Q&A with local bike racers Mark and Ruste Sasser

Mark Sasser of Fresno strains for more speed as he competes in a recent cyclocross race. (Courtesy Mark Sasser)

Ruste Sasser of Fresno makes her way around the course during a mountain bike race. (Mark Sasser/Special to The Bee)

(Author’s note: This is a longer, more expansive version of the Q&A that will run on the Out There page in Thursday’s editions.)

When it comes to bike racing, few Fresno families are more involved than the Sassers. Mark Sasser, 43, is a fixture in the local cycling scene, wife Ruste Sasser, 33, races both road and mountain bikes and 14-year-old Cameron Sasser is one of the area’s top juniors.

But the Sassers’ lives changed dramatically in early 2012 when Mark was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease. Despite tremors in his right hand and other associated symptoms, Mark continues to race and even captured the single-speed division in last fall’s Homegrown Cyclocross Series.

In advance of Saturday’s Big Sandy Point to Point Mountain Bike Race, The Bee’s Marek Warszawski went riding with Mark and Ruste Sasser and later spoke with them about their love of bike racing and how they are coping with Mark’s condition.

Question: What do you look forward to most about racing Big Sandy?

Mark’s answer:  It’s one of the few point-to-point mountain bike races left. Downieville and the Big Sandy are the only two I can think of. Twenty-five years ago there was lots of them, and now there’s not. So that elevates its status in my mind.

Ruste’s answer: Most races are laps of two or three miles, so people can go out and pre-ride and it’s not a big deal. But with the Big Sandy, because it’s so rural, there’s no option for that. If you want to ride it, you have to dive in and see what it has in store for you.

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Brock Bond (on way to Fresno Grizzlies?) wins Harry S. Jordan Award in Giants camp

Brock Bond wins the Harry S. Jordan Award given to the best player in his first major-league camp. (Associated Press photo)

Brock Bond likely won’t make the San Francisco Giants’ opening day roster, but the 27-year-old infielder was recognized for his effort Tuesday.

Bond is this year’s winner of  the Harry S. Jordan Award, given annually during spring training to the player who makes the biggest impression during his first major-league camp. The award is voted by Giants players, coaches and training staff.

During six minor-league seasons, the last three with the Fresno Grizzlies, Bond owns a career batting average of .313 with a .410 on-base percentage. This spring, he hit .435 (10 for 23) with two home runs in 13 Cactus League games.

Bond was reassigned to Triple-A Fresno on March 14, so there’s a good chance he opens the season in a Grizzlies uniform. He hit .332 with a .412 on-base percentage here last season.

In other notes:

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Permit applications due Sunday for Yosemite’s Half Dome

A hiker pulls her way up the cables, the final obstacle along the hike to Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. (Photo by The Associated Press)

If you want to hike to the top of Half Dome this year, pick any day but Saturday.

Last week, Yosemite National Park officials released some interesting statistics about the 2013 Half Dome permit lottery, which continues through Sunday.

It isn’t surprising to learn that Saturday is the most requested day. As of March 15, 36% of all permit requests were for Saturday. Friday (14%) was the second-most requested day, followed by Sunday and Tuesday (both 11%), Monday (10%) and Wednesday and Thursday (both 9%).

Two hundred and twenty five permits for each day are available through the preseason lottery.  Permit applications are due Sunday at recreation.gov. Applicants will receive an email with lottery results on April 15 or can get them online.

In addition, approximately 50 permits per day will be available through a daily lottery. (The exact number will be based on estimated no-shows and cancellations.) Applications for the daily lottery will be accepted two days before the date of the hike (from midnight to 1 p.m.), and applicants will be notified later that day.

Concerned about overcrowding and visitor safety on the Half Dome cables, where hikers use handrails to hoist themselves up the steeply sloping granite, park officials began requiring permits on certain days in 2010 and seven days a week in 2011.

An extensive visitor use study, published in January, established the permits as permanent.

Rangers are planning to erect the Half Dome cables May 24 and take them down Oct. 14, but that could change based on the conditions.

San Francisco Giants’ roster moves ‘bode well’ for Noonan

The Grizzlies’ Nick Noonan throws out a Omaha baserunner at first on May 12, 2012. (JOHN WALKER/THE FRESNO BEE)

Nick Noonan reestablished himself  last season with the Fresno Grizzlies. Now the 23-year-old infielder is getting another chance to break camp with the San Francisco Giants.

The Giants released veteran infielder Wilson Valdez Friday (along with reliever Ramon Ramirez) and brought back Noonan from their minor-league camp after optioning him to Triple-A Fresno on March 15. He’s in the lineup playing third base in today’s Cactus League game.

In fact, Noonan is the only healthy backup infield option left in camp. (Besides Joaquin Arias, who is assured of a roster spot.) Free-agent pickup Tony Abreu has been dealing with a leg injury all spring and the Giants reassigned Japanese import Kensuke Tanaka, who was struggling defensively, to Triple-A Fresno on Thursday.

