April 2011

The Big Picture – Mark DeRosa

I had a long talk with Brandon before he left for Fresno last week. We talked about how baseball is a constant work-in-progress. The route to becoming an established major-leaguer is rarely a straight line. He understands that going to Fresno is simply part of the process.

So I hope he doesn’t feel in any way that he failed. He didn’t fail at anything. Just two years ago, the guy was in college. Since then it’s been a whirlwind for him. In one year, he went from Single A, to Double A, Triple A, Arizona Fall League. You heard about this guy coming the whole time. The Giants have done a tremendous job bringing him along, but I think the expectations from the fans and the media were huge.

Then he comes to spring camp, and the media is following his every move.

Then you face big-league pitching. Guys he’s never faced before. He couldn’t make an out without people second-guessing him. It just seems like a lot for a young kid to take in.

And on top of that you’re following Buster, who I think is unequivocally the best young player I’ve ever see come up. You follow in those footsteps — that’s pretty tough to reproduce if that’s what people are expecting. And Brandon handled it well. He’s going to be just fine.  He’ll take a deep breath, process what happened and make the necessary adjustments to come back up. He knows he has some things he needs to work on. And I think he knows the next time up it will be different.

I went back and forth to the minors when I started with the Braves. I had the skills, but I wasn’t ready for the major leagues because I wasn’t confident enough. I was still in awe of it. I was in awe of the whole thing. Being a big league player was my dream as a kid. Then I get drafted by Braves and when I got called up the first time, I walked into the clubhouse more as a fan than as someone with a job to do. So it took me a little bit to get over the fact that these are my teammates now. That  I  belonged up there. But I think that’s good. There has to be that awe factor when you get to the big leagues. Otherwise what the heck are you playing for?

Next time: The particular challenges of staying ready when you don’t know when, where and if you’re playing on any given day. And: Patience as a virtue is over-rated: I am really, really ready to feel 100 percent again.

-Mark

Like a Dream – Brandon Belt

I don’t even know where to start. The past week has been unbelievable. I keep using that word over and over. It’s like I’m in a dream. I’ve watched baseball my entire life on television and finally I’m here seeing it in real life. It’s almost as if I’m having an out-of-body experience. I always imagined what it would be like to be up here and play in front of 50,000 but you can’t imagine it until you do it. It’s a lot louder. When you’re at the plate don’t notice people because you have your back to them. But you see them when you’re on the field. And when something happens and everybody starts screaming you realize, man, I’m here.

My wife, Haylee, has been with me since spring training and traveled to the games in Los Angeles and San Diego. My parents and younger brother flew in for the San Francisco home opener. It was the first time my dad has ever been on the plane. He’s afraid of heights – and he likes to be in control. When I was playing in Single A in San Jose last year, he and my mom drove from Texas to watch me. They drove to Arizona this year to visit me during spring training. But my dad couldn’t take the time off work to drive, so he got on the plane on Thursday. He’s not a huge drinker but he got some help on this one.

I appreciated my brother Cameron coming. He’s not a sports fan at all. He likes computers and science. He follows me but not baseball in general, and he doesn’t follow me all that well. My dad is a geometry teacher at Hudson High, where my brother and I went to school, and my mom is a hairdresser.

For the home opener on Friday, when I was standing there on the third-base line and they were introducing the players, my heart was just pounding. I was thinking about my mom and dad up in stands and how they’ve been waiting their whole lives to see me out there. All the games they sat through. That’s what made me the most emotional  — just happy they were there and Cameron and Haylee. I was thinking, too, about everybody watching back in my hometown. I feel like I’m doing this for a lot of people.

So I was waiting for my introduction and looking up in the stands to get a wave from my family, but I don’t know this park and didn’t know where they were. When the introductions got to me, the camera was right on me. I really don’t like everyone staring at me, though I know it’s part of baseball. I tried to act real cool, but it was nerve-wracking. I just waved real quick so the camera would move on.

After the game, I went out with my family and we were all saying that was the coolest thing we have ever seen in our entire lives. We just couldn’t stop talking about it. The flyover, the big flag out on centerfield. It was the best thing we ever witnessed in real life. I can’t imagine two better days than Friday and Saturday. The pre-game ceremonies, coupled with 45,000 fans, coupled with just making the big leagues, coupled with my family in the stands – you can’t get much better than that. I keep trying to figure out, is this really happening right now? Is somebody going to come and wake me up soon?

