Courtesy of an 8-3 victory over the Bakersfield Blaze at Sam Lynn Ballpark on Tuesday, June 14, the Visalia Rawhide have officially clinched the California League’s First-Half North Division Championship in 2016.
The Rawhide will earn a first round bye in the California League Playoffs come September thanks to their effort and it marks the second consecutive time the Rawhide have earned First-Half Division Championship honors and only the second time since 1990 that the franchise has clinched the first half. Visalia has now brought home three straight half division championships and the first-half title in 2016 is the ninth first-half championship in franchise history and 22nd half-title overall.
Reigning California League Manager of the Year JR House will guide the Rawhide back to the postseason for the second year in a row since taking over and for the Rawhide franchise this will be the fourth straight year of qualifying for the post season.
Visalia’s postseason road begins on Saturday, September 10 at Rawhide Ballpark and continues with game two on Sunday September 11. The Rawhide will then travel for games three and four on Monday, September 12 and Tuesday, September 13. Home field advantage for game five (if necessary) will be awarded to the team with the best overall record at the end of the 2016 regular season.
However, It’s been 38 years since the Rawhide have won a California League Championship and the spirit of a key reptilian figure is to blame. Over the past three-and-a-half decades. Visalia’s professional baseball club has suffered a litany of misfortunes. They’ve reached the Cal League’s finals nine times, but have lost all nine.
Clearly, luck has not been with Visalia, but is there more to it than that?
The 1978 Visalia team was one of the best in minor league history; dominated the league, winning 97 games and losing only 42. They scored over 1,000 runs, batted over .300 as a team, had two 18 game winners on their pitching staff, and defeated Lodi in the Finals for the Championship. They had multiple stars, but one man was the heartbeat of the team: Joe Charboneau. “Super Joe” as fans called him, batted .350 for Visalia, earning admiration and awe for his daring exploits on and off the field. Two years later, he would be named American League Rookie of the Year and become a cult figure in Cleveland. Charboneau was the life of every party in the summer of ‘78, and was famously willing to do or try nearly anything, including drinking beer through his nose and pulling his own tooth.
Did we mention he owned a pet alligator. Why yes, in fact, he did! It’s name was Chopper. It was Brazilian, and it lived in Joe’s bathtub. Chopper, by all accounts, was a good-natured, even-tempered young reptile. Except when he tried to bite his owner. Or eat a teammate’s kitten. Not long after, Chopper decided he’d had enough of being restricted to an aquarium. He made a heroic leap out of the water, and towards the sweet ground of freedom. He missed. Instead of making his escape. The raging gator hit his head on the tank, and passed from this life. Visalia, it turned out, could not contain him. Is it a coincidence that things haven’t been the same for Tulare County’s only professional sports team since Chopper’s tragic and untimely death? Is it possible that his angry spirit still haunts Rawhide Ballpark, causing misfortune to repeatedly befall the ballclub? Join us during 2016 California League Playoffs and find out!
2016 marks the 70th year of baseball in Visalia at Recreation Ballpark and the 10th season as an Arizona Diamondback affiliate in the California League. For more information or tickets call 559-732-4433 or head to Rawhidebaseball.com. You can follow the Rawhide on Twitter (@VisaliaRawhide), Facebook (TheRawhide), Instagram (@visaliarawhide) and Snap Chat (visaliarawhide).