August 2011

Shake-up – Mark DeRosa

On my way into the clubhouse today, I saw Miguel Tejada leaving. He told me he’d been reassigned, another way of saying he was cut. I didn’t know Aaron Rowand was involved, too, until I saw him packing up his locker. It’s not been an easy day.

I think we all expected something to happen after playing the brand of baseball we had been playing for the past month. It was like 30 days of the same game. Like we kept hitting the replay button. There was passion and fight, but we couldn’t get anything going. Then the boos started creeping in. Listen, we know that if we lose our fans after winning the first World Championship since 1954, we’ve lost everything.

So we knew something had to be done. And today the front office and the coaches sent us a message loud and clear: No one’s safe. If you’re not delivering, there will be changes.

Ro and Miggy found themselves in a situation where they weren’t playing much. And when you have 10-plus years in the big leagues, and you have the resumes that these guys have, it’s not easy to be on the bench day after day after day. It beats you up.

I was in a similar situation, but I had an injury so I had a built-in excuse. But no matter what the reason for sitting on the bench, you feel terrible not being out there. Then when you do go out there and don’t play well, you find yourself right back on the bench. Ro and Miggy are very good players and they’ll resurface somewhere else. No doubt in my mind. Miguel Tejada will go down as one of the best shortstops ever to play the game. I will always respect what those two guys did.

Do I think the clubhouse shake-up helped us win today? It’s possible. If so, I hope it isn’t a one-game boost. Sometimes change can be the spark you need to snap back to life. We’ll see a bunch of young guys show up Friday for September call-ups. And that energy is always a welcome lift during the last month of the regular season.

Personally I’m excited for Brett Pill, who arrived today. I was down in Fresno rehabbing my wrist for three weeks and I think I spent more time with him than with some of the guys in this clubhouse! Let me tell you, the kid can play. He deserves an opportunity. So I’m excited for him to get his shot.

It’s great to have a day off tomorrow before we face Arizona. We’re six games back, and as we showed last season, that’s not insurmountable. Arizona is hot as a pistol right now. We definitely have our work cut out for us, but we’ve been in this position before. That’s what I like. We have a lot of the same guys, and every one of them is a fighter.

And at the end of the day, I like our pitching staff better than anybody’s in baseball. We just have to go out there and score runs for them. We have to play good ball. Period. End of story.

See you at the park on Friday.

 

-Mark

The Real Thing – Brandon Belt

One of the coolest things happened.

A baby giraffe was born last Friday at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, and they named it Brandon. I just found out yesterday, and I saw a photo of him online. He’s awesome. Sometime during this home stand, I’m going to go up there to see him. He’s already is 6 feet 2, almost as tall as I am. I’m told when he’s full grown just his neck alone will be seven feet long. He’ll be 18 feet tall! So I guess I better see him now when I can look him in the eyes.

It’s really amazing. That giraffe is probably going to live for a while, which means people will go there for years to come and see a little Brandon. Pretty cool.

I’m seeing more hats and stuffed animals in the stands. I love it. But sometimes I think I’m putting pressure on myself to live up to the whole thing. I want to play better than I’m doing now, though I know it’s all a learning process. Not everybody jumps in and does awesome right away. It’s an adjustment being up here. I have to learn how to separate other people’s expectations from my single-minded focus on each at-bat. I feel at times I’m carrying the expectations of everybody from Hudson, Texas, plus the fans here. Balancing the responsibilities, and blocking them out when you have to, is part of learning how to be a pro.

I’m not sure what’s going on with my strikeouts. Sometimes I think too much about my mechanics. You can’t do that when you’re in the box. You have to just react. I don’t think there’s a hole in my swing. Mostly it’s that I’m fouling off pitches I should be hitting, and then I get behind in the count. The other day the pitcher threw me five straight curve balls. I thought he was going to try to sneak a fastball by me. So when I saw the pitch, it looked like it was out of the strike zone. But it was a big curveball and dropped right into the strike zone. By then I had already decided to let it go. Strike three.

Baseball is a game of adjustments. You might feel great for one week and then you feel terrible. I don’t know why that is. You just keep tweaking till it all comes to together again.

