June 2009

Great Day at the Park

Yesterday was one of those days when everything falls into place, when baseball seems like the easiest game in the world.

We scored 10 runs against St. Louis — Ishikawa and Renteria both went three for four with three RBIs a piece.

Timmy pitched what might be the best game of his already amazing career, a two-hit complete game – his third complete game in his last four starts.

And we were in St. Louis, so I got to spend time with my brother, Yadier, and my mother and aunt, who were visiting from Puerto Rico.

What more could I ask for?

One thing, actually.

I could ask to have a big game at the plate after a disappointing month of June.

And, sure enough, I got that, too.

I went three for five with an RBI and a run. To be honest, I hit the ball well all five times. I felt great up at the plate. It felt good to see the ball flying past fielders instead of right at them. Hitting is mostly skill, of course, but there’s a little luck, too. Sometimes you can be swinging the bat and seeing the pitches as well as you ever have, and every ball you hit finds a glove. And sometimes the balls fall exactly where you want them to.

Despite the slump, it’s satisfying to still have the most RBIs of any catcher in the National League and to lead the major leagues in game-winning RBIs.

The best part of yesterday’s game, though, was partnering with Timmy. I take a lot of pride in calling his games and strategizing with him through every inning, every batter, every pitch. I don’t need to tell you that this kid is really special. He’s one of a kind. I have never seen a pitcher exactly like him. He trusts his pitches. He trusts what he’s going to throw. When I call for a fastball, he just unleashes it. The real good pitchers, they execute their pitches.

Sounds simple, right? But there’s a confidence and trust a pitcher has to have in himself, his catcher and his skills. Timmy has four pitches he can throw for strikes. Four good ones – meaning he not only throws them for strikes, he throws them hard.

And this kid doesn’t rattle. He’s really relaxed before his starts, but he’s a very fierce guy when it comes to pitching his game. He has the perfect personality for a pitcher.

Even between innings, when most pitchers sit off by themselves on the bench, Timmy will ask me about the location of a certain pitch, things like that. This kid is the whole package.

I didn’t catch Ryan Sadowski, but I had fun watching him. He really, really impressed me, the way he controlled the game, the way he threw strikes, moved the ball around. He threw breaking balls, sliders when he had to. He looked like a veteran out there.

He spent more than six years in the minor leagues, and he learned how to pitch. Some guys have all the raw skills in the world but they get to the majors too quickly without first learning HOW to pitch. Believe, I understand why everyone wants to get out of minors as fast as they can. It’s no fun being the minors. It’s a tough lifestyle. But there are a lot of advantages to paying your dues in the minors.

That’s where you do all your learning. The major leagues aren’t instructional leagues. It’s not the place to be working on your skills. You get here and you have to execute right away. That’s what Sadowski did. He did his job and now he’s getting another chance.

Here’s another advantage. When you spend that much time in the minors, once you get to the majors, you really, really appreciate where you are. You appreciate the game of baseball and how blessed you are to play it for a living. I was in the minors for more than seven years, so I speak from experience.

Jamie is getting closer to having the baby, so I gave Bochy the heads-up that if I get the call that she’s in labor, I’ll have to go. I’ll keep you posted, of course.

Catching Up

First, thanks for the wonderful comments so many of you left on my last post. I try always to have a positive outlook on life even when I’m struggling at the plate. How can I not have a positive outlook? I am so blessed to be playing this game.

But sometimes, when the balls aren’t falling and you don’t come through when your teammates need you, it’s difficult not to get frustrated and disappointed. So your comments truly lifted my spirits. I carry your thoughts with me every day onto the field. I play so hard because I know I’m playing not just for myself. I’m playing for my teammates and the Giants organization, of course, but it’s so important to me to play hard for the people who come out to our games and watch us on TV or listen on the radio and send us all their great energy. I can’t thank you enough for always being in my corner.

Second, sorry I haven’t written much lately. I’m trying to do better.

Going back to Randy Johnson’s 300th, it was awesome to be part of that. As you know, it wasn’t the greatest setting: wet and dreary and only a few thousand fans on hand in Washington, D.C. But Randy was unbelievable: He allowed just one unearned run in six innings, and even at the age of 45, he dove at a comebacker and barehanded it to throw the guy out.

My adrenaline about the historic milestone didn’t kick in until the eighth. We were ahead 2-1 and Brian Wilson was facing Adam Dunn with two outs and the bases loaded. Wilson had a 3-2 count on Dunn. That’s when you start thinking about the 300th game. How could we possibly walk in the run that ruined Johnson’s victory. Wilson threw a fastball that crossed the plate at Dunn’s knees. The umpire didn’t call anything, and I held the ball a little longer, showing that the ball was in the strike zone. The ump called a strike and we were out of the inning. I’m sure it’s lot of weight off Randy’s shoulders to have the 300th win under his belt.

