Modesto is the California League’s longest tenured franchise, having fielded a team continuously since 1966, and from 1975-2004 Modesto was a logical affiliate for the Oakland A’s
, whose ballpark is only 76 miles from John Thurman Field.
But shortly after the Modesto A's claimed their first California League championship in 20 years, Oakland ended their 30-year tie to the city in September of 2004 and moved the team to Stockton, where a new stadium just happened to be opening.
With one of the Minor League’s longest affiliation agreements severed, Modesto set out to carve a new identity for the team in 2005. After becoming a Colorado Rockies farm club, Modesto held a name the team contest and the winning entry – chosen by 52% of the community - was the Nuts (think almonds and walnuts), which won out over four other possible names (Dusters finished second).
With a new affiliation, unique name and logo, the Modesto Nuts have shed years of tradition, with the exception of their ballpark, which has stood in its present location since 1952.
Originally named Del Webb Field, the Modesto ballpark was renamed for state assemblyman John Thurman in 1983 and underwent over $3 million dollars worth of renovations in 1997 to keep it up to California League standards.
Despite the big expenditures to upgrade the facility, John Thurman Field feels dated and is still a basic Single-A structure, featuring a main grandstand with seat backs and a press box located atop. Aisles on either side of the grandstand separate the twin stands that are split between bench and bleacher seating.
The most unique feature about John Thurman Field is its location. The ballpark is actually located on the heels of a public golf course. The golf course is so close that only driving range type netting keeps wayward golf balls from bouncing into the concession concourse located behind the grandstand.
During the game, a handful of younger fans sat outside waiting for foul balls to land in the greens located behind home plate, and quite a few were hit that way.
About the only other thing memorable in Modesto is the location of the Nuts’ bullpen, which is behind an open fan plaza concourse in right field. The concourse is a good place to stand and watch the game and fans can actually walk up to the relief pitchers and talk to them, or at least stand in front of the small chain link fence and obstruct their view of the game.
Also, fans sitting on the third base side will have to deal with a natural obstruction for a couple of innings – the setting sun - if the game is played in the evening, and all fans suffer from a lack of roof if the game is played during the afternoon.
As for getting to the ballpark, there is plenty of good signage on nearby Highway 99 that makes John Thurman Field easy to find. Unfortunately the team charges $5 to park in one of the paved 677 spaces, but there does appear to be some free first come, first serve parking along the residential street adjacent to the ballpark on the first base side.
Despite the recent renovation, John Thurman Field feels like a throwback to the old days of no frills ballpark building. There’s nothing really memorable about it other than the golf course next door and, other than some trees, there’s not much of a view looking out onto the playing field.
In other words, there’s not a lot to go Nuts about.