I have a few minutes before going out to the field here in Colorado. Really entertaining game last night. Nobody is more fun to watch than Pablo Sandoval. I’m like a fan when I watch him whether he’s at the plate or in the field. He does stuff I’ve never seen anyone do. When he got the triple to complete the Cycle, we were going crazy in the dugout.
And I was happy that I connected on a home run, finally. I’m still trying to get my timing back after missing five weeks in the middle of the season. That’s why I’ll be playing in the Dominican from mid-October to late November. That wasn’t exactly in my plans, but Bochy said it was the best way to get ready for next season. I’ll get another couple hundred at-bats, making up for the ones I missed when I was on the DL.
I’m a little worried because I’ve never been out of the country. I guess I need to talk to someone about getting a passport. I’m sure it will be an interesting experience, but I think you’re always worried when you’re going into a situation where you don’t know what to expect.
What I’m realizing, now that I’m almost finished with my first big-league season, is that nobody has this game completely figured out. It’s not just me. When you’re a rookie, you think you’re supposed to know everything as soon as you step inside the major-league clubhouse. So it was interesting to listen to the discussion with Barry Bonds when he came into the clubhouse last week. There were guys who have been in the big leagues for 10, 15 years trying to learn from him. They were asking questions, picking his brain. That was really cool because it showed me that playing baseball is one long learning process and you’re going to keep learning until your last day on the field.
Bonds talked a lot about how he prepared for the game. It got me thinking about how I prepare myself and what I could do better. For example, in batting practice, Bonds always worked on hitting the ball the other way. His strength, of course, was pulling the ball. He knew he could do that without even thinking. So he always worked on stuff he wasn’t as comfortable with.
During the off day last week, Haylee and I went to see Baby Brandon again at Six Flags in Vallejo. I was taller than him last time, and this time he was taller than me by a little bit. He is so cute. We spent the whole day up there — me, Edlefson, Matt Cain and Cody Ross and our spouses/families. The coolest thing we did was put on wet suits and swim with the dolphins. We rode on the back of one. We got to get up close to an elephant, who raised his leg so we could sit on it. For someone like me who loves animals, those people at Six Flags have the coolest job you could ever have.
OK, enough for now. I have to go out and do my own pretty cool job.
Someone told me yesterday that I hadn’t had a walk-off hit since 2007, and I joked, “I haven’t played since 2007.’’ That’s kind of how it feels, like I’ve been away from the game forever.
For two years, I’ve been running onto the field for everyone else’s heroics. Finally I got to come through with the game-winning hit Tuesday night.
“Show me some love!’’ I said to the guys when they rushed at me. “I want you to come get me this time!’’
A moment like that makes us all Little Leaguers again. The most grizzled veterans are leaping out of their shoes. It’s a moment of pure fun and excitement, and it recaptures everything we love about the game and why we ought to be grateful every single day that we get to do this for a living.
The irony of getting that big hit is that I had stopped trying to muscle the ball, something I realized just wasn’t working with my post-injury wrist. Pride and ego get in the way sometimes when you come up to the plate. You want to hit a home run; you want to drive the ball; you want everybody to go crazy. But I needed to concentrate on shortening my swing – basically taking a two-strike approach to all of my at-bats. It’s more like playing pepper with the ball. And these pitchers are throwing so hard that they supply the power for me.
I’m also a guy who likes being at the plate when the game’s on the line. You see certain guys shy away from it, and certain guys accept the responsibility. I once asked Derek Jeter why he’s so good in big situations. He said, “There’s nothing that’s going to happen out on the field tonight that hasn’t happened before. I’ve played great and I’ve played terrible. It’s going to be somewhere probably in the middle.’’
So that’s what I tell myself when I go to the plate: Just relax, have fun, soak it in.
And it’s working. I read all the stuff people were writing that maybe my career is over. But I didn’t feel that in my heart. And Tuesday’s hit, and frankly the way I’ve been hitting in general lately, is validation that I can still contribute.
The most dangerous part of Tuesday night came after the walk-off knock when Pablo launched into his crazy handshake with me. He has a different one for every guy. Mine ends in two forearm bashes, and let me tell you, Panda is throwing some lumber. But I was prepared and escaped with no breaks or bruises.
