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Opportunity to play if just for one day

Ryder Jones did not expect to get much sleep July 19 after the Sacramento River Cats’ 8-7 loss in Fresno. Not only was an 0-for-5 night weighing heavily on the third baseman’s mind, but he also had just three hours for a few winks before the River Cats would board a bus to the airport at 3:30 a..m. and then jump on a flight to El Paso.

Fortunately for Jones, Brandon Belt’s pregnant wife came to his rescue without knowing it. Belt left the San Francisco Giants and went on paternity leave July 20 for the impending arrival of his second son. Jones was too busy reflecting on his futile night at the plate to give any thought to the possibility of being promoted to fill in for Belt.

Third baseman Ryder Jones went from playing with the River Cats in Fresno on July 19 to joining the Giants on July 20 in Oakland and rejoining the River Cats on July 21 in El Paso.

Jones was sitting in front of his locker as 11 p.m. approached when he received the news that he would join the Giants in Oakland. Instead of rising at an ungodly hour to catch a bus, Jones got a good night’s sleep in Fresno. The Giants dispatched a car to Fresno for Jones so he would arrive in plenty of the time for the game  at 6:35 p.m.

“It was definitely easier to sleep,” Jones said in an interview July 24. “It was kind of weird with the timing. I was a little frustrated after the game. I haven’t gone 0-for-5 in a while. I’ve been swinging it well. I just had a tough game.”

Giants manager Bruce Bochy made the trip worthwhile for Jones by starting the 24-year-old at third base against the A’s. Jones repaid Bochy by belting a home run in the fifth inning to put the Giants ahead to stay in a 5-1 victory.

Belt could have missed as many as three games, and Jones would have remained with the Giants for the weekend. After learning he would start July 20, however, Jones figured the only reason he was in the lineup was because Bochy knew Belt would most likely return in time to play July 21 and did not want Jones’ trip to be for nothing.

“I though it would be the normal two or three days of paternity leave. That’s what I was expecting. No one ever told me,” Jones said. “I was just going to go in there and try to make a quick impact, just do something to contribute.”

His home run apparently was not enough to sway the Giants to consider keeping Jones when Belt returned and assigning another player to Sacramento. At this point in his career, Jones realizes he will have to take what he can get.

“I was happy to do it,” Jones said. “I don’t care if it was just for one day. That was kind of the plan. I think the coaching staff knew what the plan was. There’s a lot of people that would give up a lot just to play in the big leagues for one day. Even if I had hit four home runs, I think it would have been the same.”

Jones has time on his side. He turned 24 in June and already had 53 major-league games under his belt. He made his major-league debut on June 24, 2017. Just like last week, the River Cats were playing in Fresno at the time. Jones chuckled when asked if the River Cats would have another series this season in Fresno. They do not.

The Giants have Evan Longoria and Pablo Sandoval at third base, so they did not need Jones for the time being. Jones realizes the importance of playing regularly for the River Cats instead of going to waste on the Giants bench. And after hitting .173 in 150 at-bats with the Giants in 2017, it could be that he is right where he belongs.

“I think they want me to get a full season in Triple A. They want to give me that confidence of playing a full season down here. They want me to continue to develop,” Jones said. “They gave me a good look last year. I had a decent August (.240 average) and then just really struggled in September (.135). I got tired and got out of my ways a little bit. It humbled me a lot. When you start to struggle at a level like that, there’s a lot to deal with.”

Learning to cope with failure was not easy for Jones because “I felt like I was ready. I felt prepared.” Every rookie would love to announce his presence with authority. But for every Cody Bellinger, the National League Rookie of the Year in 2017 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, there are thousands of young players who crash and burn.

“I’m a guy that can get very disappointed in myself. That’s how I was last year,” Jones offered. “Everyone dreams of coming up and doing what Bellinger did last year. Every rookie wants to do that. And every fan wants every rookie to do that. It’s hard to deal with that pressure. Now when I take an 0-for-5, it’s not the end of the world.”

The world was still spinning July 20.

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Confidence carries Toler to state meet

Sacrificing sleep for a trip to Disneyland was an easy call for CJ Toler. The Vacaville High School senior did not realize until returning that a fun night with his classmates would cost him more than a few winks.

Toler was dragging by the time he arrived in Elk Grove last Thursday to compete in the triple jump at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters meet. He entered with the sixth-best mark in the section at 44 feet, 7.25 inches. He departed after going 42-10.5 in his first turn, 43-3 in his second and fouling in the third.

Beating him to the exit was his shot of competing in two events at the state championships, which begin Thursday in Clovis. Toler will be traveling south again after finishing second in the high jump last  Friday.

Senior CJ Toler stretches in the high jump pit after practice Tuesday. Vacaville’s only state qualifier is confident he has what it will take to contend for a medal.

Earning his first ticket to the state meet put Toler in a much better mood after he was “devastated” Thursday. He could have used exhaustion as an excuse for falling short in the triple jump. He could have complained how he, track teammate Cody Cheatham and 10 seniors on the baseball team were not getting a fair shake because they had to decide between sports and pre-graduation festivities such as the trip to Disneyland.

Toler’s decision was easy. One way or another, he was going to Disneyland. His way turned out to be the same as Cheatham’s. They left their classmates on the way home in Fresno, where Chatham’s father was waiting with his truck. Toler got back to Vacaville in time for a 30-minute nap before going to Elk Grove.

“I’m still a kid. I still have to enjoy high school,” said Toler, who also played football and basketball for the Bulldogs. “I really wanted to make (the state meet) in two events, but I don’t regret Disneyland at all.”

Cheatham did not qualify in the shot put and discus at the section meet, leaving Toler as Vacaville’s sole survivor. Few folks gave Toler much of a chance of making the state meet in one event, much less two. The section seeds the field events based on an athlete’s best mark. Toler’s 6-1 put him in a pack of nine jumpers chasing seven with marks of 6-3 and higher.

“I wanted to make sure that everyone knew I was here,” Toler said. “I wanted everyone to know I belonged.”

Two of those seven did not clear the opening height of 6-0. Four went out at 6-2, which Toler cleared on his third and final attempt to join Lodi’s Damien Biegler and Yuba City’s KeRon Blackwell as the only jumpers remaining in contention. That clinched a trip to the state meet for Toler with the top three finishers in each running and field event  qualifying.

Toler and Biegler both went out at 6-3. Blackwell won by clearing 6-5. The tentative opening height at the state meet will be 6-3, and 13  jumpers qualified with marks of 6-6 and higher. Toler will have his hands full, but he is not at all intimidated. Coach John Wilkerson is confident that Toler will hold his own against the best jumpers in the state.

“He was obviously disappointed (last Thursday), but he gets to press reset,” Wilkerson said. “The door is opening for him. He needs to take advantage of this opportunity and walk through it. He’s got a chance.”

A medal is within Toler’s reach. Just ask him. With a good night’s sleep, Toler plans to prove he is not content with just attending the state meet. “I want to get on the podium. That’s my goal,” he said. “I know I can compete with the best of them.”

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