This is my 12th Major League Spring Training, and every year it’s different. Each of us is a slightly different player from what we were last year. We know more, or we’re in better shape, or maybe we’ve aged a little. The combination of players is slightly, or significantly, changed.
What stays the same is you’re always excited. You’re always optimistic. But sometimes you feel something a little extra. This is one of those springs.
For one, what’s better for a catcher than having three Cy Young Award winners in the starting rotation, plus an All-Star closer? And the young guys are one year more experienced and seasoned.
The feeling I get in this clubhouse is that we feel we can win. There’s a feeling among ourselves that we can do this, no matter what anyone OUTSIDE the clubhouse says. We’re the only ones who know what this team is capable of. What you can’t see in the statistics is how much these guys want to win and how hard everyone worked in the offseason. Every single player showed up in shape. That says something about the team’s desire and dedication.
OK, we’re only a week into Spring Training. I know. And there are some questions that probably won’t be answered until close to the season begins. But if you could see how, even this early, everyone is carrying himself, how loose everyone is, how happy we were to see everyone again.
I spent the first part of the week catching for the pitchers — we show up earlier than the rest of the team, as you know. I’ve learned over the years just to leave the pitchers alone for the first week. They need to do their own thing to get ready. They don’t need to hear anything from me.
By tomorrow or Sunday, I’ll sit down with each pitcher. We’ll talk about their goals for the season, what they might be working on during Spring Training, what they want the ball to do, how they’re feeling, whether they want anything different from me. I keep a little notebook where I write down anything that might be new.
I also leave my hitting alone early in Spring Training. I give my mind a rest until the games start. In batting practice, I’m just trying to get the rust off, get my bat ready for swings. I’m not working on anything specifically — just getting loose.
We all work a lot on conditioning during the spring, building a solid foundation for the rest of the season. This team’s trainers do such a great job building us up gradually, understanding that a baseball season is a marathon not a sprint. They keep working with us through the year, so by October we’re still fresh.
I worked in particular during the offseason on my legs. I increased the weights and built strength. As you get older, you have to keep working harder so you don’t fall behind.
There’s not much news to report during Spring Training, at least until the games start. But I’ll try to post as often as I can.
Thanks for reading. And thanks especially for all the lovely notes about my father’s passing and for sharing your own stories with me.
Wow, what a day at
the park. I hope you got to see it. This was the kind of game that shows what
this team is capable of.
The Padres got a
home run into the bay on the very first pitch of the game – and we fell behind
3-0. Even just a few days ago, that might have been enough to sink us, the way
we were playing. There have been a lot of ups and downs for the team the past
month, as you know. The loss on Tuesday to the Marlins might have been the
roughest. Four errors. Only two hits. I was as down after that game as I can
remember being in a long time. I just sat in front of my locker for the longest
time. I didn’t want to talk with anyone.
It’s one thing to
lose. But to lose the way we did was just embarrassing. I don’t care if we have
no chance to reach the playoffs — we can’t play like that. Ever. We still have
to play 150 percent and try to win every single game. You have to respect the
game and respect your teammates and respect the fans. It means so much to me to
see the fans come out to watch us play and I hate when we don’t play the way we
know we can.
It’s not just
about winning, though that’s why we’re out there. It’s also about setting an
example. You don’t know if a kid is watching to see how he should conduct
himself. You don’t know if you’re a role model to someone out there who is
studying how you go about your business. So you have to play every day, every
inning, with everything you have. The results will take care of themselves.
We’re also setting
examples for each other, here on the field and in the clubhouse. We have to
pick each other up when we’re down. We have to go out there and perform with
such desire that our teammates can never doubt that we’re behind them 100
We talked about
that among ourselves, some of us using more pointed language than others, about
picking each other up, playing hard, not taking the job for granted.
Then, just like
that, it all turned around.
