The key to surviving Spring Training — to actually enjoying all the long days and hard work of Spring Training — is to make peace with failure.
That could be said about baseball in general, of course. There are tons of guys with amazing raw talent, but the ones who make it are the ones who aren’t crushed by the failure. Because there is a ton of failure, as any baseball fan knows.
Spring training is Ground Zero of failure.
You know you’re better than what you’re showing at the moment, but that’s where you are right now. You’re still getting in your groove, still getting your legs back, still getting your head back to focusing on all the little things that mean the difference between winning and losing.
So what I’ve learned over the years is to be patient with myself. But I see the frustration bubbling up now and then among the younger guys who are desperate to show everyone they’re big-league material. I tell them it’s OK, they don’t have to do everything all at once. They’re expected to make mistakes — though preferably not the same one twice. As long as they learn and keep improving, they’re doing their jobs.
As for me, my body is tired some days and energized others. Catchers tend to have more ups and downs as far as feeling tired during Spring Training because there’s so much wear and tear on our bodies behind the plate. Sunday I felt great for whatever reason and hit an inside cutter over the left-field fence for my first HR of the spring.
Randy Johnson pitched and even though he didn’t have his best stuff, he pitched 3.1 scoreless innings and struck out three. That shows what kind of a pitcher he is, especially this early in the spring.
I got another chance to watch Buster Posey, who came in late in the game. He’s going to be a great catcher, a great player for many years in the league. I don’t know how soon, but he wants to learn. He’s pretty quiet by nature, really humble, but he asks questions and seems to be a fast learner.
It’s been a little sad around here, though, with the departure of Dave Roberts. We lost a great man, a great human being, a very loved teammate. Whatever reason the team decided to release him, that’s not for me to have an opinion on. They’re doing what they think they need to do to put the best team on the field come April.
But personally, it’s a great loss. He was like a brother to a lot of us. I remember last season when I was really struggling at the plate, and we had lost three games in a row, I was so down on myself. Dave came over to my locker and sat down next to me. He told me to go home that night and spend time with my family. Have dinner. Relax. Enjoy their company. Then come back tomorrow and start all over. He reminded me there is life beyond the baseball field, and that it didn’t help anybody for me to get so down on myself. He was absolutely right.
The next day, I went 3-for-4.
So even though I remind the younger players to not get too down on themselves in Spring Training, I need guys like Dave Roberts to remind me sometimes.
My daughters are coming to stay with me this coming weekend. We will go to miniature golf and go-karts and the batting cage. We’ll play a lot of Wii bowling and tennis, I’m sure. They always help me keep the game in perspective. As important as it is to be a great player, it’s more important to be a great human being. No one showed that better than Dave Roberts. He is already sorely missed.
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.
There 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.
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.
My 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.