- Location: Fresno, CA
- League: Pacific Coast League 1998-2019; Low-A West 2021; California League 2022-
- Affiliation: San Francisco Giants 1998-2014; Houston Astros 2015-2018; Washington Nationals 2019; Colorado Rockies 2021-present
- Ballpark: Pete Beiden Field 1998-2001; Chukchansi Park 2002-present
The Fresno Grizzlies, formerly of the Pacific Coast League and Low-A West and now in the California League, went from the top tier of Minor League Baseball to the bottom in less than a decade - and from a secure San Francisco Giants' affiliate to first a short-term fill-in and then a forced pairing that may have changed the face of the Majors-minors relationship. The Colorado Rockies farmhands play their home games at Chukchansi Park in Fresno, CA.
The franchise returned top-tier affiliated baseball to Fresno in 1998 for the first time in more than 90 years. Four years later, the Grizz moved into a brand-new stadium - the only four-level ballpark in the minors - and soon landed a naming rights deal with the Chukchansi Tribe paying more than a million dollars a year to promote its casino. The club arrived as a Giants' affiliate - renewing a lower-level pairing that lasted 30 seasons - and seemed securely so going into the 2013-2014 affiliation cycle.
Then the bottom fell out. During the 2014 season, that last of an affiliation cycle, rumors surfaced that the Giants might drop the Grizzlies for the Sacramento River Cats. The Grizz even took the unusual step of putting out a statement trying to influence the Giants as the period to switch affiliations began that September. The Giants did indeed hook up with the Cats, though, and the Grizz ended up with the Houston Astros.
Just a month later, an internal Chukchansi dispute led to a federal raid and shutdown of the casino - freezing the rights income stream for more than a year. That seems permanently resolved: In 2015, the Chukchansi tribe signed with the Grizz for another 10 seasons during the 2021-2022 off-season.
Adding to the turmoil, the Grizz/Astros partnership was predictably temporary. The Astros and much closer Round Rock Express were clearly interested in each other, but the Express at that point had two years left on their player development contract with the Texas Rangers. When both the Houston-Fresno and Texas-Round Rock contracts expired after the 2016 season, the Astros jumped aboard the Express. The system then in place, like a cross between dominoes and musical chairs, often ended with unattached teams in a level. The system's solution was to "pair" such teams - and in this case that threw together two teams that were separated by a continent: Fresno and the Washington Nationals. That may have been the last straw that led MLB to junk the system when its contract with Minor League Baseball, the Professional Baseball Agreement, ran out in September 2020.
The decade wasn't totally bad; the Grizz won the 2015 Triple-A National Championship and saw their three different parents win five different World Series crowns in the 2010s. Also in 2015, the Grizz played The Taco Truck Throwdown as the "Fresno Tacos" to a house record 16,916. Taco Bell promptly tweeted an offer to buy "tacos for all of Fresno" if they made that permanent. They didn't, but both tweet and promotion went viral. They now often play as the Fresno Tacos - and the Throwdown itself evolved into a series of events that now culminates at the stadium after the season. The event had an even greater impact, being largely credited with starting a wave of food-based promotions that has become a fixture in the minors.
Those bright spots would be followed by another blow delivered by MLB's 2021 Minor League Reorganization. Three California League ballparks had become more and more of a problem over the years. Minor League Baseball had erased Stater Bros. Stadium in Adelanto and Sam Lynn Ballpark in Bakersfield by, in effect, transferring the High Desert Mavericks and the Bakersfield Blaze franchises to the Carolina League after the 2016 campaign. That left Lancaster - like Adelanto, a notoriously hitter-friendly ballpark that distorted statistics and damaged pitchers' confidence. Almost daily play in multi-day series effectively requires an even number of teams in a league, and ultimately MLB hit upon ousting Lancaster and evening the circuit by dropping Fresno from Triple-A to the now Low-A Cali - from the top to the bottom, the largest shift in the entire reshuffle. It also moved them into the Rockies' farm system.
There is a wrinkle in determining who moved to Fresno in the Expansion of 1998. Technically, the Phoenix Firebirds made that move, but those Firebirds had undergone a change the previous off-season: The owners of the Firebirds and the Tucson Toros swapped their franchises, so the Firebirds who moved to Fresno in 1998 had been the 1997 Toros.
The Grizzlies play Copa de la Diversión Hispanic engagement campaign games as the Lowriders de Fresno. Counting that one, they are using four different alternate IDs in 2022 with the others being: Fresno Tacos; Fresno Growers, saluting the role of agriculture in California's Central Valley; and Fresno Tigers, honoring Fresno's 1940s West Coast Negro Baseball League club.
- Chris Landers: "Let the Fresno Grizzlies take you back in time with their spectacular Kris Kross uniforms", "Cut 4", mlb.com, April 21, 2017.