River Cats hitting coach Damon Minor passing down the 'Giants Way'

River Cats hitting coach Damon Minor passing down the 'Giants Way'

Every October for the last quarter century, baseball’s top young prospects showcase and develop their skills with six weeks of high-level competition in the desert, where 180 players come together to form six teams and play in the Arizona Fall League.

The Giants sent eight players to play for the Scottsdale Scorpions in 2016 – third baseman Ryder Jones, catchers Aramis Garcia and Eliezer Zambrano, outfielder Hunter Cole and pitchers Rodolfo Martinez, Tyler Mizenko, Tyler Rogers and Chris Stratton.

Of the position players, Jones’ numbers might have been the most impressive, but Scorpions hitting coach and former Giants first baseman Damon Minor left Arizona and returned to his offseason home feeling strong about the Giants’ overall crop of talent.

“With guys like Ryder Jones and Aramis Garcia, and then Hunter Cole as an athlete out in the outfield, the Giants showed some great young talent down there,” Minor told CSNBayArea.com.

Jones rode a second-half groove to finish with a .302 batting average, .380 on-base percentage, .429 slugging percentage, two home runs and 12 RBI in 18 games.

“For Ryder it was just about seeing pitches, and especially with two strikes” Minor said. “He stopped expanding his zone so much and was able to get more pitches to hit.”

Jones batted .357 and hit both round-trippers while walking six times to just three strikeouts in his final nine games. And Minor, who was known more as a player for big flies than drawing walks, is finding a niche as the Giants’ Triple-A hitting coach for the franchise that made him a four-year MLB veteran.

The 42-year-old Minor this year is entering his second season as the Sacramento River Cats hitting coach, a position he never dreamed of holding during his playing tenure.

“As a player, you never really think about coaching because you’re just so focused on being a player and getting that next at-bat,” Minor said. “But I always wanted to be back with the Giants.”

After his playing career ended in 2006 with 12 games in the Mexican League, Minor’s post-playing career began modestly. He first ventured into coaching in 2007 as a volunteer at his alma mater, the University of Oklahoma. Later, private hitting lessons developed into the Minor-Floral Baseball Academy, which Minor co-founded in 2008. And in 2012, Minor was hired as the hitting coach for the Marlins’ Triple-A affiliate – the New Orleans Zephyrs.

Four years later, Minor jumped at the opportunity to return to the Giants organization.

“I was lucky enough to be able to come back,” Minor said, “which is something I always wanted to do.”

Minor cited Giants coaches like former manager Dusty Baker and long-time infield coach Ron Wotus for instilling in him the “Giants Way.” Now, that’s Minor’s job, and it’s much different from his former role as a player.

Minor arrives at Raley’s Field in Sacramento around 12 p.m. for a standard 7 p.m. night game and is met with the task of preparing players to succeed that night as well as the challenge of developing players for a long professional baseball career.

“As a player, you would kind of just show up and be ready to play that game that night,” Minor said. “But as a coach, you’re there early and helping prepare for all these different guys. It’s a long process, but it’s all worth it because I love what I do and it’s so fulfilling seeing these guys progress and have success as Giants.”

Minor enjoyed a successful career with Fresno Grizzlies, then the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate, slugging 79 home runs, 259 RBI and a .297 batting average over 388 games in five seasons, but it’s the lessons he learned along the way observing his coaches that most help him in his current position.

“I think for me,” Minor said, “it was seeing that Giants Way and learning from guys like Dusty Baker and Ron Wotus and that’s really helped me more than anything else in what I do today.”

Asked about his favorite moment on the field with the Giants, the 6-foot-7 slugger didn’t hesitate: In a 10-2 home win over the Padres on Sept. 10, 2000, Minor clanged his first major league hit off the right field foul pole, good for a three-run homer that caromed back onto the field.

He keeps the ball and the memory forever in a safe place. Time will tell if his coaching career produces a new favorite Giants memory.

Headed for 100 losses, Giants quietly give up on "Don't Stop Believin'" tradition

Headed for 100 losses, Giants quietly give up on "Don't Stop Believin'" tradition

SAN FRANCISCO — At some point over the last month, the Giants quietly stopped playing “Don’t Stop Believin’” in the late innings of games they trail. 