We have an off day on Thursday, so Haylee and I are going to Napa. We’ve made plans to visit before but I’ve always been sent down right before we were set to go. We’ve been hooked up with some winery tours, even though I don’t really drink wine. Haylee’s more interested than I am, but I’m told how beautiful the landscape is and how great the food is, so I’m looking forward to it.

I’ll post a photo when I visit my namesake in Vallejo.

See you the park.

-Brandon

Keeping a Tight-knit Clubhouse – Mark DeRosa

A couple weeks ago, when Matt Cain lost his second 2-1 game in a row, he stood up in front of reporters like he always does and took the blame. When I read his quotes the next day, I went over to him. I told him that every hitter in this clubhouse knows he ought to be pointing fingers at us. I told him that we as an offense feel horrible and we’re doing everything we can to figure out how to score more runs for the pitchers.

And I especially wanted him to know that we are acutely aware that he and the rest of the pitching staff are being extraordinarily kind in their public comments.

There’s only so many times you can pitch your heart out and not get any support from your team. Eventually it can cause a rift in the clubhouse. I’ve seen it happen on other teams. We’ve got such a tight-knit clubhouse. And you want to keep it that way because it’s a big part of winning baseball.

That’s why it’s so important that the pitchers know we understand their frustration. We watch TV. We read the papers. We know that Cain has gotten one run or less in 12 of his 26 starts. We know that we haven’t scored a single run for Timmy in 10 of his 27 starts. Our starters have ERAs hovering in the three’s, and Timmy’s at two and a half.  You’re two and a half in today’s game and you’re nasty. You should be leading the league in wins.

I remember talking to Greg Maddox when we played together in Atlanta. We’d lose a close one and he’d be absolutely fine on the plane. I asked him one day, “Why are you OK with that?’’ And he said, “Well, I did my job. I can’t control the other things. I can only control my job.’’

I think that’s a great way to look at it, but when it starts becoming the norm, it’s got to frustrate you. And all it takes is one comment to cause a riot in the clubhouse, one comment said the wrong way. So you don’t allow that to happen. You go out to dinner with the pitchers and talk about it. You go up to a guy in the clubhouse and deal with things before they become an issue.

I’ve been on a lot of teams over the years, but I’ve never been on a team that has gone so cold offensively for such an extended period of time to where it almost has become more mental than physical. You’ve got guys pressing, trying to do too much, not staying with consistent approaches. Everyone’s trying to be the hero and get hot and get us going. But it seems to just push us more and more down.

And believe me, we take it personally. There’s not a guy in here who doesn’t take it personal. We have too good a team not to make it to the postseason. We have the greatest atmosphere in baseball right now in our home park. The most loyal fans. They deserve for us to go back to postseason. They’ve supported us all year.

I’ve also never been on a team with so many injuries to key players. We don’t have Andres Torres at the top of the order who ignited everything. You take him away, then you take away your No. 2 and No. 3 hitters, Freddy and Buster, and it’s going to cripple you. It’s not that easy to replace really, really, really good players. Players are not interchangeable parts. Then Sabes goes out and makes two great trades to replace them, and those guys get hurt.

We’ve done a great job of grinding, but at the same time, no one’s going to wait around, no one’s going to feel sorry for us. We got 30-some odd games to find a way to get into the postseason. I think when we get in, everyone will take a deep breath and then we’ll be dangerous again.

In the meantime, we have to stick together as a team. You have four months to be an individual player. I know everyone says that’s not the case but everyone plays for numbers the first four months of the season. But now it’s team first at all costs.

Which is why I’m not lobbying Bochy to give me more starts.  He started me in Houston over the weekend, and I played well. Given the opportunity, I know I can help the team. That being said, I know with the struggles I’ve had with the wrist, I understand Boch opting for another guy. Two or three times over the course of my contract, I’ve asked for Bochy to give me a chance, and he’s given it. I won’t do it now. We’re in a different situation. If we were 10 games up, maybe he would give me a little more of a look. But we’re two games out and he feels he’s got to go with his big guns. All I can do is keep working hard and hoping to get into a situation where I get a big at-bat and come through and prove that I can still play and contribute.

