Last week the news in Fresno was all about baseball. After a 17-year partnership with the AAA Grizzlies, the San Francisco Giants decided to end their affiliation agreement and instead back the Sacramento River Cats.
One of the major reasons cited for the switch was how Sacramento is closer to SF than Fresno, which allows for faster and more convenient moves between the teams when needed. Now, we all know the public reasons for any major decision aren't the only ones. There are always layers of strategy and money under the surface. However, the public reason certainly did come into play.
For the Giants, having their Triple-A affiliate in their geographical backyard was important. Many team’s transactions involve calling a player up from or sending him down to Triple-A, the highest minor-league level. The Giants, who for the last 17 years have partnered with the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies, now will have many of their top minor-league players just 90 miles away.Let's take a look...
“When you have so many player moves that take place between your Triple-A club and major-league team, it was just very difficult to pass up an opportunity to get that close to our Triple-A club,” Giants assistant general manager Bobby Evans said.
AT&T Park in SF to Raley Field in Sacramento is a distance of 85 miles, or 1 hour and 25 minutes, according to Google Maps (no traffic). Transit is slower, but available. The Capital Corridor Route takes a little over 2 hours from Oakland, across the bay (plus time to get to Oakland).
AT&T Park to Chukchansi Park is 184 miles, or around 3 hours, according to Google Maps (no traffic). The San Joaquin train, also from Oakland, takes 4 hours and 15 minutes.
So clearly, there's some advantage. If a player is needed for a 7pm game, it takes half the time to go between SF and Sacramento than it would to Fresno.
But what if High Speed Rail was available?
The projected schedules are for 86 minutes between Fresno and San Francisco. It also just so happens that the Fresno Rail Station will be 2 blocks from the stadium, and the future San Francisco terminal is also just 2 blocks away from their stadium.
Suddenly, the time/distance factor is completely nullified. Add to that how trains are safer and more reliable (no traffic), and if the tie-breaker is ease of access, Fresno gets the affiliation.
The mayor and the city talked about how they tried everything to keep the Giants in town. It's a shame getting HSR up and running yesterday wasn't in their power.
For a Giants fan in Fresno, it's certainly an interesting what-if.
As an aside, the Grizzlies are now buddied up to Houston, who apparently didn't care about distance. This article popped up in the paper today:
The city does have a range of incentives available to entice new airlines to FYI, or for existing airlines to add new routes to and from Fresno, but the Federal Aviation Administration closely limits such financial inducements, Meikle said.
"We talk to airlines all the time about our incentives," he said. The packages include waiving landing fees and providing marketing funds "for airlines that are new to our market or who add a new destination," he said.
"If, say, United decided to start service between Fresno and Houston, it could qualify for the incentive." At that medium-haul range, an airline would have to provide at least four weekly flights; in exchange, the airline would get relief from airport landing fees and $2,000 a month in marketing money for 18 months.
The incentives are only available for year-round service, ruling out any suggestion that they might be used to try to boost any airline's service only during the baseball travel season.
United serves Bakersfield with flights to Houston, which is a product of how Continental operated (Houston was their hub). Continental always served Bakersfield, while their competitors, United and American, served Fresno. I assumed that when Continental merged with United, they would add a Houston flight to Fresno, but that hasn't happened. Maybe this time it will.
United recently dropped the Fresno-Vegas service, via their regional partner, and serving Houston would be a mainline operation. It would compete with Fresno-Dallas on American. In both cases, the flights are more about hub connections, than direct market-to-market demand.
Sacramento does have more flights than Fresno (including Houston), but High Speed Rail would also render the moot. Even with the current service patterns, players could take a quick 30 minute HSR ride to Bakersfield and transfer to a flight from there.