Gina Menez will never forget the day she received a call-up to Triple-A.
Menez, a Florida resident, had flown across the country last week to watch her niece graduate from high school and to see her son, The Master’s University alum Conner Menez, pitch for San Francisco’s High-A affiliate in San Jose, California.
The schedule was tight, but feasible. Gina would watch Conner toe the rubber Thursday night against the Visalia Rawhide in his 10th start of the year. Then she’d drive north in time for Redding Christian’s commencement ceremony Friday.
Then the Giants threw a curveball. The club sent All-Star left-hander Madison Bumgarner to San Jose to make a rehab start on Thursday, bumping Conner’s outing back a day. Gina, it seemed, would get an up-close look at one of baseball’s best pitchers, but miss the lefty she’d come to see. You could say she’d been bummed out by “MadBum.” “That’s baseball for you,” she said.
Then the Giants made her grin — or, more accurately, jump up and down.
During San Jose’s game Wednesday night, San Francisco Vice President of Player Development David Bell, a former big leaguer, told Conner he would be making a spot start for the organization’s Triple-A affiliate Thursday in El Paso, Texas.
When Conner revealed that his mom was in town, Bell said he might have a solution. At some point during the game, Gina received a text from Conner: The Giants had paid for her ticket and a hotel room.
“I was jumping for joy during the game,” she said. “I was saying, ‘I’m going to El Paso, I got the call, I’m going to Triple-A.’”
So, Gina and Conner rose at 4:30 the next morning and flew from San Jose to Las Vegas to El Paso, arriving in time to crash at the team hotel before shuffling to the ballpark.
They hadn’t shared a hotel room, Gina said, since Conner’s travel team advanced to a championship in Alabama years earlier. Yet, here they were, mom and minor leaguer.
Conner left for the field at around 4 p.m. Gina followed on a shuttle an hour later. As she settled into her seat four rows up along the third baseline, Conner settled into the best start of his professional career.
“It was awesome,” Conner said. “That was the best start of my life. I had really good command of my fastball and slider. That’s all I was throwing to them.”
And El Paso couldn’t solve the combo, the Chihuahuas failing to record a hit until there was one out in the fifth inning. Menez retired the final eight batters he faced. In all, he tossed seven shutout innings, striking out eight and walking one. He faced two batters over the minimum and threw 64 of his 99 pitches for strikes.
Watching online in Ormond Beach, Florida, where he pastors a church, Scott Menez envied his wife’s vantage point, but savored the moment all the same.
“We were jumping around and hollering and family and friends are texting back and forth all game long,” Scott said. “We could see he really had his good stuff going.”
Said Gina, “It was overwhelming.”
But it wasn’t the end.
The Giants coordinated a flight for Conner back to San Jose — where he’s posted a 3.83 ERA in 44 2/3 innings — while sending Gina through to Sacramento. From there, she rented a car and drove 160 miles north for the 7 p.m. graduation.
“It was bam-bam-bam,” Gina said, employing a cadence familiar to batters who’ve faced her son’s 90-plus MPH fastballs. Menez’s performance Thursday earned him the Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Week honor, announced by the league office Monday.
“What he has done is truly remarkable,” said Master’s coach Monte Brooks. “The Lord has granted him a special talent. Someday, he will be in the big leagues.”
Gina and Scott will probably be there, too.