On Wednesday, the
Marlins tied the game in the ninth then Roberts, Winn and Rowand loaded the
bases in the bottom of the inning. I waited on deck watching Lindstrom walk
Rowand intentionally. I knew he would be going fastball on me. I just wanted to
hit the ball hard to the outfield. Sure enough, I got a 99 mph fastball on the
first pitch and hit it to center field deep enough to score the winning run from
I don’t know if we
showed ourselves something that day – that if we keep playing hard every single
inning and never give up — that we have the kind of players who can win any game
at any time. The next day, Thursday, Matt Cain had a great outing, even though
he didn’t get the win. Then Timmy came out on Friday and pitched one of the
best games I’ve seen him throw. His location – the key for every pitcher – was
Then Zito pitched
great on Saturday for our fourth in a row. He’s pitching now the way we always
knew he would pitch. He said it himself on the radio Sunday morning: He’s just
more himself. Before you could tell he was pressing – which is deadly for
pitchers or for hitters. Z was never nervous or scared on the mound – never,
never – but he was putting so much pressure on himself. Now you can see he has
the kind of presence on the mound that he had at his best.
Z’s finishing the
season strong — and that’s what all of us have to do. This should be the time
for every player to show what he can do. As a team, we have to show ourselves
and the fans that we’re better than our record this year. We want to finish
this season having laid the groundwork to be contenders next season. So, not to
sound like a broken record, but we have play hard and keep on playing hard to
the final out.
We did that again
behind, 3-0, we got one back in the fourth, two in the fifth and four in the
sixth — three on my homer into the left-field bleachers. When I was rounding
second, all I could think about was Kevin Correia getting the win — only his
second since April. In the clubhouse afterward, I said, “Co, that’s for you.
You deserve it.” He’s been so close so many games and not gotten the win. For
me, that was the most important part of my first five-RBI game of the season.
The Padres scored
a run in the eighth but that was it. We swept the Pads and got our fifth win in
The truth is, I was
really angry when the game started and I struck out my first at-bat. I already
was ticked off because Bochy sat me on Saturday. I hate sitting, no matter how
tired the manager might think I am. So between that and striking out, I came
back into the dugout after my first at-bat just miserable. I told myself just
to calm down. I couldn’t play being mad at myself or anyone else. I thought if
I calmed down, everything would change. And it did.
In the next entry,
I’ll talk about my at-bats today, and also about the amazing Pablo Sandoval.
reading. See you at the ballpark. I’ll leave you with some photos:
Another really tough loss today. Matt Cain had a no-hitter going into the fifth and we ended up losing, 13-8. Five losses in a row at home, and now we’re off to Colorado, Florida and Arizona for nine games on the road.
We’re very, very frustrated with what we’ve done so far as a team, I can tell you that. There were times during this homestand that I could hardly move from my locker after a game. I always try to talk to reporters because when I talk to them, I know I’m talking to the fans. But sometimes I take the losses so hard, I can’t talk to anybody.
I know other guys feel the same way. You always feel, if you didn’t come through when you’re needed to, that you let all your teammates down. And you let the fans down. That’s the worst feeling.
Still, you know you have to put it behind you. You have to keep fighting. That’s the only way. You don’t make it very far in baseball if you can’t battle through tough times. There is so much failure in this game that it’s easy to get beaten down by it. The ones who DON’T let it crush them are the ones who survive at the Major League level. And believe me when I tell you that this is a team not just of survivors, but of warriors. When we get to the ballpark in Colorado, we’ll put a fence around this awful loss and be ready to go 150 percent.
Part of what I do to get ready at the start of each series is to study the inch-and-a-half-thick scouting report on our opponent. Right now, I’m on the plane from San Francisco to Denver and going through the reports on each batter for the Rockies: How have they been swinging lately? What percentage of the time do they swing at curve balls, sliders, fastballs? What do they want when they get one strike? Two strikes? How do they run?
