April 2009

Reminders of Who We Are

I’m in the clubhouse waiting for Game 2 of our series against the Dodgers.

I was so happy to see Brian Wilson come back last night in Game 1 after giving up three runs in the ninth on Sunday. He was hitting the spots, which is the most important thing for me. We were mixing up the pitches really well.

I know there’s been a little dust-up over his Twittering or whatever it is. To be honest, I really don’t know what the whole thing was about. But you need to know that Brian Wilson is the hardest-working guy we have on the club. If you could see the way he works out, you’d be amazed.

He feels that if his body is invincible, his mind will be, too. It gives him a feeling that no one can beat him. No one should have any doubt that baseball is his top priority – because as all his teammates know, it IS his top priority.

When the season began, I took a pen and wrote something underneath the bill on my Giants cap.

“All out everyday.”

It’s something my dad always said to me. Now that he’s gone, he can’t remind me anymore. So I wrote it there. I see it every time I put on or take off my cap. I long ago stopped needing his reminder to play all out everyday. It’s what I do. It’s part of who I am as a player.

But I still needed to hear it. Not for the words. But for his words. The way he said it was like another way of saying he loved me. It was his way of still being my dad. He knew I always played all out. But he still said it because it was a thing between us, something he had been saying since I was a child.

Last week, I added another reminder of him, and of my mother, too, to my Giants uniform.

It’s a small patch sewn to the inside of my jersey in the spot that rests over my heart. On the patch are two words: “Mai” and “Pai” – mom and dad.

Still pumped

We’re in Arizona on our day off and still pumped from yesterday’s win over the Padres. As you might imagine, the flight to Phoenix yesterday afternoon was pretty loud. Everyone was joking and laughing. It was just a great environment.

Those are the days when you are especially grateful that you play baseball for living. It’s an amazing gift every single day to play a game you love and get paid the way we get paid for the privilege, but yesterday’s bottom-of-the-tenth win – I mean, what’s better than that?

I told the reporters that, sure I was thrilled to have the game-winning hit, but to be honest, I wish it had been one of the guys who had fought so hard throughout that game. I was so happy when I touched second and saw that we had scored the winning run -but I was happy because we won, not because I’m the one who got the hit.

One of the writers asked if I had ever come off the bench and hit the game winner before this, and I truly can’t remember. Those aren’t the kinds of things that stick in my mind. My brain doesn’t seem to pay much attention to what I do personally in a game but what the team does.

It’s funny how things work out. At first, when Bochy told me he was giving me the day off yesterday, I welcomed it. I really thought I needed to rest after playing every game so far. But as soon as the game started, I wanted to be out there so bad.

I spent the game on the bench watching and talking, mostly to Holmy, about what was happening on the field, the different situations. Pablo sat next to me between a few innings and asked me things. He caught an awesome game. He and Zito were completely on the same page. And he made an amazing catch on the pop-up behind the plate. Those are the toughest playes. Pablo had to look directly in the sun and couldn’t see the ball. In that situation you have to guess where it’s going to come down. Pablo did a great job of adjusting as soon as the ball reappeared in his line of sight and made a lunging catch.

The guys had battled so hard all day, I wanted to do something for the team. I was happy when Bochy told me to grab a bat in the ninth. I took a few swings in the batting cage downstairs behind the dugout. I was expecting the pitcher to come at me with sliders and fastballs so I was kind of surprised to see a change-up.

When I swung, I knew I hit it pretty good – not home-run good but I thought it had a chance to reach the wall. The outfielders were playing shallower than usual to prevent Torres from scoring from second. When I saw the ball was going to land between the left-fielder and center-fielder, I knew we had won. There are few experiences more exciting than having your teammates rush out of the dugout and mob you and jump up and down around you like kids. I guess we’re all still kids when it comes right down to it. You never get jaded to the thrill of winning a game like that – particularly in your home ball park.

