April 2008

Where does the time go?

Sorry for the delay in writing a new post. You always think you’ll have time for things other than baseball during the season, but your whole life is on the field and in the clubhouse. I have loved reading all your comments … Arriving new last year to this team, I didn’t know what to expect from the fans. Now there’s no doubt that you are behind me and behind this team. And that’s what it’s all about.

But back to trying to figure out where all the time goes during a baseball day.
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I get to the ballpark three or four hours before the first pitch, as most of the guys do. I change out of my street clothes. Go to the trainer’s room for treatment. Take care of business like opening mail, ordering bats or other equipment from Murph, our great clubhouse manager. I talk to reporters if any of them need me for anything. I meet with Dave Righetti, the pitching coach, and Mark Gardner, the bullpen coach, and the pitchers to go over the hitters we’ll be facing. Then I take the field for batting practice.
 
Then for an hour or so before the game, I like to put on my headphones and listen to my iPod, getting myself focused and ready.
   
I needed all the focus I could get for that 13-inning game against the Padres last week. People asked me later how my knees and legs felt from squatting for so long, but during the game I don’t feel any soreness or pain. I’m so focused. I’m running on adrenaline. But I felt it later, needless to say, despite my usual 10-minute soak in a cold tub to rejuvenate the muscles.

Let me tell you, it’s no fun sinking into a cold tub after a chilly night game. But it’s the best thing for a battered body, so you do it.
   
One of the things I loved about that game, other than the fact we won — and that I managed to hit a home run to tie the game, 1-1, in the ninth —  was watching Bochy move the chess pieces. A game like that is where the beauty of a manager comes in.

That kind of game is the true test of a manager. He has to make all those moves to keep his team in the game as each inning goes by. He has to make sure everything’s OK, that we’re not caught short on the bench, that we have the right guys in the right places at the right times. He did an unbelievable job.
   
After a game like that, I can’t sleep. I can’t sleep after a lot of games, actually, even the ones we win. My eyes are open and I’m replaying almost every single pitch in my head. I second-guess myself. Maybe that guy wouldn’t have gotten a hit if I had called something else. Most of the time your mind is going crazy. You know things are going to happen in a game that you have no control over, and you tell yourself that, but I have a tough time letting go. It’s something I should probably work on. Or maybe that intensity off the field is what keeps me so focused on the field.
   
Boch gave me the day off after the 13-inning game to rest my legs, so I got to watch Steve Holm behind the plate. Steve is 28 years old and in the Major Leagues for the first time. He had never played higher than Double-A and suddenly he found himself making the team out of Spring Training, surprising everyone. Steve is such a great, great guy. I love Steve. He listens. He’s always asking questions. We’re always talking in the dugout about the game, whether he’s catching or I am. Neither of us ever feels like we’re out there by ourselves.
   
We talked about his play at the plate in the wild 10-9 game Saturday against the Reds. In the seventh inning, Joey Votto slid in around Steve’s glove even though it looked like the throw got there in time. To people who don’t know catching, it might have seemed that Steve “missed” the tag. But Steve did exactly the right thing.

The throw came to the right side of the plate. So Steve had to be looking to the right side — while the runner was barreling toward the plate on his left. The catcher can’t see the runner. We don’t have eyes in the backs of our heads. So what he has to do, as soon as he catches the ball, is wheel around and slap the glove on the ground where the runner is going to slide.

In Steve’s case, he actually swung around so quickly, he got his glove down a split-second before Votto arrived, and so Votto was about to slide around the glove.
   
A similar thing happened to me in Arizona. Brandon Webb stepped over my glove as I swung around to tag him.
   
(I hope Steve spent more time after the Reds game thinking about the huge double he hit to keep us battling back rather than the play at the plate.)
   
I took a second day off on Sunday to refresh my legs, but I’m back in the lineup tonight against Colorado. I miss being on the field when I take a day off. But as I said in my first posting, this is a marathon, not a sprint, and we have to take care of our bodies so they’re as ready to do battle on the last day of the season as on the first.
   
I remember as a young player, new to the league, I wanted to make my body the strongest it could be. I had seen all the “Rocky” movies and decided to train like him. When I returned to Puerto Rico in the offseason, I worked out by cutting down trees, pulling tractor tires, running in the sand, running the hills. The local people started calling me “caballo loco” 0- crazy horse. I don’t train that way any more, but I know my body has to be in top shape to last through a 162-game season — especially if we have more of those 13-inning nights.
   
Keep writing! I appreciate every minute you spend reading this and every kind word you send my way.
   
I’ll try to check back before we go back on the road Thursday.

Managing pitchers and giving it everything

In my last blog, I mentioned the psychology of managing pitchers and how this is part of what I love about catching.

People often ask me what I say to pitchers when they see me go to the mound in the middle of a game. First, I should say that I try not to go to the mound too often. I don’t want the pitchers to be thinking I’m there bothering them. I want them to keep their concentration. But I also want to help get them out of trouble when it’s necessary.

And that’s the beauty of catching – reading the situation, knowing the personality of the pitcher, figuring out when it’s too early to say something and when to step in before it’s too late.

AtMound.JPGWhen Barry Zito was on the mound during the last game of the homestand and he was walking some guys, I went out there. I didn’t say anything about how he was pitching. He knows what he’s doing. What I told him was that we’re all here behind you. We’re all in a Giants uniform and we’re all in this together. That’s not going to change no matter what the outcome of the game is. We got your back. OK, let’s go.

Sometimes, of course, I remind a pitcher of something the pitching coach told him in the bullpen before the game. Sometimes I’ll just tell a pitcher to stay back, take his time, get into his rhythm.

The beauty of catching is you have to know all the personalities of the pitchers. It’s not always WHAT you say but HOW you say it. Not everything works for everybody.