Steve Holm is sitting in the row in front of me, and he’s going through the same stack of papers. We talk about the hitters and get an idea on how to pitch to each one, how to get each one out. At the ballpark, we’ll watch videos of the Rockies’ last few games with Dave Righetti and Mark Gardner, the pitching coach and bullpen coach. Those two guys are very, very prepared for every team. It’s amazing how much homework they do. So we go over the lineup together and come up with a plan for every batter.
Of course, once the game starts, what we prepared for and what actually happens could be totally different things. A batter might not do anything that the scouting report said he would. So Holmy and I have to be ready to adjust. Between innings, we’ll consult with each other and with Righetti about the next three guys in the order. Sometimes, in the dugout, I’ll look at the scouting report again to refresh my memory about a particular guy. Then, after all the hours of preparation, it’s up to the pitcher to make the pitch.
Two real positives of this homestand were Omar Vizquel’s return from the disabled list and Tim Lincecum’s continued great pitching. Omar is always so motivated and happy that he lifts everyone up. We feel pretty secure when he’s out on the field. Not taking anything away from the younger guys, but Omar is a veteran, a future Hall of Famer, and when he’s out there, we all feel pretty good.
People have been asking me what makes Lincecum special. The first thing I say is he has a great heart. He’s not afraid of anything. He’s not afraid of getting hit. His skills, of course, are amazing: He throws over 95 mph, has a great changeup, a great slider and curve. But what makes him so good, at least in great part, is that he believes no one can hit him. Sometimes pitchers give too much respect to batters. But Lincecum always seems to believe that no matter how great the batter’s reputation, he’s better, and he’s going to get him out.
OK, I should get back to studying this scouting report. Thanks for checking in. I’ll try to write more often. But I admit, when we lose, I’m not very eager to share my thoughts.
And during homestands, I’m trying to spend as much time with my family as I can, so I run out of time for anything but family and baseball. I took my younger daughter to the Exploratorium on Saturday and had a great time. What an amazing place. She thought it was awesome. Then after the game Saturday night, I took her into the batting cage behind the dugout and tossed balls to her. I was still in my uniform and dog-tired. But she was so happy that we stayed until about 11. She flew back today to Yuma, where she lives with her mother.
The toughest part of any homestand, besides letting go of the losses, is saying good-bye.
This is the first entry in a blog I’m hoping to keep updating throughout the season. Maybe it will give you a better feel for what it’s like in the clubhouse and on the field — and it will give me a chance to talk directly with fans and get to know them better.
I was thinking today about spring training and how pitchers have two ways to go: They can polish their best stuff, or they can work on the stuff that needs to get better. Obviously, you win more games in spring training when you put your best stuff out there. Our pitchers didn’t do that. We were always thinking about the season, not that particular spring-training game. We didn’t win a lot of games. Our pitchers looked pretty bad out there sometimes. When they got frustrated, I’d say, “Look, don’t get mad. You’re doing this to get ready for the season.”
Now we’re seeing it pay off.
Three wins in a row.
I can’t tell you what a difference that makes in the clubhouse and in the dugout. Guys are joking around more. Everybody’s more laid back and relaxed. That first week was rough, no doubt about it. We came out of spring training with people saying we were going to be last in the whole baseball world, not just our division. When they say things like that and then all of sudden you start winning, that makes us believe again. You think, “OK, we can do it.”
It’s not that you ever stop believing, even during the worst slumps. For me, it’s all about faith and trust. I trust my teammates, and I always remind myself, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.” I’m always talking to the younger guys about that, how we’re in this for the long haul and to stay positive, to not be so hard on themselves. But words are only going to take you so far. Nothing boosts your confidence like winning.
I can see it in the guys on the mound. They’re not pressing. They’re locating the fastball, keeping batters off balance. They understand they don’t have to overpower everybody. It’s been a great week so far.
Feel free to write in with questions or comments. It’d be great to hear what you’re thinking.