A little side note: Someone recently asked about how we travel. We fly on a chartered plane. We go through security in the parking lot at the ballpark before we board the bus, which pulls up right to the plane. Management sits in first class and the players sit in the coach seats, though many of us get whole rows to ourselves. Some of the veterans sit in the same seats on every flight. I always sit in row 21 on the left side. I sat there on my first trip with the Giants because no one else was sitting there, and I’ve been there ever since.

It’s great, too, because we don’t have to deal with our own luggage. This is a wonderful thing about the major leagues – a big difference from the minor leagues. The bags are delivered not just to the hotel but to each of our rooms. We can’t get too accustomed to it, though, because when we’re on our own, we’re standing in security lines and lugging our baggage like everyone else in the world. But I have to tell you, it’s a luxurious, wonderful thing to go from bus to plane to bus without touching a suitcase.

Today, on our off day, I just rested. Jamie flew down to be with me. We slept in, ate, came back to the hotel, watched baseball on TV, napped and now we’re heading out either to the Cheesecake Factory or to Havana Café.

We’re excited to get back on the field Friday against the Diamondbacks. We’ve got Timmy on the mound – always a good thing.

Thanks for reading!

Back on Track

It’s been great watching our pitchers the last two games – Randy Johnson on Sunday and Matt Cain yesterday. Both were in a groove and doing what they know and we know they can do.

 

Sometimes I can tell in the bullpen before the game when a pitcher is on – like with Timmy on Saturday. I wasn’t sure with Randy on Sunday. But I could see in the first inning he had his fastball and slider working and his change-up.

 

With any pitcher, with a no-hitter going, you just stay away. You kind of stay away from Randy anyway. That’s how he operates. Sometimes Rags or I will mention something to him – watch out for this or that. But there was nothing to say on Sunday. He was awesome to watch.

 

On our off day Monday, I just rested. Then Jamie and I went to McCovey’s restaurant in Walnut Creek and had the best experience. The food was great and there was a ton of memorabilia to look at. It’s only 10 minutes from our house, so I know Jamie and I will be going there a lot. Willie McCovey happened to be in Murph’s office in the clubhouse yesterday, so I told him what a great time we had at his place. He was really happy, and Freddie Lew was standing there next to me. Willie said I had to get Freddie to go now.

 

Got the news yesterday that Steve Holm is coming back up. It will be so great to have him back. You know by now how much I love that guy. I’m looking forward to sitting and talking about the strategy of catching with someone who loves the position as much as I do!

 

See you at the ballpark.

Perseverance

It was a quiet clubhouse last night, as you might imagine. To lose the fifth game in a row when we were so close after Aaron’s three-run homer – it’s incredibly frustrating. We were all very down and angry at ourselves for not coming through when we needed to. As frustrated as you are as fans, let me assure you we are ten times more frustrated as players.

What’s going wrong? A few obvious things.

We haven’t been putting the ball in play. You have to give a lot of credit to the opposing pitchers. They’ve been throwing great. That’s been a factor. Then the longer you go without hitting, the more you start pressing. And when you lose four, five games in a row, you go up to the plate trying to hit a seven-run homer with no one on.

Second, we haven’t been making our pitches. We’re not hitting our spots. We’re falling behind in counts. If we’re going for a fastball away, we’re leaving it over the plate. Curve balls are hanging. We need to hit the corners for strikes. Our poor hitting isn’t helping the pitchers – it puts even more pressure on them.

Last night was a killer because we were so close. Wilson came in in a tough situation – bottom of the ninth, tie game, bases loaded, no outs. He got a grounder to short – exactly what you want — but we couldn’t turn the double play. So with Loney up – who had hit a sacrifice fly on a high fastball earlier in the game – we wanted to keep the ball down so he’d keep it on the ground and we’d get a second shot at a double play.

Unfortunately, on a 3-2 count, the fastball was too low and Loney walked. Game over.