But I’m really aware of taking care of business, of being ready to play ball. It’s been a little more difficult to get all our work in, but I think now I’ll settle in. It was helpful to talk with my dad about my hitting. He was a football coach and doesn’t know baseball as well as he knows football. But he knows me. He knows how to pick me up. We talk things through and he gets me thinking and then I start to figure things out on my own. That’s why I pretty much call him all the time.

After Saturday’s ninth-inning win, my family and I ended up at Denny’s on Mission Street. There were a few Giants fans there and then more kept coming in. People were asking for autographs and photos. I’m not used to that. In my hometown people recognize me, but not in a city of a million people! It was fun, but I can see where it could become a burden on a family to deal with that everywhere. I’m going to have to figure out how to approach that part of being a ballplayer.

Look forward to seeing you at the park and beating the Dodgers!

-Brandon

Deeper Appreciation – Mark DeRosa

Just finished the final game against the Cardinals. We couldn’t pull off the sweep, it’s been a weekend we’ll never forget with the flag-raising on Friday and the rings on Saturday.

For me to open that box and see the World Series ring, it just put a stamp on a lot of hard work even though I was injured and wasn’t able to play last season. You look at that ring and think about playing catch with your dad and your brother in the yard, dreaming of playing in the bigs and then seeing it come to fruition. You’ve got to take a step back and think how far each and every guy in this clubhouse has come.

When I look at that ring, I’ll always remember Huffy’s red thong, the emergence of the bullpen, the moves Boch and Brian Sabean made, the two-out knock Freddy Sanchez got in Atlanta. All those things will come back. The ring is a just a beautiful representation of a miraculous season.

But I don’t think I’ll ever wear it. I’ll keep it in my office at home in Atlanta as a conversation piece. I’m not a big jewelry guy. Other than my wedding band, I’ve never worn a ring. And second, I would have loved to be on the field when it all happened.

So while the ring is something I’m really proud of, it’s not something I feel like I earned.

It was interesting that the same day we got the rings, we played a game that was the perfect symbol of what we were all about last season. We came from behind to beat the Cardinals in the ninth inning on Miggy’s double. That’s how we won a lot of games last year – not giving up, fighting the whole way. And that’s why I think the fans rallied around this team. Because outside of Timmy, there were no superstars. There were so many players for little kids and adults to latch onto. Your favorite player could have been anybody in the lineup – Freddy Sanchez or Cody Ross or Andres Torres. There were a lot of good guys to go around.

As great as all the flag-raising and ring ceremonies have been, we’re looking forward to getting back to some normalcy. Ballplayers are creatures of habit. So hopefully as we get back into our routines, you’ll start to see more consistent ball.

It’s fun to watch a guy like Brandon Belt because it brings back memories of my own first year. I got called up to the majors for the first time on September 2, 1998. I was playing in Zebulon, North Carolina, for the Pirates’ Double A team. I was shocked. I wasn’t on the 40-man-nothin’. I was 23 years old, a year-and-a-half in the pros. I ran outside and called my dad and he didn’t believe me. I was in a complete panic when I walked into the major-league clubhouse. I knew to keep my head down and my mouth shut. Though you know you have skills, you can’t help wondering if you really belong up there. Until you perform in front of 20,000 people in a stadium with the world watching, you don’t know if you can do it. It took me three call-ups before I got comfortable. It’s such a huge leap from the minors to the majors. It’s night and day. The intensity is different. The stadiums. The pitchers are completely different. Even to this day, I have moments where I’m proving to myself I belong. I remember getting a hit off Mariano River and going to first and thinking, “OK.’’ I remember going against Randy Johnson and getting a walk. You get to this level and then there are levels within this level that you test yourself against.

What I’d tell Brandon Belt is to take it all in because this first season happens only once. Your dream is being realized right in front of you. Expect to be nervous. Realize you’re going to feel different than you have ever felt playing baseball. Pick the brains of the older guys. Carry yourself like a professional, meaning that every day you walk into the clubhouse you’re the same guy, no matter how you did the day before. And you have to always be confident that whatever situation you’re in, you can handle it. If you don’t have that mentality up here, you’ll get chewed up.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to post questions.

-Mark

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