It’s been fun to watch this team develop its personality. If you walked into our clubhouse, you’d always hear someone laughing – most likely Juan Uribe or Pablo Sandoval. Those two guys always find a way to have fun. They’re always making comments to make the rest of us laugh, even in the middle of a game. When Pablo hit a double recently and I ran from first to third, he yelled from second base about me needing some oxygen and covered his face as if he were holding an oxygen mask. When Juan hit his first home run of the season a few weeks ago in Arizona, it was Pablo’s idea to give Juan the silent treatment when he came back into the dugout. Everybody just sat in the dugout, ignoring Juan. He didn’t know what to do. He kept saying, “I don’t care, I don’t care.” Then we all got up and laughed and congratulated him.

That’s what makes a team come together. You can laugh and tease each other like a family because the truth is for eight months we’re around each other more than we’re around our families. We have a good balance of veteran guys, young guys, quiet guys, loud guys. Everyone, the Latin players and the American players, all get along and don’t break off into little groups like on some teams.

That’s one of those little things that keep a team together during rough times. We’re playing right now the way I knew we could play. Our starting pitching is the best in the league, and our bullpen is right up there, too. We get hits from different guys in the line-up every night. We’re just going to keep chipping away at the Dodgers’ lead.

We’re in Oakland tonight, which is great for me: Closer commute from Lafayette!

See you at the ballpark.

Family Reunion

This was one of the best home stands I can remember – and only in part because we went 5-1.

We were coming off a terrible road trip to San Diego and Seattle. We couldn’t score any runs for our pitchers. Then we came home and swept Atlanta and took two of three from St. Louis – and as a bonus we had a rare day off at home on Thursday.

And as an added added bonus for me, it so happened that St. Louis was flying in on our off day. Not only was I going to get to see my little brother Yadier, who is the starting catcher for the Cardinals, but he was bringing his wife, Wanda, and their 8-month old son, Yanuel, with him.

Jamie and I drove into the city around midday on Thursday to pick them up at the Ritz Carlton, the Cardinals’ hotel, to take them around the city and then back to our house in Lafayette for the night. We pulled up to the front of the building, where Yadier, Wanda and Yanuel were waiting. Then who should emerge from the door but my mother! I couldn’t believe it. I just hugged and hugged her. Yadier had flown her in from Puerto Rico to surprise me. He knew I was going through a down time with my hitting – and with the disappointment of hearing boos for the first time from our home fans — and wanted to cheer me up. It worked. I couldn’t have asked for a better gift.

From the hotel, we piled in the car and went for lunch at Fruitlandia, the Puerto Rican restaurant I love so much. Afterward, Jamie and I took the crew to Fisherman’s Wharf to see the seals and we drove down the crooked part of Lombard Street. That night, we just chilled at our house. Yadier and I love music so we spent some time sharing songs on our laptops and Ipods.

We had lunch Friday at McCovey’s restaurant in Walnut Creek, another favorite of mine, then Yadier and I drove to the ballpark together.

When I got hit by a pitch in Friday’s game, and ended up face down on the ground, my family was just arriving at the park. Jamie told me later that my mother looked at me on the ground and Yadier bent over me and said, “He better help him up!” Yadier kept asking if I was OK.

“I’m fine, but it might slow me down on the bases,” I said, cracking Yadier up.

Jamie told me she had never seen my mother as happy or enthusiastic as she was watching Yadier and me play on the same field. She was just screaming and cheering both of us. My daughters were also there Friday night. Jamie picked them up at the airport in the late afternoon, and they were so happy to see their grandmother. After the game, all of us went to Mel’s Drive-In on Lombard because it’s open late. Then Jamie and I dropped Yadier and his family and my mother and daughters at the hotel. My mother was staying in the hotel that night, and my daughters always sleep with her whenever they’re together. They adore her and, because they don’t see her as often as they would like, they spend every minute with her that they can.

It was tough to say goodbye to my mother and brother on Sunday. I miss them so much. And I’m so proud of how Yadier has matured into such a wonderful man. He’s a great dad and a great son to our mother.

On another note, I realized recently that there was one big thing I forgot to tell you.

In February, during spring training, Jamie and I got married in Scottsdale. It was a small, beautiful ceremony at sunset in a little park. We’ve been together so long – we’ve known each other 10 years – that I already thought of Jamie as my wife. I can’t imagine my life without her. Maybe that’s why I didn’t think to write about the wedding. We had been married in my mind for a long time already.