Like the other veterans on the team, I talk to the young guys and remind them that it’s a long season. We’re not even out of April yet. We have to stick together and work hard and make sure each of us does everything we can to be ready for every play, every pitch. That’s all you can do, and inning by inning, game by game, you rebuild.

The truth is, our young guys are handling this rough stretch really well – with much greater perspective than you might expect. Pablo Sandoval, who has really been struggling at the plate, is still really positive and energetic. His attitude is great – he lifts everybody up.

And Timmy’s another kid who has such a positive attitude no matter what’s happening. He loves the challenge of things. He knows what he’s facing, and he’s got that fierce competitiveness that gives you no doubt he’ll be absolutely fine.

I think returning home tomorrow and playing in our own park in front of our own fans will close the chapter on this awful past week and we can start fresh.

I know you’re disappointed and frustrated as fans. But it’s more important than you can imagine to stick with us. Don’t turn your backs on us in the tough times. We’re working as hard as we can to break out of this, and I know we will. We need you there with us in good times and bad – maybe even more so in the bad times.

I hope to see you this weekend when we play the Diamondbacks. This is a great group of players, and an even better group of men.

One thing I can promise: This team will never give up. I hope you won’t either.

Lessons in Perspective

One of the many things you learn playing baseball – perhaps playing any sport – is to accept what is out of your control. Sometimes the ball has eyes and finds the gap. Sometimes you hit into a double play with the bases loaded.

I went 0-fo-5 yesterday after a good game at the plate on Opening Day. But believe me when I tell you there was no difference – meaning that I wasn’t “on” one day and “off” the next. I felt good last night. I hit the ball well. Some days it goes right at people. Some days it gets through.

That’s baseball. A few inches one way or the other, and it’s a different game. Randy Johnson’s pitch to Gallardo last night, for example. We wanted a fastball higher than the letters on his chest so he would chase it for the third strike. The ball wasn’t as high as it needed to be. That kid is a good hitter, too, don’t forget. But if the pitch is just a little bit higher, we get him.

This game so often comes down to the slightest of margins, the tiniest bits of bad luck.

To tell you the truth, I never thought we were out of it last night. I always expected we’d come back. But we’re going to have many more chances, so you can’t dwell on what didn’t work for us last night. You have to just get ready for today’s game.

As for Tim on Opening Day, I was thinking he might have a tough day even when we were warming up in the bullpen. When he walked the first batter and hit the third, I went out to talk to him. I’m not going to tell him anything about mechanics, of course.

“Keep battling,” I said. “Keep grinding it out. You’re going to get out of it.”

He didn’t have command of his fastball or his curveball. Usually if one isn’t working, he has the other. But people have to remember this kid is a human being. He’s not a machine. I admired how he kept fighting out there. That’s one of the beautiful things about baseball. The days when you really aren’t at the top of your game are the days when you test yourself the most. Those are the days you earn your money.

And afterward I told Tim that sometimes you need to struggle to come back stronger. You have to keep it all in perspective, too, which is tougher when you’re young. There are way more important things to worry about than giving up some walks or going 0-for-5.

Today was the worst kind of reminder of that. I keep thinking about Nick Adenhart, the young Angels pitcher killed by a drunk driver last night. It’s the kind of news that gives you the chills. Makes you shake. We’re playing a game, but once those lights go out in the ballpark, it’s real life out there. I keep thinking how you can be doing everything 100 percent right, but some other guy right next to you isn’t doing the right thing and you pay the price.

I keep thinking that if Adenhart’s car had entered the intersection two seconds earlier or two seconds later, maybe he goes home thinking about his next start.

The slightest of margins, the tiniest bits of bad luck.

Two bits of news – one small, one really big

Just a short note to let you know that KPIX is doing a story for tonight on my mother visiting me for the first time in San Francisco. Kim Coyle caught up with Jamie and me and my mom in the Marina. We wanted to show my mother where we used to live and also show her the Golden Gate Bridge up close. The story is supposed to be on after the NCAA Final.

