Down on the Farm: Brock Stassi's baseball road brings him home to River Cats


Down on the Farm: Brock Stassi's baseball road brings him home to River Cats

Living in Yuba City, Brock Stassi grew up a Giants fan. In a family built around baseball, including younger brother Max who is a catcher for the Astros, one day being a Giant was a dream he set out on from an early age. How he became one step away from it being a reality five days after his 29th birthday, is an even wilder story than he could have imagined as a kid. 

“I was actually about to go down to Mexico City to play in the Mexican League,” Stassi said over the phone laughing at the story. “I think I had three or four hours until my flight and then I got a call from my Indy Ball manager and he said, ‘Hey, have you left for Mexico yet because the Giants want to sign you.’ And then my agent called me right after. 

“It was a pretty crazy two hours.” 

Stassi is right at home with the Sacramento River Cats, the Giants’ Triple-A team, and it’s showing on the field. Through nine games, he is batting .444 with a 1.139 OPS. While he’s excelling on the field, he certainly took the long way home. 

Before last season, Stassi was baseball’s feel-good story when the former 33rd-round draft pick made the Phillies’ Opening Day roster. Then he was designated for assignment by Philadelphia after 51 games in the majors and elected free agency in the offseason. The first baseman signed a minor league contract with the Twins in December last year and spent the start of the 2018 season with their Triple-A affiliate in Rochester. Again Stassi hit another bump in the road — the Twins released Stassi on May 25 after 32 games and only a .211 batting average in Triple-A.

“I came home and cleared my mind,” Stassi said. “I was home for three weeks and didn’t get picked up and knew that I still had a lot left in the tank, so Indy Ball was the route I went.” 

Back home, Stassi and his father Jim went back to the basics. Throughout his life on and off the field, Brock has always turned to Jim when he’s needed him most. Jim taught both Brock and Max how to play the game and coached them at Yuba City High School, where he is still a teacher. 

“It’s been everything,” Stassi says about his father’s influence on his life. “I can talk to my dad about anything whether it be baseball or not. He’s still up in Yuba teaching, so I can always drive the 20 minutes and go hit or he’ll drive the 20 minutes to Lincoln [where Brock lives in the offseason] and we’ll go hit at some cages. 

“He throws great BP. It’s been great being able to have him to bounce things off of.” 

This season, and years past, have taken twists and turns for Stassi on the field. He’s never let that get in the way of following the career of his younger brother Max, who he calls his best friend. 

“Me and Max talk every day whether it be about the games, hitting or whatever. We’re best friends so we talk every day,” Stassi said. 

In June, the elder Stassi found himself back on the field, this time with the New Britain Bees of the Atlantic League. Playing Independent Baseball is far from Triple-A and can feel like a different planet than Major League Baseball at times. It was exactly what Stassi needed to get back on track. 

“It was really a blessing that I was able to go to Indy Ball,” Stassi said. “I got some things right, got the confidence back and I’m able to keep that same confidence while I’m here.” 

With a clear mind where he worked mentally on staying back on pitches, Stassi dominated his competition in the Atlantic League. In 40 games, he hit .361 with five home runs and a 1.049 OPS.

Independent Baseball is a grind. The morning of a night game, you will take a five-hour bus ride, get off and go play. Everything you get out of Indy Ball is from what you put into it. There is no strict schedule with a coach watching your every move. If you don’t want to stretch, you don’t want to play catch, you don’t want to hit on your own — the work is up to you. 

Stassi put in the work and regained his love for the game. 

“I think after being in affiliated ball for so long, up until this year, I hate to admit, but I took a lot of stuff for granted,” Stassi said. “Going to Indy Ball kind of made me realize how nice you have it, even in the minor leagues. The big leagues, it speaks for itself but the minors I kind of took it for granted the past few years.” 

The River Cats have played two home games since the Giants signed him on Aug. 12. Stasi still remembers going to River Cats games when Raley Field first opened as a kid and says he had about 35 friends and family in the stands for that first game against El Paso, where he went 3-for-4 with a double. September is coming up, but he’s far more concerned with Sacramento than San Francisco. 

“It’s been unreal playing back home,” Stassi said. “I’m just enjoying each and every day and making Sacramento my big leagues for the time being. It’s been a lot of fun so far.” 

