May 2011

Bittersweet Return – Brandon Belt

This isn’t the way you want to get called back to the big leagues.

I was in bed when Bobby Evans called at around 12:30 last night to tell me a car would be picking up me and Chris Stewart around 6 a.m. to take us from Fresno to San Francisco. I had been following the Giants game on my iPad so I knew about Buster’s injury. But I didn’t realize how awful it was until I watched the video later that night. Buster is one of my good friends on the team, so it was painful to watch.

I drove to the Fresno ballpark to gather my baseball stuff – about a dozen bats, batting gloves and four fielding gloves (three first-baseman gloves and one outfielder’s glove). Then I went back home, packed my clothes and tried to get a couple hours’ sleep. The car that was supposed to pick us up broke down, so the Giants’ travel coordinator Mike Scardino hopped in his own car at about 3 in the morning and got to Fresno around 6:30. Then he turned around and drove back, delivering us to AT&T around 10.

The first people I see are Buster and his wife, Kristen. They had been in the clubhouse consulting with the Giants’ medical staff. I said hello but I’m not sure they even heard me. They seemed like they were in a fog, like they were still stunned by what happened. Buster will be missed in so many ways that it’s almost indescribable. He’s not just a great player but he’s a great person and has such a positive impact on everyone in the clubhouse. We’re all pretty confident he’ll back before the end of the season. Groesch, the Giants’ trainer, said he’s seen lots of athletes return to full speed after an injury like this. And Buster is as tough a guy as I know.

I was pretty much running on fumes when I got to the clubhouse and unpacked my stuff. I drank two Red Bulls, did some soft-toss in the batting cage and went to the field for some BP and fielding. I didn’t talk to Boch until right before the game. I stopped in his office to check in, and he told me to be ready for a double-switch type situation. He said to take both gloves because I could play either position. But he didn’t need me.

I’m really happy to be back, and I’m hoping I can contribute right away. It’s a huge blow to lose someone like Buster. But what I admire so much about this team is how much of a true team it is.  Everyone has a chance to make a difference.

The team bus is about to leave for the airport, so I’ve got to go. We’re flying to Milwaukee. I think I’ll sleep the whole way.

-Brandon

Hold the Obituary Please – Mark DeRosa

As I sit here today, icing my left wrist, I’m in two places.

On the one hand, I’m not willing to buy into stories that say this is a career-ending injury. On Wednesday, I’ll see the doctor in Cleveland who did the original surgery. When I talked to him on the phone, he seemed pretty optimistic. He said he’s seen this happen before with the kind of surgery I had. More surgery is not necessarily the answer. So I’m pretty encouraged.

And what people might not understand is that even though I’m 36, I was just a spot player for the first five years of my career. I had a total of maybe 500 to 600 at-bats, which is what most full-time players have in one season. So I have a lot of swings left in my arms and hands.

On the other hand, I’m a realist. I know now that my wrist was the reason I was 0-for-23 since coming off the DL. My left wrist and hand are the keys to my hitting. I’m not a top-hand guy who tries to pull everything. I try to swing through the ball and drive it up the middle. But I could feel my top hand totally taking over. Which is why I was rolling a lot of balls to third. And why I wasn’t getting around on fastballs, a problem I’ve never had.

The crazy-making part was that I had no pain. So I didn’t think it was the wrist. I walked into Bochy’s office two weeks ago and asked him to trust me and play me and give me a shot to prove myself. As the 0-fers mounted, I’d go home or the hotel and try to figure out what was wrong. . I hardly got the ball out of the infield. I had noticed something off in batting practice. I’d hit balls and it would feel the same as always but the balls were landing 20 feet in front of where they usually did.

Even after 23 at-bats without a hit, I continued to chalk it up to being rusty.

Until the burst of pain in Los Angeles last Wednesday.

So the big question for my doctor is: What are the chances that I’ll play again at the level I’m accustomed to playing?

If he says I could be a contributing player if I spent the next year rehabbing, I would do it, even though I know it would be emotionally tough to sit out another season. And I’m cognizant of the possibility that I could be doing long-term damage to my wrist if I keep playing. I don’t want to end up, down the road, unable to play catch with my son or golf with my friends.

But I love this game. I love being on this team with these guys. When I came off the DL earlier this season, the team was struggling a little bit. Someone said to me, “Glad you’re coming back. They really need you.’’

I laughed and shook my head.

“I need them,’’ I said, “way more than they need me.’’

Thanks for all the support and kind words.

-Mark

Setback – Mark DeRosa

There are few things worse for a professional athlete than being on the disabled list. You’re kind of in no man’s land. You’re a part of the team but you’re not. My wrist has been such a frustrating injury. I don’t want to equate it to Tommy John surgery because it’s not on that level. But the guys I talk to who have had Tommy John surgery say they went through the same thing I’m going through now: One day you wake up and feel great. The next day you wake up and you’re in terrible pain. And you don’t know why. That’s what I’ve been battling. I can’t wait for the day when I’m not talking about this anymore.