A few thoughts about Panda:
Everyone talks about his offense but he’s having a great year defensively, too. He has ungodly talent. As he matures and gets smarter and hopefully listens to Beltran a little bit, I expect to be watching him in the All-Star Game for a long time to come. The best compliment I can give him is the ball sounds different coming off his bat than it does with 99 percent of the players. And he loves the game so much it’s contagious. You can’t measure the value of someone like him in the dugout and in the clubhouse.
Thanks for reading. Heading to the field. See you back in San Francisco.
I looked up from my locker Saturday afternoon and there in the middle of the clubhouse was Barry Bonds. He just walked over and started saying hi to everyone and soon we were talking hitting. Then he took a seat and eight or nine of us pulled up chairs around him. And off he went. And we weren’t going to let him go.
It was like a graduate seminar on hitting. Beltran asked Bonds why he choked up on the bat. Bonds said it was about bat control. It took more of the handle out of play and gave him more barrel. We got the sense in talking to him that the bat became an extension of his arm. It was like one big arm. (I don’t know that feeling.)
Bonds talked about what he sees from certain guys – Cody, Beltran, Pablo, Pat, me. He told Pat he has a tendency to be a little jumpy at the plate, meaning that he goes out and tries to get the ball and pull it to left field. That’s why he pulls so many balls foul because his bat is out there too fast. He told him to trust his hands and stay back.
For Panda – well, I think the average fan knows what Panda’s problem is. At the plate, he’s just so darn talented that he gets away with swinging at everything. But Bonds told him to find the pitches he knows he can handle instead of trying to handle them all. He told Panda to work himself into better hitter’s counts. Pablo is capable of winning batting titles with the hand-eye coordination he’s got, and that’s what Bonds reiterated. He just needs to be more selective at the plate. (Personally, I would love to go inside Panda’s head for an at-bat and see what he’s thinking up there.)
As for me, I’ve always been an inside-out hitter: I try to work the ball up the middle or the other way. Barry said I have a tendency to do that too much and that it takes power away. That sounded very true to me. But with my wrist I’m a little limited. So I think inside-out is the best way for me to compete right now.
But what I discovered is I think a lot like Barry Bonds does at the plate – even if we don’t have exactly the same results. In talking to him, you understand that he took absolutely everything into consideration: counts, who’s pitching, how that pitcher throws against similar hitters, whether there are runners on or if the bases are empty, how to work himself into a count where he’s likely to get a certain pitch that he can handle, how he makes adjustments on a pitch he can’t handle.
I approach hitting the same way. I go up to the plate with a plan every time. In Saturday’s game, when I came in to pinch-hit in the ninth, I was facing Bryan Shaw, a young kid with a cutter. That’s his go-to pitch. Cabrera’s on first. The score is 7-2. I really can’t impact the game too much. So I figure Shaw is going to throw me his best pitch. And he did. That’s a pretty easy case.
But if you get a guy like Ian Kennedy who has two-plus pitches – his fastball and his change-up – and he’s got two strikes on you, you don’t know what he’s going to throw. He’s got enough confidence and guts to blow a fastball by you, so you better be ready for the fastball but he’s got a good changeup. It’s the game within a game.
That’s why it was so fun to talk to Bonds. He’s one of the very few players who was almost able to master hitting — him, Ted Williams, Willie Mays. Of course, they possess innate ability that is on a different level from normal humans. But in talking to players like them, you understand that no matter how great you are you don’t stay in this game on sheer talent. You have to be mentally tough. You have to think and analyze.
I remember playing against Bonds and becoming so wrapped up in watching how he approached every at bat, every pitch, that I’d have to pinch myself and say, “Hey, if the ball’s hit to you, you have to make the play.’’ If he was standing on second and there was a timeout or a pitching change, I’d always go over and ask him questions: What were you thinking there? Why did you lay off that pitch? For me, that’s the only way I’ve been somewhat successful – picking the brains of the great players and incorporating as much as I can into my game.
Clearly, Bonds has been watching us on TV and pulling for us. He’s probably one of the five greatest players to ever play. And for us to have 20 minutes of his time was really a privilege and an honor. I’ll remember that forever.
Here a few photos from our visit today to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom to meet Brandon the baby giraffe just born last Friday.