I’ve been asked how long it takes for me to get to know what works and what doesn’t work for a pitcher. I’d say about five outings. And that goes both ways — that’s about how long it takes the pitcher to learn to trust me as his catcher.

What I really like about this Giants team is how much trust there is in each other. Everybody is looking out for everybody else. The TV cameras, I know, caught me in the dugout recently giving some instruction to Brian Bocock, our young shortstop. I was telling him that he had to be patient in the batter’s box. He was in a new league, facing new pitchers. He needed to wait on the breaking ball and go the other way to right field and not try to pull everything to left.

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I was frustrated last season that there were players not playing hard enough. This group of guys is unbelievable. Even when we don’t win, we’re out there giving 150 percent every single day. There is so much heart on this team. Aaron Rowand is out there completely banged up and hurting and still diving for balls. Randy Winn is hurting and he’s going out there every day and putting his body on the line.

Our losses are very, very hard on us, in part because we know the fans take the losses hard, too. The fans are such a big part of what we do. If they’re not behind us, we lose something. I can’t even tell you want it is exactly. But we definitely feel it when the fans are behind us and when they’re not. I want them to know that, regardless of the outcome, we’re leaving everything on the field every day.

More later. Thanks for checking in. 

Visiting Yadier and a catching familys story

We’re flying to St. Louis today (Wednesday) and will arrive in time, I hope, for me to have dinner with my little brother, Yadier, the catcher for the Cardinals.

Yadier.JPGWhen the Cards were here last week, I took him to lunch before a game at Frutilandia, a Puerto Rican/Cuban restaurant in the Mission. It was great — a little taste of home. And my girlfriend and I had him over to our house for dinner one night, and we fell right into our long-running games of dominoes and poker and giving each other a hard time. (As many of you know, our middle brother, Jose, is also a catcher, for the New York Yankees. We have all somehow managed to win World Series rings. I’ve been told we’re the only trio of brothers in the history of Major League Baseball to do so.)

It’s funny that we all ended up as catchers. I had never caught a pitch in my life before an Angels scout visiting Puerto Rico put me behind the plate and told me to throw to second. The scout had come to check out Jose, not me. But my mother told him he should check me out, too. She didn’t tell him actually. She badgered him. She waved a newspaper clipping in the guy’s MeAndJoseWithAngels.JPG
face showing that I had hit about .400 as an outfielder on the team that had won the amateur championship in Puerto Rico that year. Out of politeness or fear – I’m not sure which — he told my mother to have me on the field at 3 and he’d have a look.

When Jose gave me the news, I told him no. “You go have a great career,” I said. “It’s cool. I’m fine.” But Jose insisted.

I finally said OK but told him there was one problem.

I had no baseball shoes. He asked where they were. I took him outside and pointed up. There, dangling from the telephone wire, were my shoes.

A week before the scout arrived, I had tied the shoelaces together and tossed them up there. I had decided to quit baseball. I had played so hard and so well that season, I had done everything I could think to do, and still there was not a bit of interest from a single Major League team. Really, I would have signed for a box of Snickers. I just wanted to play pro ball. But nothing. So that was it, I thought. It was never going to happen. Time to move on.

Then my mother hammers the scout into giving me a tryout. Jose said I could wear his spikes, which I did. But they were two sizes too big. I looked like I was wearing clown shoes.
When the scout saw me warming up with Jose and my father, he liked what he saw in my arm. That’s when he told me to get behind the plate and throw to second. I rocketed the ball.

Three days later, the Angels signed me for $1,000 and sent me to rookie ball in Mesa, Arizona. All I had was a Lance Parris catcher’s mitt from Wal-Mart, which I thought was the greatest thing — until I saw the beautiful leather mitts the pros had. Still, I used the Lance Parrish mitt until the stitching ripped.

My brothers and I talk a lot about catching when we get together, and all of us agree that part of the beauty of the position — part of what we all love about it — is the psychology of managing pitchers.

Well, I’m at AT&T Park and we’re about to board the bus to SFO to catch our flight to St. Louis, so more on the psychology of catching in the next blog. Thanks for checking in.

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Leading off…

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This is the first entry in a blog I’m hoping to keep updating throughout the season. Maybe it will give you a better feel for what it’s like in the clubhouse and on the field — and it will give me a chance to talk directly with fans and get to know them better.

I was thinking today about spring training and how pitchers have two ways to go: They can polish their best stuff, or they can work on the stuff that needs to get better. Obviously, you win more games in spring training when you put your best stuff out there. Our pitchers didn’t do that. We were always thinking about the season, not that particular spring-training game. We didn’t win a lot of games. Our pitchers looked pretty bad out there sometimes. When they got frustrated, I’d say, “Look, don’t get mad. You’re doing this to get ready for the season.”

Now we’re seeing it pay off.

Three wins in a row.

I can’t tell you what a difference that makes in the clubhouse and in the dugout. Guys are joking around more. Everybody’s more laid back and relaxed. That first week was rough, no doubt about it. We came out of spring training with people saying we were going to be last in the whole baseball world, not just our division. When they say things like that and then all of sudden you start winning, that makes us believe again. You think, “OK, we can do it.”

It’s not that you ever stop believing, even during the worst slumps. For me, it’s all about faith and trust. I trust my teammates, and I always remind myself, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.” I’m always talking to the younger guys about that, how we’re in this for the long haul and to stay positive, to not be so hard on themselves. But words are only going to take you so far. Nothing boosts your confidence like winning.

I can see it in the guys on the mound. They’re not pressing. They’re locating the fastball, keeping batters off balance. They understand they don’t have to overpower everybody. It’s been a great week so far.

Feel free to write in with questions or comments. It’d be great to hear what you’re thinking.