Speaking with the team’s beat writers in Scottsdale, Ariz., Giants vice president Bobby Evans hinted that Noonan could be the favorite.

“We’ll continue to look at him,” Evans told CSN Bay Area’s Andrew Baggarly. “It does bode well for (Noonan) if Abreu can’t get healthy.”

It’s also possible the Giants could sign an infielder off the waiver wire or as other teams trim their rosters before Opening Day.

(What about Brock Bond, who was hitting .435 when he reassigned to Fresno? Bond got called up for a split-squad game  Tuesday and suffered an abdominal strain. Terrible timing.)

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Welty: Fresno State may drop football if forced to share revenues with athletes

Fresno State President John Welty fully supports the NCAA in a lawsuit that may force college sports’ governing body to share television revenues with football and men’s basketball players.

The hottest, most far-reaching story in college athletics isn’t taking place on a basketball court or football field.

It’s taking place in a courtroom.

In July 2009, former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon sued the NCAA for using his likeness in a video game without permission or compensation. The case has since been consolidated with similar suits, and the plaintiffs are now seeking a piece of the NCAA’s television revenues for current and former athletes.

Naturally, colleges don’t want to share the revenue pie, and several presidents, conference commissioners and athletic directors were enlisted to declare their support for the NCAA in the case against O’Bannon et al.

Enter Fresno State President John Welty, who is retiring this summer. In documents filed March 14 in U.S. District Court of Northern California, Welty stated that Fresno State “absolutely depends” on those revenues to run its athletic program and may have to drop football if legally forced to share them with athletes.

Welty’s “declaration” is seven pages long. Here’s the part most relevant to Bulldogs football fans:

“Fresno State absolutely depends upon the revenues that Antitrust Plaintiffs’ believe would simply be assigned to football and men’s basketball players if NCAA rules precluding pay-for-play were eliminated. It is a possibility that Fresno State … might cease playing Division I football or Football Bowl Subdivision sports entirely. It may very well be the case that Fresno State would eliminate football rather than be forced to eliminate the balance of its athletics programs to keep football.”

Is a lot of this just posturing? Of course it is. But it’ll be interesting to see how this case plays out over the coming months.


Mountain West, ESPN ink national TV deal

The Mountain West Conference and ESPN on Wednesday officially announced a multi-year deal to televise select conference football and men’s basketball games through 2019-20.

ESPN will  televise up to 16 MW football games, plus every Boise State home game, as well as up to 31 men’s basketball games annually.

The ESPN deal does not supercede the MW’s agreement with CBS Sports Network, which remains the conference’s primary rights-holder. CBS Sports Network and ESPN will alternate game selections after CBS Sports Network gets the first pick. (CBS Sports Network retains the rights to Boise State road football games.)

Financial terms were not disclosed, but ESPN’s Brett McMurphy previously reported the two deals will be worth a total of about $18 million annually.

“The Mountain West looks forward to rejoining the ESPN networks beginning with our 15th season this fall,” MW Commissioner Craig Thompson said in a news release. “Coupled with CBS Sports Network, we anticipate tremendous national exposure over several outlets as the league continues its growth and development.”

Between the two networks, up to 44 football and 56 men’s basketball games will be televised annually on their various platforms.

The MW is also negotiating with CBS Sports Network to televise its first conference championship football game.

San Francisco Giants send 20 players to Triple-A Fresno

Heath Hembree, who recorded 15 saves last season for the Fresno Grizzlies, was among 20 players sent to Triple-A on Friday by the San Francisco Giants.

The San Francisco Giants made their first wholesale roster cuts of spring training Friday, sending 21 players to minor-league camp and 20 to Triple-A Fresno.

Reassigned to Fresno were pitchers Brett Bochy, Boof Bonser, Steve Edlefsen, Heath Hembree, Mitch Lively, Shane Loux and Michael Kickham; catcher Tyler LaTorre; infielders Ricky Oropesa, Adam Duvall and Brock Bond; and outfielder Gary Brown.

Optioned to Triple-A were pitchers Jake Dunning, Chris Heston, Dan Otero and Sandy Rosario; infielders Ehire Adrianza and Nick Noonan; and outfielders Roger Kieschnick and Juan Perez.

Pitcher Edwin Escobar was optioned to Class-A San Jose.

What’s the difference between being optioned and reassigned? Players on the Giants’ 40-man roster must be optioned; non-roster players are reassigned.

This doesn’t guarantee all 20 of these players will be wearing Grizzlies uniforms come April 4. It just means they’ll be playing in Triple-A games during spring training, unless the Giants need extra bodies.

Fresno Grizzlies getting chance to leave Giant impression

The Fresno Grizzlies’ 2013 season opener is three weeks away — April 4  at Chukchansi Park — making this a good time to check up on how our Boys of Summer are doing in spring training.