It’s unclear exactly when it started, or who made the decision. A number of team employees, surveyed over the past week, had noticed. But nobody knew the exact details. Perhaps the longtime staple of AT&T Park was shelved on July 9, when FanGraphs dropped the playoff odds to 0.00 percent for the first time in a lost season. Maybe it was during a bad loss before that or a bad loss after that. You can take your pick. This season has been filled with so many of them it’s hard to keep track. 

Friday’s stood out, in part because this was the kind of night where Journey briefly made sense. The Giants gave Jeff Samardzija a 4-0 lead in the first inning against a Padres team that spent the early innings kicking and throwing the ball all over the field and making mistakes on the bases. It was 5-1 after three innings. By the sixth, the Padres had tied it. By the seventh, they had the lead. By the eighth, it was a three-run lead. 

Before the bottom of the eighth, the in-stadium crew played Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” for a crowd of a few thousand. Last weekend, Huey Lewis was the fill-in for Journey. On Wednesday, a game the Giants actually came back to win, the scoreboard played a singalong game to “Happy Together” by The Turtles. 

On this night, the Giants actually would come back. Conor Gillaspie hit a two-run homer with two outs in the ninth, tying the game and sending it into extras. The Giants had trailed by three with one out remaining, but the momentum provided by Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford and Gillaspie was just a blip. The Padres scored three in the 11th off George Kontos, who has pitched five times over the last eight days and was supposed to get a night to rest. 

Kontos was the last to give up runs in a 12-9 loss, but hardly the only one. Samardzija took blame after failing to get through five with a big early cushion. That put pressure on the tired bullpen, and the relievers blew it over and over again. The Padres scored runs in six consecutive innings at one point and had 20 hits. 

“We couldn’t stop them,” Bruce Bochy said, shaking his head. 

Nothing can apparently stop this skid. The Giants are 37-61 and six games behind the Padres. They are much closer to the No. 1 draft pick than they are to fourth place in their division. 

“Don’t Stop Believin’” survived the 2013 season. It survived 2015 and the second half of last year. Nothing can survive this season.

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways as Giants lose marathon in extras to Padres

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways as Giants lose marathon in extras to Padres

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — A few hundred, maybe a few thousand, stayed to watch the Giants late Friday night. The Giants did not make it worth the effort. 

Conor Gillaspie’s two-out homer in the ninth sent the game to extras, but the Giants lost 12-9 in a game that lasted nearly five hours. The Giants had trailed by three with two outs and nobody on in the ninth. They tied it. Instead of carrying that momentum over, they suffered yet another demoralizing loss. 

They have dropped both games of this series and they trail the Padres -- who had 20 hits -- by six games in the race for fourth place. Those are facts. Here are five more, mostly from earlier, when a young man harbored dreams of leaving a ballpark before 1 a.m. … 

—- Hector Sanchez took Jeff Samardzija deep to lead off the fourth, and at this point it’s flat-out hilarious. Sanchez has seven homers this season and three have come against his former team. He hit two homers at AT&T Park in 296 plate appearances as a Giant, and the fourth-inning blast gave him three in 11 plate appearances as a Padre. He also doubled in a run and singled. It’s an all-time revenge tour. Just go along for the ride. 

—- There were a ton of scouts on hand to watch two starting pitchers who could move in the next 10 days, and they left disappointed. Trevor Cahill gave up six earned on seven hits and four walks and lasted just 3 2/3 innings. Jeff Samardzija gave up eight hits and five earned in 4 1/3 innings. 

—- I dunno man, it’s really hard getting to five of these every night. Sam Dyson was good again. 

—- Gillaspie's pinch-hit homer was the sixth of his career. He's a hero around these parts, but perhaps Bobby Evans should see if a team out there was watching Friday and remembers his October run. Gillaspie could help a contender. 

—- When MLB inevitably introduces a pitch clock and pitchers start complaining, this will be the game I tell them to sit down and try to watch start to finish.