And I keep forgetting to tell you – I’m going to be a dad again in July. Jamie is due with a girl. We’re hoping she arrives during the All-Star Break!

See you tomorrow on Opening Day!

A visit from Mom

PlayballLunch.jpg

It was great playing last night back at AT&T, even though the wind was unbelievable. I felt really good at the plate. I saw the ball really well. Shows that practice pays off. And Timmy looked great, as usual. He’s ready to go.

I know these games don’t mean anything, but winning in our home park – hitting in our home park — against the A’s just gives us that added confidence. It means we’re going to be in a lot of games. We’re going to score more runs than people think.

Just being in the park, with the lights and the crowd, gives you a lot of energy. It’s such a different atmosphere from spring training in Arizona.

So we’re settled in the rental house. The girls have been with us but have to go back to Yuma on Sunday. They love the new place – with pool and game room and huge yard. It’s way bigger than our house in Yuma.

The best thing is my mother is here in San Francisco for the first time. She spent about a week with us in Arizona and now is here about 10 days before flying back to Puerto Rico on Thursday. She has to be home by the 11th because in our church, we have special prayers every month for six months on the day of somebody’s death. My father died on October 11.

It’s been so tough on my mother. She cries and says, “Oh, Benja, oh Benja.” That’s what she called my father, Benja. I realized she got teary every time she saw a photo of my father, so I put away the ones in my house and in my car. For me, it helps to look at my father and remember. For her, at least right now, it’s too painful.

But we’ve had fun, too, of course, while she’s here. On the way from the airport to Lafayette, she asked, “Where’s that big bridge?” We’ll take her to the Golden Gate before she leaves. I also want to take her to Alcatraz. We drove through the city the other day and I took her to my favorite Puerto Rican restaurant, Fruitlandia. She loved watching me at AT&T for the first time but she was freezing! She was so bundled up I could barely see her face.

I spent this afternoon at the Play Ball Luncheon at the Hilton in San Francisco, which is a fundraiser for the Giants Community Fund and Junior Giants Baseball. Every player on the team was there, plus all the coaches and broadcasters and even Mays and McCovey. Each player got to walk into the ballroom with one of the Junior Giants players. It was wonderful to talk to some of the kids and hear how much baseball – and their coaches – have helped them in their lives.

Another game against the A’s tonight. Looking forward to catching Randy Johnson one more time before Opening Day.

See you out there.

 

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Back in the Bay Area!

Jamie and I spent the whole day unpacking boxes in our new rental house in Lafayette. You can’t sit down or you’ll never get back up and the job will never get done. We just plowed through and I think we have two boxes left. But I’m taking a break now. (I thought catching was tiring . . .)

It’s great to be back in the Bay Area and about to start the season. It was a long spring and the team got through it without any major injuries. Randy Johnson and I have been working hard at learning how to work smoothly with each other. I’m still learning how to call the game he wants me to call, to call the pitches he wants. He’s the man, the Cy Young winner, the veteran, so it’s up to me to learn how to make him really comfortable during a game. We got closer to that in his last game and we have one more before the season starts, so I know we’ll get there.

The really tough part about this time of the year are the difficult decisions that have to made about who makes the team and who gets sent to the minors. I’m glad I don’t have to make them.

The toughest one for me was Holmy. Steve Holm is one of the really good friends I have on the team. I love Holmy. He’s one guy I talk to all the time about catching and hitting and strategy. So that was really tough for me. Really, really tough. But you have to go with it. You have no choice. I’m not the GM. I’m just trying to do my job. But it hurts me as a friend. I wish we could have him on the team.

Other than missing Holmy, it doesn’t matter to me that the team chose not to carry a full-time back-up catcher. I’m confident that I can play every day. If Bruce Bochy needs me for 162 games, I’ll be out there for 162 games. If that’s what they need me to do, you just step up and say, “Let’s go. Let’s do it.”

Look forward to seeing you tomorrow and over the weekend – and then the real games start. Can’t wait.