With the parent-club San Francisco Giants sending so many players to the World Baseball Classic, more minor -leaguers are getting a chance to show what they can do in Cactus League competition. Through Thursday’s games, seven of the 10 players with the most at-bats (Kensuke Tenaka, Nick Noonan, Cole Gillespie, Francisco Peguero, Roger Kieschnick, Gary Brown and Brett Pill) are thought to be on the bubble between Triple-A and the majors.

Early last week, I made an attempt to predict the Grizzlies’ opening day roster. (The list would look slightly different if I did it today.) Here are some of the latest goings on as the regular reason approaches:

*** Brett Pill is expected to be out three to four weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery Thursday. Terrible timing for Pill, who is fighting for a roster spot and has nothing left to prove in Triple-A. The timing means Pill could open the season on the disabled list, or in Fresno on a rehab assignment. Pill appeared in 48 games last season for the World Series champs.

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New Mexico, San Diego State sweep MW hoops honors

The Bulldogs’ Tyler Johnson was named All-MWC honorable mention.

New Mexico swept the top honors in Mountain West Conference men’s basketball with Steve Alford being named Coach of the Year and Lobos guard Kendall Williams selected as Player of the Year.

Fresno State junior guard Tyler Johnson was named honorable mention. No Bulldogs were picked for the three all-conference squads or the all-defensive team.

On the women’s side, Fresno State junior guard Ki-Ki Moore was named first-team All-MWC as well as Defensive Player of the Year. Senior forward Rosie Moult was named second-team All-MWC and to the all-defensive team, while junior guard Taylor Thompson and sophomore forward Alex Sheedy were third team.

Rounding out the All-MWC men’s squad are UNLV teammates Khem Birch and Anthony Bennett, also the Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year; and Colorado State teammates Colton Iverson and Daniel Bejarano, the MW’s Newcomer and Sixth Man of the Year, respectively.

San Diego State’s Chelsea Hopkins is the women’s Player of the Year with Aztecs coach Beth Burns earning her third MW Coach of the Year honors. San Diego State’s Courtney Clements, Wyoming’s Chaundra Sewell and UNLV’s Kelli Thompson complete the first team.

Predicting the 2013 Fresno Grizzlies

Brock Bond, who boasts a .410 career on-base percentage, is predicted to return to the Fresno Grizzlies for another season.

One month from today, on April 4, the Fresno Grizzlies will trot onto the infield in their spiffy home whites for the first of 72 Pacific Coast League ballgames at Chukchansi Park.

You can practically taste the hot dogs and Tecate Light.

In what’s become an annual tradition, here are my predictions for the Grizzlies’ 25-man opening day roster. The last two years I’ve gotten about 20 names correct. It’s inevitable that someone on this list will get injured, and the San Francisco Giants typically stash a couple players in “extended spring training.” There’s also the possibility the Giants have someone in their minor-league camp ticketed for Triple-A that I don’t know about. We don’t get much news from Indian School Park during spring training.

So in other words, this ain’t no can of corn. But here goes:

Catchers (2): Jackson Williams, Guillermo Quiroz

(Both are fairly obvious choices. Tyler LaTorre will also figure in the mix.)

Infielders (6): Brett Pill, Brock Bond, Nick Noonan, Kensuke Tanaka, Ehire Adrianza, Tony Abreu

(The Giants don’t necessarily need a backup 1B with Buster Posey set to play 20-25 games there. Pill, who has a minor-league option, could be the odd man out. … Tanaka has told reporters he’d accept Triple-A assignment, so start brushing up on your Japanese. … Abreu has yet to play in the Cactus League, so Wilson Valdez is predicted to win the Giants’ backup infield job.)

Outfielders (4): Gary Brown, Francisco Peguero, Roger Kieschnick, Juan Perez

(This assumes Cole Gillespie makes the big-league roster. … Peguero is certainly giving the Giants something to think about, but they probably want him to play regularly.

Pitchers (13): Yusmeiro Petit, Chris Heston, Michael Kickham, Boof Bonser, Shane Loux, Heath Hembree, Jean Machi, Dan Otero, Mitch Lively, Scott Proctor, Steve Edlefsen, Sandy Rosario, Brett Bochy

(Jose Mijares’ injury means there are two open spots in the Giants’ bullpen. Chad Gaudin and Dan Runzler appear like the current front-runners. … Ryan Sadowski and Mason Tobin could also figure in; both were sent to minor-league camp last week to rehab injuries.)

4:50 p.m. update: I just realized Tony Abreu is on the Giants’ 40-man roster. So that probably gives him the edge over Wilson Valdez for a backup infield job.

March 6 update:  Guess I missed the news that Todd Linden re-signed with the Giants on a minor-league deal.  So there’s a very good chance the Grizzlies’ all-time leader in just about every offensive category will be back with the club.