Blake Wilson is a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Wait, let’s try that again. Blake Wilson loves everything about the Los Angeles Dodgers and as a die-hard fan, bleeds Dodger blue.
And with being a Dodger fan, Wilson knows there is one team that he could not, and will not, ever root for and that’s the San Francisco Giants.
However, Wilson is also a college student and like most college students, he needed to get a summer job before beginning his senior year at Simpson University, where he is studying to become a nurse. Wilson played baseball at Calaveras High School before graduating in 2018 and continues to play his favorite sport in college.
With such a deep love for baseball, it would be a perfect fit for his summer job to revolve around America’s pastime. And luckily for Wilson, a job opened up as a member of the grounds crew for the AAA Sacramento River Cats. Unfortunately for Wilson, the River Cats are the AAA affiliates of the San Francisco Giants.
Wilson, a Dodger fan for life, spent his entire summer preparing the field for current and future Giants’ players, who could one day go head-to-head against his beloved Dodger squad. Wilson didn’t keep his love for the Dodgers a secret and was upfront with his new coworkers about his Dodger fandom.
“The first thing I did when I got there was, I told all my coworkers, ‘Hey, I’m a Dodgers’ fan and I wanted to put that out front,’ and they were like, ‘Wow. Then why are you working here?’ Wilson said. “But eventually, I didn’t really think about it. It’s not like they were playing Oklahoma City (the Dodgers AAA team), so it really didn’t occur to me that they are future Giants’ players.”
After spending an entire summer working for the River Cats, the place where future Giants are being molded into Dodger killers, did Wilson enjoy his time as a member of the Sacramento ground crew?
“It’s by far the best summer job that I’ve ever had,” Wilson said. “It’s probably the best job that I’ve had in my life. It was awesome. This whole experience was so cool that I didn’t even think, ‘Oh, these are my enemies,’ or anything like that.”
Being a fan of baseball, Wilson knew a lot of the players for not only the River Cats, but also opposing teams. He got to see young prospects try and hone their skills enough to get noticed by the big club. He got to watch older players give the baseball dream one final shot before hanging up their spikes. And he got to see current big league players try and recover from injuries before returning to the majors.
And while there was no official rule about fraternizing with the players, it went without saying that grounds crew members had a job to do and the players had a job to do. But that didn’t mean that the occasional pleasantry wasn’t shared between Wilson and the players, but he knew when was the right and wrong time to start a conversation.
“For them, it’s their job,” Wilson said. “You wouldn’t want someone interfering with you and your job and your way of making money. So, you stay out of their way and try not to talk to them or take their focus away from what they are doing.”
The Giants had a number of players go to Sacramento over the summer on rehab assignments, which included Johnny Cueto, Tommy La Stella, Evan Longoria and Brandon Belt. And it was Belt, the San Francisco first baseman for over a decade, who made a lasting impression on Wilson.
“Belt was really cool because he would come up and talk to us every day and talk about a bunch of random baseball stuff and wanted to get to know the area of Sacramento,” Wilson said. “Some guys were cool and some guys weren’t so cool. But overall, it was neat to know that I raked where Evan Longoria took ground balls.”
While some of the big league players who were on rehab assignments might want to get their at-bats in the books and take off, those who were full-time River Cats were more relaxed around Wilson and the rest of the crew. Wilson recalls one interesting conversation he had with catcher Joey Bart, who was San Francisco’s No. 1 pick in 2018.
“One of the coolest experiences I had was with Joey Bart,” Wilson said. “After the game, we were putting everything away and were getting ready to go home and he (Bart) came up to us and started talking to us about all the different equipment we are using. It wasn’t even baseball talk. He was talking about the tractors we were using and the kinds of tractors he used back home (Bart is from Georgia).”
Because Wilson was around current and future Giants’ players, it was hard for him not to wish certain players well when they stepped into the batters’ box on the major league level.
“I think the guy that I enjoyed talking to the most was Jason Vosler and when he was playing in the big leagues, even playing against the Dodgers, I found myself rooting for him,” Wilson said. “Ultimately, I was hoping that the Dodgers would win, but that Vossler would get in there and get a couple of hits.”
Wilson didn’t just spend his days rubbing elbows with baseball players. No, he had a job to do. Wilson would arrive at Sutter Health Park in Sacramento at 4:30 p.m. and clock in at 5 p.m. for a 7:10 game. His first responsibility was to tend to the visitors’ bullpen. After that, he, along with seven other crew members, would head to the infield. Wilson painted the baselines and the batters’ box and made sure everything was ready to go by 6:30.
Once the game began, Wilson and his coworkers went to their shed behind the centerfield wall and did extra cleaning there. After the third and sixth inning, Wilson would go on the field to drag the infield and replace the bases. Once the game concluded, he would clean the infield and pick up any trash that he saw. Some nights he left around 10:30 p.m., while others he wasn’t in his car until after midnight.
Wilson didn’t mind the long days or working under the hot Sacramento sun. He knew how special of a job he had and because of his summer working for the River Cats, Wilson has a new love and appreciation for baseball.
“Being around the sport in general was a blessing in itself,” Wilson said. “A lot of people take baseball for granted and don’t enjoy it maybe as much as they should because it’s a beautiful sport and in my opinion, the best sport. Seeing minor league baseball players and seeing guys work so hard was really inspiring and made me love the game even more.”
But the main question is this: Did working for the River Cats and being around current and future Giants’ players make Wilson want to trade his love for Dodger blue for Giants’ orange and black?
“I will say that it definitely has softened me up towards the Giants,” Wilson said. “As a whole, it’s not like ‘Go Giants’ now or anything like that. It’s more about supporting individual Giants’ players and it’s cool to see them grow. I will never become a Giants fan and I’ll always be a Dodger fan until the day I die. But, I don’t hate the Giants.”