hits, scored a run and had an RBI, while centerfielder Andrew Aplin added two hits and two runs scored.

Columbus’ starting pitcher Ryan Merritt took the loss after being hammered for seven hits and five runs (three earned) in just two innings of work.

Grizzlies at Clippers-2While the night clearly belonged to Fresno, the other topic that kept coming up was the local fans, the local baseball facility and the organization that runs it.

“We really like coming out here. It’s a beautiful ballpark and there’s always 10,000 people in the stands who are always into the game,” said DeFrancesco. “I still remember coming here when I was in Double-A against the Diablos and there were a lot of sellouts then and a lot of great baseball.”

“The fans were awesome,” said Devenski. “It was electric out here. This facility is beautiful. When I was a kid I used to go to Petco Park in San Diego and the right field wall here reminds me so much of that ballpark and it brought back a lot of fond memories.”

As has been the norm for about 75 percent of the games played at Southwest University Park, the championship game was a sellout with 9,332 in attendance.

“While other cities have sold this title game out, nobody has sold it out down to standing room only, a full three months in advance,” said Chihuahuas General Manager Brad Taylor. “The El Paso community really stepped up for this event and I’m glad the rest of the nation got to see what this place looks like.”

Tuesday’s game was televised nationally on the NBC Sports Network.

Grizzlies at Clippers-7“This was another excellent chance to show off the ballpark and El Paso to a national audience,” said Alan Ledford, President of MountainStar Sports Group. “When bringing Triple-A baseball to the city and building a downtown ballpark the underlying objective was to improve the quality of life in El Paso and to grow economic development, and events like this really help to serve that purpose.

“I don’t think we could have imagined having an opportunity like this so quickly. It’s amazing to think that two seasons have already come and gone and in that short span we’ve already hosted the Triple-A championship game, along with selling out most of our home games.

Ledford said opportunities like this don’t come around very often and El Paso has always managed to meet the challenge.

“This was a chance to show the world outside El Paso that this city is a great place to live, to work, and to play and that’s something that is very difficult to put a price on.

“It’s been a great honor in only our second season to host this game and ultimately it’s because of our fans and the community that we were afforded this opportunity.”

Even the league’s top brass have taken notice of how much El Paso has accomplished in a very short time.

Grizzlies V Dawgs G3-14“Whoever thought that when we inaugurated this magnificent stadium two years ago…that we would be back here in such a short period of time to celebrate a national championship game,” said Branch Ricky III, PCL President.

“The franchise here has exceeded all expectations,” Ricky added. “To have over 40 sellouts in their first year and to follow that with over 50 sellouts this year is a testimony to the El Paso community and the Chihuahuas organization.

“Having the national title game here made all the sense in the world.”

What makes the rash of sellouts even more extraordinary is the fact that El Paso’s Southwest University Park ranks 11th among the 16-team PCL in stadium capacity, but Chihuahuas’ fans flocked to the games to the tune of over 8,100 per outing, ranking them third in league attendance.

“Our fan base has created an environment that is virtually unparalleled in minor league baseball, we’re very fortunate,” said Ledford. “There’s no doubt that the fans love the team and the ballpark and the experience.”

Grizzlies at Clippers-30With the numerous national stories coming from the Chihuahuas franchise and the popularity of the brand, El Paso is quickly becoming the center of minor league baseball.

“The owners have given us the resources to do this the right way and we’re very fortunate to be working with MountainStar Sports,” explained Taylor. “This championship game once again put us on the national spotlight.

“The fact that it was nationally televised meant a beautiful three-hour commercial for El Paso and a chance for the rest of the country to see how beautiful our city is.

“The Triple-A season may have ended today but we’ll start next week on what we can do to make next year even better.”

Author: Steve Escajeda