In the meantime, when you can’t contribute on the field, you have to figure out how to still be a good teammate. I watch the game closely from the dugout. I watch how the pitcher is attacking our hitters. So when guys come back from the plate, I can help them dissect their at-bats, talk about what the pitcher was trying to do. A lot of guys – Sanchez, Huff, Rowand, Burrell, Buster – they love to talk hitting. So I can be a sounding board.

And I’ve always been pretty good at reading people, so I feel pretty comfortable about figuring out who needs to be kicked in the butt, who needs to be patted on the back, when to say something, when to bite my tongue. The guys encouraged me to do this last season. They kind of built me up and asked me to stay on top of them, to keep the bench going. So I took that seriously and contributed however I could.

But I hate not playing. To be honest with you, last year was the worst season of my career. You bust your tail your whole life to get to the big leagues and win a World Series and the one time you get there, you have completely nothing to do with it. It was a tough pill to swallow.

But I used last season as a chance to step back and see the game from an unselfish point of view. When you’re playing, you’re so wrapped up in your particular job — your four at-bats, your ground balls — you feel like if you put in four good ABs and catch everything hit to you, then you’ve done your job and that’s that. But when you’re not playing, you see the game from a much broader perspective. I realize now how hard Boch’s job is, how many different personalities he has to manage.

I’m hoping my time on the DL will get my wrist back to 100 percent. If I took away anything from last season, it’s an even deeper desire to be healthy and contributing on the field. The most important thing to me as a ball player is to help my team win. Nothing else matters.

-Mark

On the Road – Brandon Belt

I’m in Colorado Springs with the Grizzlies, and it’s actually snowing. Not sure we’ll get the game in today.

It’s been about 10 days since the Giants sent me down to Triple A Fresno. It was kind of a blow at first because you dream about getting to the major leagues your whole life and you make the team and in less than a month you’re back in the minors.  The veteran guys – DeRosa, Aubrey, Aaron Rowand, Pat – were really encouraging. They told me that 95 percent of the players in the clubhouse had been sent down at some point.  They reminded me that so much of baseball is about failure and that you just have to see these setbacks as part of the process and make the appropriate adjustments.

“Find your swing and get ready to come back up,’’ they told me before I left.

I took two days off before I joined the Grizzlies. That was the best thing I could have done. I needed to clear my head and figure out how to move forward. I knew there was something wrong at the plate but couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was. I talked to my dad a little bit and talked to Haylee. But mostly I just rolled things around in my head.

I realized I wasn’t comfortable in the batter’s box. I was physically uncomfortable and mentally uncomfortable. It started when I tried to stop yanking my front shoulder. I had been opening the front shoulder too much. To fix it, I overcompensated by over-rotating my upper body backward. As a consequence, I was straining my neck to look forward. My neck was hurting, and body felt out of sorts.

So I decided the key to getting my swing back was, first, to just be comfortable in the box. Keep my body relaxed. Stop thinking about my mechanics. Just feel comfortable.

As soon as I got comfortable in the box, the minor mechanical adjustments I had to make just came to me. When I was over-rotating, I couldn’t really fix the other mechanical problems. My body wouldn’t allow me to. So when I got physically comfortable I was able to make those other tweaks and everything started falling into place.

Since my first game with Fresno on April 23, I’ve hit .458 with 8 RBI and 2 homers. I’m 8-for-14 over the past four games.

When you get back on track, you get that feeling back of, “I’m out here having fun playing ball.’’ You get that confidence back. And you’re able to do things you’re not able to do when you have no confidence at all. It’s just a totally different mindset.

The confidence at the plate has helped in the field, too. I’ve been playing outfield here, a position I’ve never played regularly. I was a pitcher and part-time outfielder in high school. Didn’t play it at all in college. And played a dozen or so games in the outfield in the minors last year. I don’t feel too bad out there, though I’m not where I want to be yet. When you’re playing corner outfield positions, the ball slides away from you a lot and it’s hard for me to remember that sometimes. And I’m learning how to play the ball off the walls a little better. But you learn that stuff the longer you play the position.

While I’m in Colorado Springs, Haylee is in San Francisco picking up the rest of our stuff from the apartment we were renting. We had to scramble for an apartment in Fresno and found one we could share with another player on the Grizzlies. He has an extra bedroom. But a couple days ago someone broke into the car belonging to the wife of another player, who lives a floor below us. Then yesterday someone parked in Haylee’s parking spot at the Fresno apartment building – and that car was broken into, too. So I don’t feel comfortable with Haylee staying there when I’m out of town. Which means we are now looking for another apartment. That’s the part of baseball you don’t hear about much. It’s not a huge deal, and believe me I’m not complaining, but packing up and moving, then packing up and moving again, can be rough on spouses. You might just get settled in somewhere and suddenly you’re on the move again. We know now to whittle our belongings down to whatever fits in the car.

Thanks for reading. Hope it stops snowing so we can get out on the field.

-Brandon

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