June 2008

Answering some questions

All right, to continue answering the questions you have posted …
One person wanted to know if I might be faster if I lost a few pounds. My speed — or lack of speed — isn’t about my size. I slowed down from injuries to my hamstrings and quads between 1998 and 2001. I don’t need to lose weight. I’ve always been 215, 220. Now I might hit 225 but I’m usually around 220. My mother once told me she was watching me on TV and I looked big. I told her I was just the same as always. I said maybe I looked bigger on TV or maybe my uniform makes me look bigger. When she came here to visit and saw me in person, she was surprised that, sure enough, I was the same weight I always am.
Someone else asked which pitcher has been the most fun to catch. When I catch, I get so into the moment that my favorite pitcher is whoever I am catching. I catch each pitcher like he’s a superstar. Each has his own personality. I do remember, though, having a lot of fun with Paul Byrd, now with Cleveland. We knew each other so well, he used to call for particular pitches by moving his mouth this way or that. I don’t think anyone does that anymore.
yadi.jpgThere have been a few questions about the relationship between my brothers and me. We’ve always been competitive with each other, whether in baseball or Nintendo or Playstation. Yadier is eight years younger than I am, and I was 17 when I left home. So he was just a little kid. Jose and I shooed him away when he wanted to play with us most times. Obviously we had some positive influence on him, though, since he followed directly in our footsteps.
But of everyone in my family, if I ever became a manager, the person I’d ask to be my bench coach is my mother. It’s true. She’s the most intelligent baseball person. She never played but she learned from watching her husband and her sons.
She’ll call me and say, “Why’d you swing at that bad pitch? You know on 0-2 he likes to throw the slider!”
Or, “Why are you chasing balls up in the zone?”
She told me after one game, “Every single time there was a man on second, the first pitch they threw was a slider. Didn’t you notice?”
She gets genuinely mad at us. Sometimes I call just to say hi, and she’ll say, “I don’t care. You’re going to hear me.” And then she’ll blast me for not intentionally walking some batter in a particular situation. And I listen.
I can only imagine what she said to Yadier after he was ejected from a game the other day for arguing with the umpire. That was something she drilled into us: You should always show respect. Poor Yadier. Whatever satisfaction he got from arguing the call could not have been worth listening to our mother on the phone.
See you at the ballpark. Thanks for writing and for taking the time to let me know how much you support the Giants.

Fathers Day QA

Father's Day Q&A1.JPG

I’m going right to your questions. I’ll try to cover all of them, but if I miss yours, please post it again. I promise to answer.
I was asked why I chose the song, “Can’t Be Touched,” to play over the PA when I come to bat. It was the 2000 season in Anaheim and I was struggling at the plate. So I was looking for a song to listen to that would motivate me. Roy Jones, Jr. is my favorite boxer, so before a game one day I listened to his recording of “Can’t Be Touched.” I went 3-for-4 that day and ever since then it’s been my song.
One young man asked if he could be a catcher even though he is left-handed. He said he was told all his life he couldn’t do it, so he gave it up. Coaches never should tell a kid he can’t do something that he really wants to do. He can be whatever he wants to be. There aren’t any left-handed catchers in the big leagues, but that doesn’t mean there CAN’T be. It means it’s going to be harder for a lefty. And that’s no reason not to do something you really want to do.
Several people asked about the play the other day at the plate in the ninth inning. Jack Taschner was pitching. The game was tied. There was a man on third. The batter hit a fly ball to left field. Freddie Lewis threw a bullet to the right side of home plate. With the runner bearing down, I knew I had a split-second to grab the ball and swipe. The ball hit my glove but didn’t stay in. The umpire called the runner out, then saw the ball on the ground and changed his call.
I watched the video afterward. If I get the same play today, I’d do the same thing. It’s the only play. If you wait to secure the ball in your glove, the guy’s safe anyway. The truth is, I thought the guy was safe even if the ball had stayed in my glove. We were going to catch a break. That was a tough day all around. I didn’t feel like I was at my best. I left guys on base. All I wanted to do after the game was get out of the park, hole up in my hotel room, watch some TV and recharge my batteries.
OK, another question was whether hitting or catching is easier. That’s easy. It’s a lot easier to catch a ball than hit it. A ball comes hurtling at you at 90 mph and you have a stick in your hands that you have to swing at just the right moment and at just the right angle, not only to make contact, but to make contact well enough to hit it past the fielders. It’s a lot easier to squat down and catch it.
Another question was: What is your favorite thing about being on the Giants? Everything, really. But if you want something specific, I’ve always been so impressed by the Giants’ appreciation of the team’s history. We have amazing owners here who really honor the past. So as a player you’re always reminded that you’re walking in the footsteps of some of the greatest men who ever played the game. And you know that, as a player, you won’t be forgotten. You’ll always be part of the Giants family.
There are a few more questions to answer, but I have to go. My two girls are here for Father’s Day and I want to get back to them. I’ll answer the rest of the question in my next post.
Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers — enjoy the day.

