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Tyler Soderstrom, Nick Avila face off in Sacramento
Soderstrom gives thoughts on Athletics' future home park
Tyler Soderstrom Sacramento
Tyler Soderstrom of the Las Vegas Aviators takes a lead at first base alongside David Villar of the Sacramento River Cats after knocking a base hit in the fourth inning of the Aviators' 10-4 win on Wednesday night at Sutter Health Park in West Sacramento (DAN ROGERS/@DopeShotDan).

WEST SACRAMENTO — Nearly one month of the Minor League Baseball season is in the books, and a pair of Turlock High School alumni have found themselves in the same stadium this week.

2020 graduate Tyler Soderstrom, who was optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas by the Oakland Athletics on March 17, and the rest of the Aviators are back in California this week for a six-game series at West Sacramento’s Sutter Health Park against the River Cats, the affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. On the River Cats roster is 2015 graduate, right-handed reliever Nick Avila, who the Giants optioned back down on Monday morning.

In Tuesday’s 14-1 Sacramento win at Sutter Health Park — the planned future home for the Athletics for at least the next three seasons until their planned stadium in Las Vegas is built — Soderstrom launched a solo home run in the sixth inning. Two innings later, Avila forced Soderstrom to ground out. It marked the fourth time the former Bulldogs faced off in professional baseball. In last season’s Triple-A season, Avila retired Soderstrom all three times he came up to the plate, which included a pair of strikeouts. 

“I’ve faced him a couple times now. He got me out all those times,” Soderstrom said with a laugh. 

Avila tossed two perfect innings in his return to the River Cats on Tuesday. Soderstrom was one of his two strikeout victims. Following the outing, he had a scheduled midweek bullpen session and was unavailable for a media scrum on Wednesday and Thursday.

“I know Nick a little bit. We're not the closest of buddies since he’s a little older than me, so I didn’t spend too much time around him growing up,” the 22-year-old Soderstrom said of the 26-year-old Avila. “But there are a lot of good players coming out of Turlock, so that's cool seeing him.”

While each is battling for bragging rights when facing one another, they share the goal of trying to return to the big leagues. 

Avila was called up by San Francisco and made his debut on April 1. In six games, he tossed 7 ⅔ innings, giving up six earned runs on 11 hits and a pair of walks.

Nick Avila vs Las Vegas
Nick Avila delivers a pitch during for the Sacramento River Cats on April 4, 2023 against the El Paso Chihuahuas. Avila is back with the Triple-A team after being sent down by the San Francisco Giants on Monday (RALPH THOMPSON/Sacramento River Cats).

Soderstrom, meanwhile, made his major league debut with Oakland last season on July 14, appearing in 45 games by year’s end. During spring training, the Athletics’ 2020 first-round draft pick was sidelined by a stomach bug. Once recovered, he only nabbed four hits over 33 at-bats.

“I didn't get really too much of a clear message from the organization,” Soderstrom recalled of the week he was sent down. “I think they just want me to come down and, you know, find my swing and start hitting a little bit and see what happens. I’m just down here doing my thing, and whenever the time is right, I'll be ready. We're gonna keep working hard to try and get wins out here.”

The Aviators had a 10-13 record coming after Wednesday’s 10-4 win over the ‘Cats and Thursday's 7-1 loss, with Soderstrom hitting the cover off the baseball as of late. In the team’s last 10 games, he has 11 hits, including 6 extra-base hits and 3 home runs, 9 RBI, and — perhaps most important of all in the eyes of the A’s front office — 6 walks. His fourth inning single Wednesday against Merced native and 2013 Buhach Colony High School (Atwater) graduate Daulton Jefferies, who Soderstrom's father gave pitching lessons to as a youngster, extended his hitting streak to six games. Six turned to seven by the end of Thursday's game after tagging a second-inning single off Sacramento starter Mason Black.

“I’m just trying to come to the park each day and just do my best,” Soderstrom said. “I'm feeling good, though, feeling confident in my swing, and we want to keep it going, putting good at-bats together. 

“Obviously, last year didn't go how I wanted to go,” he continued, referring to his .160 and .472 OPS in the majors last year. “I went into the offseason working on some stuff. It's never anything too big, just some small things here and there. It's been coming along well, so I just want to keep going. It's more just getting the reps and getting that consistency going.”

Soderstrom, as well as other top A’s prospects, are trying to get as familiar as they can with Sutter Health Park.

On April 4, the A’s announced that they’ll play at the venue from 2025-27 with an option for 2028 after being unable to reach an agreement to extend their lease with the City of Oakland to play in the Coliseum during that time. The decision came after the A’s revealed plans to relocate to Las Vegas last April, with their proposed $1.5 billion stadium on the Strip not expected to be finished by 2028 at the earliest. Athletics president Dave Kaval said earlier this month that his team will share Sutter Health Park with the River Cats, with the A’s playing in Sacramento when the ‘Cats are on the road.

Sutter Health Park, which A’s owner John Fisher described as “the most intimate ballpark in all of Major League Baseball,” has just 10,624 fixed seats and can hold 14,014 spectators when including lawn seating and standing room. On Wednesday, the ballpark drew 3,017 for the Pacific Coast League contest.

The agreement for the A’s to play in the park still needs to be signed off by the Major League Baseball Players Association. Any agreement would have to include venue upgrades to ensure it is up to major league standards. Upgrades include stadium lights, clubhouses, weight rooms, field conditions and other amenities.

“I think it's nice. I like it,” Soderstrom said of the ballpark. “I like playing here. Always have. I always feel like I play good here. And it’s so close to home, so I'm probably a little biased on that part of it.”

The catcher and first baseman has played 13 games at Sutter Health Park over the last two seasons. In 50 at-bats there, he has 15 hits (including 3 home runs) and 13 RBI.

Avila has appeared in 31 games at Sutter Health Park over the last two seasons, giving up 9 earned runs over 39 ⅓ innings.

“Obviously, there's some stuff that needs to change,” Soderstrom continued. “Clubhouses might be a problem in terms of them being separate (from the dugouts and down each foul line) and the space (inside). They're gonna have to figure that out. But the biggest thing other than that would be the lights and the batting cages (which teams share). But the field is great, overall. I don't mind it.”

A Players Association spokesperson told the San Francisco’s John Shea on April 4 that the union has already “had preliminary discussions with MLB about a range of issues related to the temporary relocation and we expect those discussions to continue.”