For ages, coaches have reminded players that baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. Brock Stassi’s race has taken him from the Philadelphia Phillies, to the Reading Fightin Phils, to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Rochester Red Wings, New Britain Bees, Sacramento River Cats, and almost Mexico City all in the last two years. Back home in Sacramento, he’s focused on the now as San Francisco is one step away, using the lesson he’s truly learned this year. 

“Don’t take a single day for granted because I got off a bus at 3:30 a.m. and was told I was being released that morning. Don’t take any day for granted. Don’t take any AB for granted. 

“Show up and work hard.”

How Giants kept rolling, walked off Mets in most bizarre way possible

How Giants kept rolling, walked off Mets in most bizarre way possible

SAN FRANCISCO -- About 40 minutes after the final pitch Friday, with the grounds crew cleaning up and the lights slowly turning off, a group of kids took to left field at Oracle Park. As they waited for their parents -- Giants players -- to finish up, the kids threw a ball around and made diving catches. 

Those kids probably would have handled the final moments of Friday's game better than the New York Mets did. 

In one of the most bizarre finishes you'll ever see, the Mets badly butchered a routine fly ball to left, allowing Alex Dickerson to race all the way around from first and clinch a 1-0 extra-innings win. It was the seventh straight win for the Giants and their 14th in 16 games. It gave them a .500 record for the first time this season. 

The way it happened, well, you just kind of have to watch it ... 

As bad as the Mets Mets-ed, the Giants did certainly take advantage, and that's what you have to do. Ron Wotus had a good send, and Dickerson was running hard the whole way. 

"Right as I was crossing second I took a peak at the left fielder and he looked tentative," Dickerson said after the game. "I know I've been in that situation before. Once you're tentative on those balls anything can happen. I was going as hard as I could, and once it dropped I was going to do everything I could to head home." 

There was another hero, too. None of this would have been possible without Tyler Beede, who cruised through eight innings in the longest start of his career and allowed the Giants to keep breathing on a night when Mets ace Jacob deGrom was his usual dominant self. 

[RELATED: Four Giants prospects crack Baseball America Top 100]

Beede needed just 89 pitches to get through eight innings before retreating to the clubhouse where he watched the end with injured third baseman Evan Longoria. Their TV feed was delayed, but they could hear the screams echo through the park and knew something weird had happened as they watched Pablo Sandoval's fly ball appeared to harmlessly sail into the night. A few moments later, players came streaming through the door to celebrate. 

"Well, we got a break," manager Bruce Bochy said. "You take it."

What a difference a year has made for suddenly dominant Tyler Beede


What a difference a year has made for suddenly dominant Tyler Beede

SAN FRANCISCO -- Last July 19, Tyler Beede came out of the bullpen for the Sacramento River Cats, taking over for top pitching prospect Shaun Anderson in the bottom of the sixth. He gave up a single and then walked two, getting pulled after recording just one out. 

Beede threw 18 pitches that night and just eight found the strike zone. Exactly a year later, he threw 89 while pitching through the eighth inning of a big league game for the first time. Sixty-two of them were strikes. 

It's a dramatic difference, but for Beede the renaissance actually started in those bullpen sessions. He focused on repeating good habits, and after getting a bit leaner in the offseason, he continued to work on repeating his delivery. The confidence came quickly.  

"As I look back to a year ago, yeah I was in the 'pen and things weren't going great statistically, but I started to over time make better habits," Beede said after a 1-0 win over the Mets. "The season didn't end great but I still felt confident in what I was doing, and then going into the offseason I made some changes that made me more efficient.

"I think it's just been a matter of shifting my focus to 'hey, attack' instead of trying to make perfect pitches. I think it's always been in me to have great command. I look back to high school and parts of college where I was dominant because I was attacking guys. It's not like I've never been a good command guy, so I think it was just getting that shift of focus. My stuff is good, I've known that, let's just go after guys."

Beede went after the Mets from the start, keeping pace with reigning Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom, who threw seven shutout innings on his end. This is something he couldn't have done last season, or maybe even earlier this year, but Beede's confidence has grown and he has put together a recent streak that matches the team's. 

Beede allowed three hits and struck out five Friday, walking just one. In his last three starts he has a 1.66 ERA in 21 2/3 innings, with just one walk to 16 strikeouts. 

"It was fun to watch," manager Bruce Bochy said, smiling. "It's fun to watch his progress and his development and how his game has grown."