RENO — It wasn’t difficult to recognize San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy at Thursday night’s annual Bobby Dolan Dinner to support Wolf Pack baseball.
Standing at 6-foot 5 inches, the longtime baseball manager attracted attention in the Reno Events Center Ballroom as players and fans talked to him about America’s pastime and also about the Giants, a team he has led to three World Series championships in a stellar professional career that has spanned more than 40 years as both a player and coach.
The 62-year-old Bochy, who was a big league catcher, first managed San Diego for 12 years and guided the Padres to the 1998 World Series where they lost to the New York Yankees. He signed with San Francisco after the 2006 season. He has a 902-880 record with the Giants, and with his success with both San Francisco and San Diego, many baseball observers believe he will be a shoe-in into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
With spring training beginning in less than a month on Feb. 13 for pitchers and catchers, Bochy appears to be optimistic the Giants will improve on their 64-98 record from 2017 because of two major offseason trades. The Giants signed former Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, who grew up near Los Angeles, on Dec. 20 and former Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen earlier this week. McCutchen brings a career .291 batting average to the Giants and will play in right field with Hunter Spence shifting to left field.
“It was really huge, to be honest with you, when you acquire an impact player like this,” Bochy said to the media before the dinner began. “When you acquire an impact player like this, it will impact your club. That’s what he is … offensively, defensively and on the bases.”
Bochy said with the acquisition of the former Pirates’ star, the Giants will be able to “stretch out” their lineup. Longoria will also bring a big bat to the game as well as impeccable credentials as a third baseman.
“Acquiring him and Longoria, we’ll have two really good players and not only great players, but they also appear to be great teammates.”
With Pence and McCutchen set in the outfield, both Bochy and the Giants’ general manager, Bobby Evans, are sizing up prospects for center field. Bochy said former Sacramento River Cats outfielder Gorkys Hernandez, who Reno Aces fans saw during the 2016 season, began last year slowly but had a much better second half after the All-Star break.
“But there’s always the possibility of a trade,” Bochy added.
San Francisco’s pitching also struggled in 2017. The Giants were dealt a big blow when southpaw Madison Bumgarner, the hero and most valuable player of the 2014 World Series, injured his shoulder in a dirt bike accident in late April and was placed on the disabled list until late summer.
“That was a tough break last year with his injury,” Bochy said, adding his No. 1 starter is now healthy and ready to report to spring training.
Johnny Cueto, who dominated opposing teams’ lineups in 2016, also struggled.
“Johnny was not right,” Bochy said. “He had a blister issue and missed some starts.”
The Giants skipper said pitcher Jeff Samardzija should be the team’s inning eater, and added the veteran right-hander possesses a very impressive walk/strikeout ratio.
Bochy said the Giants have some good, young arms coming up such as 27-year-old Chris Stratton who divided his time between Sacramento and San Francisco in 2016 and 2017. In 2016, for example, he posted a 12-6 record but three of his losses were to Reno including a 4-3 setback on May 11 to Braden Shipley.
Bochy knows this season will be competitive in the National League West. The Dodgers won 104 games last season, and one of the wild-card teams also came from the NL West, the Arizona Diamondbacks, which has a roster full of former Aces’ players.
“It’s the toughest division in baseball,” Bochy pointed out. “You have L.A., and the wild card comes out of our division and look at the talent the Rockies have,” he said. “The fact we acquired a couple good players will make things easier.”
Yet, on Thursday night, the son of a retired U.S. Army sergeant major was giving something back to the game that has been an integral part of his life as speaker for the 34th annual Bobby Dolan dinner, the major fundraiser for the Nevada baseball program. He said it’s an honor to help out the program and the young players.
“We play our part to be an ambassador to the game. That’s what we should do,” Bochy said.
Earlier in the day, he met with the team and talked to the players about baseball. Third-year Wolf Pack baseball coach T.J. Bruce said Bochy captured his players’ attention.
“He’s such a great person and head coach, somebody tremendous and a great ambassador of our sport,” Bruce said, adding Bochy has contributed much to the game both as a player and manager.
Bruce said Bochy told his players about control and controllables and how their emotions dictate how they react to certain situations on the field. Another key to competition is how players approach each game.
“Preparation is what you incorporate in everyday life and on the field,” Bruce said. “That was a really good message and good for our guys to hear. The kids really soaked in what he had to say, and it was awesome.”
A former UCLA assistant baseball coach before coming to Reno, Bruce said “you could hear a pin drop” when Bochy spoke to his players.
The Bobby Dolan dinner has become one of the largest — if not largest — fundraisers for University of Nevada athletics. Kim Anastassatos, director of Special Events and cheerleaders’ coach, said Bochy’s appearance generated much interest.
“He’s giving back to the Wolf Pack and helping us raise money for the school,” she said. “He’s one of our biggest (speakers) we’ve had, and we’re super excited. We sold tickets up until today (Thursday).”
In addition to having Bochy as the guest speaker, she said a committee worked with the community to obtain silent auction gifts such as a Baltimore Orioles jersey autographed by Cal Ripken Jr., other baseball memorabilia signed by former and current players and other items donated by area businesses.
Anastassatos, who coordinates the speakers for the Bobby Dolan and the annual Nevada Athletics Governor’s Dinner, said the baseball dinner has a loyal following.
“For 34 years, many people come every year no matter who the speaker is,” she said.