In any case, it’s a great chance for me to be a mentor to some younger guys. And to keep showing support for our pitchers in the clubhouse until we can show more support on the field.

 

-Mark

Awkward – Brandon Belt

It’s funny how things catch on.

Kuip makes one remark during a broadcast about me looking like a baby giraffe – I guess I looked a little wobbly chasing down a fly ball in the outfield — and everybody loved it. Now I see signs all over. Even when I was down in San Jose and Fresno, I saw Baby Giraffe signs. My wife Haylee thinks it’s hilarious. When I was a kid, girls use to tell me I looked like a monkey. I’ve been called animal names all my life. So as you might imagine, I like Baby Giraffe a lot more.

Then during an interview with the Showtime guys for “The Franchise,’’ I told how my friend Tommy Joseph, who’s playing in San Jose right now, called me The Most Awkward Man in the World. I thought it was so funny. I knew exactly what he meant. I’m pigeon-toed so I look awkward walking around. Sometimes I’m socially awkward because I’m real shy at first if I don’t know you. When the show aired, my family and friends just completely embraced it. During the series over the weekend in Houston, near where I grew up, I look up in the stands and see about 50 people – all family and friends — wearing T-shirts that said, “Keep Belt Awkward.’’

It was their way of saying, “We love you how you are and it doesn’t matter if you’re the most awkward guy in the world.’’ Those T-shirts might have been the weirdest way possible to send me that message of support, but it felt great to see them there backing me, wanting me to do well.

One of my friends said he was offered $100 for the shirt and he would have sold it if he had another shirt to put on. It was crazy.

There were so many people there for me in Houston. I saw Hudson High T-shirts all over the place. So I admit that I put a lot of pressure on myself when I started Saturday’s game.  Not only did I go 0-for-4, but in the outfield, I thought there was only one out when there were actually two. I caught a fly ball, and I was going to throw it home when I realized everybody was jogging in. So I just kind of threw it straight into the ground. I thought, “Oh, no, what did I just do?’’ (Talk about awkward.)

After the game, I went to get a bite to eat with a whole crowd of family and friends. I thought I had really let them down. But nobody was disappointed at all. They were just happy that I was there. It was just an awesome feeling and that made me so much more relaxed on Sunday. I had a good game — 4 for 5. When I hit that three-run homer, it was such a load off after scuffling so much. That really helped me relax – and helped me get three more hits. But the Astros were making so many great plays. They threw Nate out at the plate from the outfield wall. They made a great play at third and got us caught in a rundown. It seemed nothing was going our way. But we didn’t make excuses. We didn’t complain. We just grinded it out. And we pulled it out in the end.

Now that I’m five months into my first year in the majors, I’d say there are two major things I’ve learned. One is you have got to be confident up here. Got to be comfortable. You can’t get down on yourself. If you do, everybody’s going to leave you behind. The league’s going to keep on going and you’re going to get stuck behind everybody else. So even when you’re having a tough time and you’re not feeling confident, you’ve got to give the outward appearance that you are. Last year in fall league, our hitting coach’s slogan was “Fake it til you make it.’’ If a pitcher sees in your body language that you’re not confident, they gain more confidence and make pitches they normally wouldn’t make. So even if you’re 0-for-20, you still have to act like you’re going to get it done.

The other thing is to be more aggressive at the plate. You have to be way more aggressive up here than down in the minors.

I’m learning a lot by watching how the veteran players handle setbacks. Obviously, with all our injuries and our offensive problems, it’s hard not to get down. But guys come into the clubhouse every day with a new attitude. Our mindset is if we can keep within a few games of the Diamondbacks, we’ll make up ground when we get some guys off the DL. Guys like Mark DeRosa make sure we keep things in perspective. Today is just today. We still have 30-something games left.

OK, I’m going to text Haylee to remind her to bring “Keep Belt Awkward’’ T-shirts for Kruk and Kuip. Maybe Baby Giraffe T-shirts will be next. So that’s another thing I’m learning: You’ve got to laugh at yourself. Take the game seriously, but not yourself.

-Brandon

Belt receives baby giraffe from fan

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