A small army of both Giants and Aces baseball fans stood up from their seats near the Sacramento dugout and cheered and clapped when Gregor Blanco jogged past them before game time Monday against Reno at Greater Nevada Field.
Some waved their hats, others called out “Gregor, Gregor.” The former Giants outfielder now playing for the Triple-A River Cats slightly turned his head, tipped his hat and smiled.
“It’s good to be here,” he recently said of playing Reno for a three-game series. He talked of his friendship with the Aces’ players. “I’ve played with these guys, a great group of guys. I see myself as part of their lives.”
Over the years, Reno fans are a unique assemblage of Giants and Aces followers who cheer for both teams and their players. Aces fans love their team, but they also love the Giants. Blanco is part of that equation.
It’s not schizophrenic. It’s how Reno is.
Blanco signed as a free agent in 2017 with the Diamondbacks for one year before inking a contract with the Giants for the 2018 season. Many players on the Reno roster played with Blanco at Phoenix last year. Reno pitcher Alberto Suarez, who signed as a free agent with the Aces this year, played with Blanco when they were on the Giants together.
“Yea, I talked to him before the game,” Suarez said Monday after he helped several reporters translate an interview with an Aces’ player. “We’re good friends. Our wives know each other. We may be players against each other in baseball, but we’re friends after the game.”
By baseball standards, the 34-year-old Blanco may be in the twilight of his career, but he’s giving 110 percent not only for the River Cats but also for the fans. Ever since Blanco donned a Giants uniform in 2012, he has been known for his hustle and work ethic. He proved it in Reno during pregame practice by taking extra swings in the batting cage and being one of the first to stretch on the field.
Blanco’s experience is invaluable, especially for younger players like Reno second baseman Ildemaro Vargas, who recently set an Aces’ record with his 35-game hitting streak.
“I helped him out in his career (last year),” Blanco said. “He has great talent, and outside baseball, he has a winning attitude.”
When he found out his fellow Venezuelan established a new club hitting record and fifth best in the Pacific Coast League, he was happy.
“It’s amazing in the Triple A,” Blanco explained. “You have to be ready 100 percent, the travel is a grind and tough and for him to have 35 games is nice.”
Blanco played only one game for Reno in 2017, a stay that was short-lived. Aces Manager Greg Gross joked Blanco had one hit, and the Diamondbacks called him up. Reno didn’t see Blanco for the rest of the season. We may know Blanco better for what he did for a fellow Giants pitcher six years ago than his only hit last season at Greater Nevada Field.
Blanco’s hustle and desire saved Matt Cain’s perfect game on June 13, 2012. Blanco outraced a fly ball that was rapidly dropping in the gap, and he made a spectacular diving catch in right-center field by stretching out his glove hand and then holding onto the ball on the warning track to preserve Cain’s place in Giants’ baseball history.
Cain raised both arms in triumph and tipped his hat to Blanco.
No doubt Giants fans here in Nevada were screaming “yes” and jumping up and down. Blanco also appeared in two World Series, 2012 and 2014, when the Giants defeated Detroit and Kansas City, respectively, for one of sports most coveted trophies.
As the Triple-A season begins to wind down, Blanco would like to play for the Giants next month even though he’s not on the team’s 40-man roster.
“It depends if they keep winning, and if they’re in the race in September,” he pointed out. “If they stay close, I think they’ll call me up and help the team to win.”
Blanco has played for four teams, first with Atlanta when the Braves signed him as an international free agent on July 10, 2000. When the day comes, and Blanco hangs up his glove and cleats, he wants to be remembered for his years with the Giants. He has a fond spot for the Diamondbacks, who he said, instilled the same sense of family. He said Arizona had the same closeness among the players and made him feel at home … like the Giants.
But Blanco has left his heart in San Francisco, the city by the bay.
“That’s the team that made who I am.”
Steve Ranson is editor emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News and a former sports editor and reporter whose column ran for more than 20 years.