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Beer garden-turned-weight room, ‘creative’ scrimmages: How Giants’ alternate camp will work



What was Raley Field and is now Sutter Health Park / MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images / Contributor

It’s a kid’s dream: One summer camp ends and another begins.

The Giants who didn’t report to Los Angeles are traveling from San Francisco to Sacramento for a satellite camp that is set to be up and running today, players filing in for their first workouts in conjunction with the start of the regular season.

Preparations have been underway at the now-called Sutter Health Park for weeks, turning a comparatively spacious minor league park that seats 14,000-plus into the workout home for the approximately 30 players and prospects who will wait to see if their name is called this year. In the last few weeks, Giants and River Cats brass have been making housing and transportation arrangements so everyone has a place to stay and a way to get to the park.

The Giants and River Cats have been working with local health officials, ensuring all the protocols are met, expecting players to enter in waves as they have been in San Francisco, and then will be spread across the home and visitors’ locker rooms. They are trying to imitate the setup that has been successful at Oracle Park — but the actual on-field play may imitate the big-league Giants’ play, too.

“[The Giants] want as competitive of an environment as possible,” River Cats GM Chip Maxson said over the phone this week. “I know there’s conversations about trying to mirror the Giants’ schedule as much as possible with evening games, playing under the lights as well. And certainly having some music and scoreboard to be a part of that.”

If the Giants needed a pitcher for a night game, they wouldn’t want to hear he already had pitched that afternoon. What will be harder to mirror are the games themselves; at least right now, they don’t have two players at each position to compose two competitive teams.

“Obviously with the numbers, we’ll do the best we can,” farm director Kyle Haines said. “We can be creative and make some sort of intrasquad work, and that’s going to be the theme. Just being creative so we can make it as close to a real game as we can.”

Creativity in lineup arrangements and creativity in workout activities, Haines saying he did not want this to feel like “Groundhog Day.” It will be tricky to make days feel different while trying to make them align with the big-league schedule.

Maxson’s team has been working on the scoreboard, ensuring it could be up and running to help it feel like real baseball in the park. He expects players will want walkup music, and there have been conversations about fake crowd noise, too, so players can be properly adjusted to it.

What cannot be duplicated is Bay Area weather. The Sacramento sun can touch triple digits, which has the Giants and River Cats exploring shade and fan options. Because of the COVID-19 regulations, which advise against being indoors too often, they are turning a tent that has been used for beer gardens into a covering for an outdoor gym.

“We’ll clear the beer out and move the weights in,” Maxson said, a sad sentence in just about every other case. “That will give the guys a nice open space to get workouts in when they’re at the ballpark every day.”

Even the simple things, like eating, become a project. It’s an easy way to congregate indoors without thinking, so they have been exploring outdoor eating, getting tables and chairs set up.

Haines has helped lead the camp, which will be staffed primarily with minor league coordinators (as well as Haines, who said he’ll take a more active role on the field). Joining him will be hitting coordinator Dave Hansen, pitching coordinator Justin Lehr, coordinator of infield instruction Jason Wood, assistant coordinator of minor league hitting Michael Brdar, Sacramento fundamentals coach Jolbert Cabrera and Double-A Richmond manager Jose Alguacil. Haines said others may shuffle into camp, which also may include major league directors Brian Bannister and Dustin Lind.

If Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris won’t be there, it’s a safe bet they will be following closely along.

For much of the offseason at Sutter Health Park, cameras were installed as they added the new Hawk-Eye system that is replacing TrackMan, the new technology that tracks pitches and hits and velocity and distance and everything that needs tracking. Personnel were set to return to the park this week to wrap up the installation, Maxson said, so the Giants will have a clear idea of how their pool is progressing. The project is not complete, Haines cautioning that “we’re still trying to work that out.”

There is some hope, too, that fans will be able to follow along from afar. While Maxson & Co. have dealt with many media requests from Sacramento media, it’s still unclear whether reporters can enter the premises. But Maxson was testing cameras so his team could capture footage themselves and perhaps broadcast it on Facebook Live — another issue Haines wants to explore before committing to.

In a message to fans that he surely will regret, Maxson said: “Please let us know what you want to see, and we’ll try to bring it to them.”

It is more baseball than Sacramento had thought it would see this season, a year removed from winning the Triple-A title. There is a flurry of work still to do, but the club has been able to hire back many of its workers it was forced to lay off.

Finally, there now is Major League Baseball and at least an approximation of minor league baseball. Even if it means the shelving of a beer garden.

Plotting all of this out has “been wild,” Haines said. “There’s no schedule. There’s an intrasquad; we’re going to practice. It’s just hard for us to wrap our head around right now.”