October 2009

A Seasons End

I had such mixed feelings walking off the field today. I was happy because we played well for the fans and because Timmy got his 15th win of the season.

But it’s sad, too.

It’s the last time this particular group of players will be together on this field. It’s the same at the end of every season. Some guys will retire or move on to other teams. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. I don’t know if I should be saying good-bye to the home fans. I want to come back to the Giants. Jamie and I love San Francisco. It’s such a beautiful place with beautiful fans. But it’s out of my control. I have to wait and see.

I know some people are rooting for Buster Posey to take over for me. I know this because I hear the chants in the stands sometimes when I come up to bat. They paid their money and they can do what they want. But sometimes I think, “Really? This is what you give me after three years here?” The truth is I love Buster Posey. He’s a humble kid who’s going to be a superstar. He came up to me after the game he started and was talking about how his hitting was so off.

“Hey, kiddo,” I said to him, “it’s not all about hitting. It’s about how those pitchers are throwing the ball and how you’re helping them.”

I’m happy to help a kid who might take my job. I want him to have a great career. That’s part of what I love about playing baseball – the relationships in the clubhouse, how the veterans can give advice to the young guys, how we help and support each other. That’s always been so important to me. I take my role as a mentor very seriously.

If I don’t come back to the Giants, I know I can walk out of the clubhouse with my chin up. I have nothing to be ashamed of. I’ve done more than they asked me to do. The numbers show what I’ve done. (I appreciated the piece John Shea wrote in the Chronicle the other day. www.sfgate.com/columnists/shea/)

One of those numbers is 20.

In the back of my head, I’ve always wanted to get to 20 home runs, but it was an actual goal. But that night last year, when I sat next to my dad during his wake, I promised him I’d get 20 home runs this season.

“I’m promising you something I’m not sure I can do,” I told him that night.

I promised this because my father was always telling me, “You’re capable of 20.”

One day not long before he died, I had said to him, “I try, but I guess it’s not meant to be for me.”

He put his arm around me. “It’ll happen. You’re a good hitter.”

So when I got to 18 home runs this season then hit one early in the game on Wednesday to make it 19, I was thinking, “OK, this could happen.”

Then I got up and hit the ball off the end of the bat. I didn’t think it was going out but when I reach first, I saw the ball got into the stands. I started getting very emotional as I was rounding the bases. I also felt a relief in my whole body.

“Wow, it’s 20,” I thought.

When I stepped on home plate, I looked up at my father.

“Hey, I did it,” I said to him. “You were right. I did it.”

When I was talking to Amy Gutierrez on CSN after the game, I started to tear up, but I didn’t want to cry on television. But when I came into the clubhouse, I lost it. I stood at my locker, looking at the framed collage of my father. I stood there by myself, leaning into my locker. I didn’t want anybody to see me.

I took a town car home to Lafayette that night. I knew it was after 2 a.m. in Puerto Rico. I knew my mother would be asleep and I didn’t want to wake. But then I thought, to hell with it, and I called her.

“Hey, mijo, what happened?” she said. “Are you OK?”

“Mom, I did it,” I said.

“What?”

“I got to 20.”

“What? You got another one?” She had seen the first home run then went to sleep.

“I promised dad I was going to do it.”

She stared crying, and I started crying.

“He’s very happy for you right now,” she said.

When I got home, Jamie was waiting for me, and she was crying, too. I hugged my father’s picture. It was a very emotional night.

I wish we could have made the playoffs, of course, but we’ve had a very good season. It has been a privilege to play with these guys and with these coaches. At the end of the game today, when Randy Johnson got the last out, I walked toward the mound and shook his hand. “It’s been a pleasure just to catch you,” I said. Before I leave and he leaves, I wanted him to know what an honor it has been to work with him.

I’m not looking forward to saying good-bye to everyone on Sunday. I’m excited to drive back to Yuma with Jamie and Jayda and plop down on my own couch and watch football. But we get really close as team. We spend more time with each other than we do with our families during the season. This is a tough thing to do every season.

Thank you for all your good wish and support this year and the previous two seasons. I hope I’ll see you again next April.