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For minor-league Quakes, Brian Wilson's outing was a major deal

When Brian Wilson, new in the Dodgers organization, pitched for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, tickets sales and calorie counts shot up.

August 09, 2013|By Lance Pugmire

The telephone is ringing again, and Shelley Scebbi, office manager for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, knows precisely what to say.

"Yes, Brian Wilson is scheduled to pitch here this evening," Scebbi tells the caller. "The special tonight is to see a major league pitcher."

On a typical Wednesday summer night, the Quakes, the Class-A affiliate of the Dodgers in the California League, might draw 1,200 fans.

Thanks to the arrival of Wilson, the newly signed Dodger best known as the long-bearded former San Francisco Giants closer who ended the 2010 World Series, 2,007 people clicked through the turnstiles.

The right-hander hadn't pitched in a professional game since April 2012, when injury required reconstructive right elbow surgery and caused the Giants to abandon him.

Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti, while working in San Francisco's front office, had drafted an injured Wilson in the 24th round in 2003, and that move blossomed into 171 major league saves.

So the pair reconnected late last month, Colletti giving Wilson a $1-million contract with the hope the pitcher could again be a stable bullpen arm.

Those interested in taking that first look Wednesday at how the arrangement might play out could do it for a ticket price of $9 to $13 at the same place where the Dodgers' 2012 first-round draft pick, Corey Seager, just landed and where Yasiel Puig starred last August.

"The Dodgers have been great to us this year, sending us Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Zack Greinke on rehabs," said Mike Lindskog, Quakes marketing and media relations director.

Whether it's the player announcing his impending arrival in Rancho Cucamonga or Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly telling reporters of a coming rehabilitation assignment, Lindskog and team officials watch closely and react quickly. They promote the visit on the team's website and its Twitter account, fire email blasts to customers and alter a local newspaper ad if time allows.

Ticket sales director Monica Ortega said when Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier came on a Wednesday, the team sold 2,700 tickets.

"We don't manage the team and can't guarantee these guys will play, but we can say, 'Brian Wilson is scheduled to pitch,' and that gives us a little out," Lindskog said.

"It's an energizing thing, a better atmosphere, a nice spike, and nine times out of 10, the Dodgers who come are happy to be here, willing to do things like sign autographs, because they're so excited to be back on the field in this intimate setting."

Wilson, 31, last pitched as a full-fledged high Class-A player in 2005 in Augusta, Ga.

Sitting in the Quakes' clubhouse four hours before his appearance, two ham-on-wheat sandwiches in front of him, Wilson reflected on the parallels of navigating the minor league ladder and rallying from a career-threatening injury.

"It's all about the work ethic," Wilson said. "This, pitching in the big leagues, is all I've ever strived for. When I hurt myself, I said, 'This is going to be a grind.' But I knew I had to stick to it.

"And that's what the minor leagues is. Stick to it. Trust it. Work at it. Believe you'll make it."

Wilson was assigned by the Dodgers to pitch one inning. He started a game for the first time since 2006, retired the first Lake Elsinore Storm batter on his first pitch, a groundout to second base.

Wilson found himself behind 3-1 to the next batter but answered with two cut fastballs for a strikeout, ending the eight-pitch outing by getting the next batter to also ground out to second.

"I'm not going to sit back and look at accomplishments," Wilson said. "When it's done, it's just another three outs that get me closer to the next time I'm asked to get three outs, and I'll do that until they don't ask me to get three outs anymore."

It's that type of perspective that Quakes pitching coach and former Dodgers reliever Matt Herges hoped his young pitchers would soak up while shagging fly balls with Wilson during batting practice or getting a minute with him in the clubhouse.

"I'm sure they'll stare at his beard for a couple of minutes," Herges cracked. "I think they'll watch his every move. What I hope they'd notice is his overall consistency with command, how the ball will be at the knees nearly every time — to see how simple it is for him, the consistency of his throwing. That's what we preach: down command.

"I'm not going to say a word to Brian. I know why he's here and what he's doing: He's on a mission to the major leagues."

Quakes pitcher Jon Michael Redding said he wanted to give Wilson his space, "but him being a guy who's where you want to be, someone who's been at the top of the game, I'd love to hear anything pitching-related he has to say. His preparation, his daily routine, how he might pitch to a given guy."

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