The red-white-and-blue bunting had been unfurled on the facade of the upper concourses, and the sounds of Opening Day — balls jumping off bats and thumping into leather — echoed through the chilly air.
J.B. Shuck wore a Bees’ practice jersey. A season after finishing fifth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting for hitting .293 in 129 games with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Shuck was here, in a Triple-A ballpark in a Triple-A town.
He smiled as his teammates behind him took batting practice when the question was asked — how does a player with his credentials react to finding himself back in Triple-A? He responded with words, but his true answer came later that evening, in the fourth inning of Thursday’s season opener against the Sacramento River Cats.
Runners were on the corners with one out, and River Cats’ pitcher Arnold Leon elevated his 2-0 offering. Shuck swung, wrapping the ball around the right field foul pole for a three-run homer.
It powered the Bees to an 8-3 win over the River Cats and proved that the 26-year-old outfielder is committed to doing everything in his power to earn back his spot in the bigs.
“I’m excited to play. I’m still playing baseball,” Shuck had explained before the game. “So for me, I’m going to have fun and work on some things and try to get better. I hope that gets me back up there.”
Shuck’s outlook of his situation is realistic and grounded. He was a big contributor for the Angels a season ago, but he knows if he’d exited spring training as the best option for the major league roster, he wouldn’t be opening the year in Salt Lake.
“Obviously if I had everything figured out, I’d be up there [in Los Angeles],” he said.
But at the same time he’s merely an injury to an Angel or a hot stretch away from being back where he wants to be.
“Guys down here are working on things, but they’re right there, one step away,” Shuck said. “It’s not a real big gap.”
Storylines Bees 8, River Cats 3
R J.B. Shuck’s 3-run homer propels the Bees to an Opening-Day win over the Sacramento River Cats.
• Efren Navarro started his fourth season with the Bees with a 3-for-5, two-RBI performance.
• Bees starter Jarrett Grube goes six innings, giving up just two runs on two hits, to earn the win.