May 2nd, 2011

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.


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.