Baseball in my blood

Thanks for all your kind and encouraging words about my 1,000th hit. As I told reporters, this holds enormous meaning for me. I was never supposed to reach the big leagues, much less last long enough to get 1,000 hits.

Or at least other people never thought I’d make it.

But I think baseball was always in my blood.

When I rewind my brain to my very first memory, it is an image of a baseball field.

I was four or five years old. My father, also named Benjamin, was a second baseman on an amateur baseball team in the Puerto Rican town of Utuado. He was kind of a small guy, but he was like a giant to me. Strong. Powerful. Our tiny house — two bedrooms propped on loose bricks with a zinc roof — was filled with his baseball trophies.

On this day that I remember, I spent the game in the dugout. I’m sure it was the first time my father ever allowed me to stay with him and the other men. I remember the game dragging on into the 10th inning. The dugout was quiet. Everybody seemed worn out from the heat and the frustration of not being able to close out the game.

bigswing.jpgMy father picked up a bat, preparing for his turn at the plate.

“I’m going to hit a home run to left field,” he said. “We’re all going to go home. I’m tired of this game.”

At that park, left field seemed a million miles away. The right-field fence was the close one, the one my father was much more likely to clear. Plus, he was a left-handed hitter. His strength was to right field.

“No, no,” one of his teammates said. “Go to right! It’s shorter!”

“He’s pitching me away,” my father said. “I’ve got to go to left.”

Then he walked to the plate and dug into the batter’s box. Sure enough, the pitcher threw outside. My father swung.

The ball sailed into left field. It kept rising. The left fielder raced back. Then ball began to fall. The left fielder ran faster. Just beyond the fielder’s reach, the ball hit the top of the fence and bounced over.

A home run.

I remember watching my father round the bases, the biggest grin on his face. I bolted out of the dugout with his screaming, leaping teammates.

“Get him! Somebody get him!” my mother screamed from the stands, certain I was about to be trampled.

My father crossed the plate and, in the midst of the celebration, scooped me up in his arms. Then he swung me up on his broad shoulders.

That’s the opening scene of my life. A ballpark. A dugout. And my father’s unlikely heroics.

I thought there was something magical about that diamond-shaped field, that within those white lines anything was possible.

I still do.

Player of the Week

My priority is catching, so I don’t like to talk much about hitting. But it’s
a l
ittle difficult to avoid the topic lately.

I have had good streaks before, but none like the one I had a week ago. It
was incredible. To quote the summary put out by Major League Baseball when I was named
National League Player of the Week: .652 batting average (15-for-23) with six doubles and nine RBIs for the week ending May 25, compiling a .654 on-base and 1.043 slugging percen
tage in that span.

I wish I could explain why a player catches fire at the plate. You just do. You see the ball better. It’s hard to put into words because, obviously, your eyesight doesn’t su
ddenly get better. Maybe something shifts in your brain that allows you — for some limited time — to be hyper-focused. I don’t know. All I know is that my eyes seem to pick the ball up right when it leaves the pitcher’s hand.

And here’s Part II of being on a good streak: When the ball reaches you, you know exactly what to do with it.

I always have a plan for every bat, which depends on who’s pitchin
g, what the game situation is, etc. So that’s the same whether you’re on a good streak or a bad one. But when you’re going good, you execute your plan almost every time. You get the pitch you’re looking for. You hit it just the way you want.

And of course, success breeds confidence. So when you’re going good, you relax. You don’t press. You don’t go trying to hit a home run when all you need is a base hit. You go up to the plate truly believing that nobody can get you out.

I know, too, that part of any really great streak has some element of luck. I got a lot of good pitches to hit. They weren’t pitching around me. They weren’t getting me out. I had the opportunities to come through and keep hitting.

It helped that part of the road trip was in Miami. I love that weather. It’s the weather of my childhood in Puerto Rico.

Some people have asked if I had any superstitions about how to keep the streak going — like not changing my socks or taking batting practice from a particular coach. I don’t believe in superstitions, so I just went about my day the way I always do.

We’re up against the Mets tonight and looking to have another exciting win like yesterday’s. I’m still feeling invincible at the plate. I still feel that nobody can get me out. Even when I do get out, I know I’m swinging well and still seeing the ball.

That’s it for now. I enjoy answering your questions, so don’t hesitate to write me. I’ll answer them in a future entry.

As always, thanks for reading and for supporting my teammates and me. We love seeing you out at the ballpark.