The Best Kind of Hangover
So I’m back home, slumped on my couch, still smiling from last night. I’m also feeling completely beat up, like I’ve been in a 15-round fight. First of all, I hardly ever drink. I’ll have a drink maybe three times in a year. But last night in the clubhouse celebration, I found myself drinking champagne out of the bottle, then having a little bit of beer and then Vladdy handed me a shot of great rum that he had. I was thinking, “Oh my God, where am I?”
We left the park around 1 a.m. and got on the plane home. Some of the guys just passed out, but I was still too excited to sleep. I watched CSI and Without a Trace on my iPad, thinking about what an amazing game we had just played, how happy I was for everyone on the plane, how happy I was for the fans, wondering if any of them would be there to greet us at the airport. When we landed and got off the plane, there must have been about a thousand fans waiting. It was so amazing. They were cheering and holding signs.
I wish everyone could experience what all of us players and coaches felt at that moment. You never forget as a ballplayer that you’re playing for more than the other guys wearing the same uniform. You’re playing for an entire community, for all the people who buy tickets to cheer us on and wear T-Shirts with our names on the back, and send all their good thoughts and prayers our way. We don’t always get a chance to feel that connection as directly as we wish we could. So to see those fans up close, right when we landed back home, almost moved me to tears. And it was 4 in the morning! Wow. I can’t thank all of them enough for putting the perfect cap on a perfect day.
I know a lot of people might think the highlight of the game for me was my stolen base, which I will get to in a minute. But the story for me was Cliff Lee. He was amazing – again. He had total command – mixing speeds, making his locations, keeping the ball off the middle of the plate. It’s such a pleasure as a catcher to work with a pitcher of his caliber. He’s unflappable. He’s fearless. And he’s smart.
What I loved about last night’s game was how smart everybody played. We didn’t wait for Tampa Bay to give the game away. We took it. That was our mentality. Look at our base running. We did all the little things. These are very smart baseball players and coaches. They see everything and take advantage of every opening.
Which brings me to my unlikely steal.
I was on first base with Elvis up at bat. First base coach Gary Pettis saw that every time Elvis swung and fouled off, no one covered second. When the count when to 3-2, Pettis mouthed to me, “Go!”
” ‘Go’ or ‘No’?” I mouthed back.
When the ball left the pitcher’s hand, I went. After the first couple of steps, I saw Elvis swing and miss. I was thinking, “Oh my goodness, I’m toast.” But there was no one covering the bag. So the catcher didn’t even make a throw.
I looked into the dugout, and everyone was giving me the antlers. It was unbelievable. But that’s what kind of a season this team has had.
I’ve been in the league a long time, so I know how special it is to get this far into the post-season. So I’m trying to soak everything in. I’m thinking about so many things, but one thing I’m not thinking about is pressure. All we can do is work as hard as we can, and the result will be what it will be. That’s why I’m so calm. I believe in this team, and I believe in God. What is supposed to happen will happen.
We have today off and will practice tomorrow. Then we open with the Yankees Friday night. Every major league player in October has a body covered with bruises and muscles that are strained and tired. But once the game starts, adrenaline kicks in and you don’t feel anything. You become a warrior out there, with nothing on your mind but winning.
Vladdy just stopped by – he lives three hours away. He’s having a bunch of players over to his house for dinner tonight. I’d like to go, but right now I don’t know. I think my body needs to rest. But if I do join them at Vladdy’s house, one thing I know for sure – no rum.
See you at the yard on Friday. Thanks for your amazing support of the team. You don’t know how much it means to all us.
What I Know Now About the Rangers
I’m about to head to lunch with Jamie and my three daughters on our day off. I heard about a place that serves Puerto Rican food that we want to try out. This afternoon we’ll unpack the last of the boxes that just arrived from San Francisco. We already feel settled and at home here. In fact, we’re loving it. The place we rented is so close to the ballpark and to restaurants and stores. And everyone has been so nice. The fans are unbelievable. All the players told me that the Rangers have great fans, and they’re right. It’s amazing how often the players here talk about how much they appreciate the fans. They’re so supportive and are always right there with us, no matter what’s happening.
Now that I’ve gotten to know the players on the Rangers I’m even more impressed than I was at the beginning. The feeling here inside the clubhouse is not what people might think. Just because we have a 71/2-game lead nobody’s taking anything for granted. These guys play their hearts out to win every single game. That’s what I love about this team. All they want every day is to win. That’s how you make it to the end. That’s how you make it to the World Series. They’re determined to do everything in their power to win. And of course, that’s what I live for — figuring out how to win against that opponent on that particular day.
When we get beat, as we did Wednesday, it’s, “OK, let’s get out there tomorrow and work even harder.”
A big part of what makes this team special is Ron Washington. He’s all about business and about winning. He’s about working hard in practice and about taking care of his players. He knows the summer heat can take its toll, so he’s careful about giving guys days off so everybody will be fresh to keep playing into the post-season.
As for me, yes, I wish I was hitting better. I don’t feel like I’m having horrible at-bats but nothing’s falling in. My coaches and teammates make sure I know that even with my struggles AT the plate, I help the team BEHIND the plate. I always believe that my most important job is calling a good game and helping the pitchers get the most out of their abilities. Hitting is second.
BUT . . . it sure was fun to go for the cycle. I didn’t write about that in my first post so I’ll do it now.
My first at-bat I was just trying to get in my rhythm. I hit a change-up the middle for a single.
The second at-bat, I figured he wasn’t going to throw me any more change-ups, so I sat on a fastball and hit it over the right-fielder’s head for a double.
My third at-bat, there were two outs with the bases loaded and the score tied at 3. I wanted just to get a hit. But after I saw a couple of pitches – and fell behind in the count 1-2 – I had a better idea of how he was going to work me. The more pitches you see, the more comfortable you get. I knew he was going to throw me a slider. I told myself to stay back, get my timing. And sure enough, he threw a slider and I hit it into the first row of the center field bleachers.
So in the dugout, I’m not thinking about getting a triple but everyone’s telling me that if I hit it into the gap in my next at-bat to just keep running no matter what. I had hit only five triples my entire career. I wasn’t hopeful. But in my fourth at-bat I hit the ball to dead center. I saw the fielder jump and I thought he was going to catch it. The ball hit his glove and bounced off into the perfect spot. I said to myself, “I ain’t stoppin’ for nothin’! This might be your only chance at this!”
NOBODY thought I’d get that triple. I think Jamie, who was watching the game back in the Bay Area, is the only one who thought I could do it. And she told me later she had to leave the room when I came to the plate. She says that every time she really wants something for me it doesn’t happen if she’s watching. Our phones went crazy. I had about 55 text messages waiting for me after the game, some from my old teammates in San Francisco.
I will never forget that moment for the rest of my life.
I know before the season is over, there will be more amazing moments. That’s how this team is.
Thanks for the kind words and comments. Feel free to ask questions and I’ll try to answer them in my next post.
See you at the park!
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.
When 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.
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.