Since I haven’t posted a blog during my time in the Dominican Republic, I’m doing the next best thing. OK, the next easiest thing.
Here’s a link to an email interview Jaymee Sire of CSN did with me.
Hope you have a great Thanksgiving. Anyone else making plans for a spring training trip?
Haylee and I have gotten everything packed up and are heading back to Texas. Then I’ll be going to the Dominican for winter ball. It feels a little like getting to the end of the school year and you’re ready to take a break – and then you have to go to summer school. It’s not that I don’t want to go. I know it’s exactly what I need to do to get back on track.
But right now I’m just worn out. The last few weeks, I’ve been sore after games and then sore the next day – which kind of took energy away from the game that day. My mind was always still in it, but my body just felt like it was dead.
This season, my first in the majors, was not at all what I expected. If I had written out a plan for this season, it would have been the total opposite of what actually happened. It was just a rollercoaster. I was doing well, doing poorly. I was up, I was down. I was healthy, I was hurt. I seemed to go through the entire spectrum.. But I look at it as a learning experience. I know a lot more about what I need to do to play at this level.
One of the things I’ve learned is that I have to be in condition to play whatever position they need from me. I conditioned last year to play first base, which meant trying to bulk up and get stronger. At first base, you’re expected to play with power. You don’t need as much speed and endurance. But if you’re not conditioned to play outfield, you’re not going to last the season. So I’ll be playing mostly outfield in the Dominican. And in December and January, when I’m home, I’ll be doing more running and conditioning than I’ve done in the past so I’m better prepared to play the outfield.
The main thing I’m going to work on in the Dominican, though, is my swing. Over this season, I’ve made adjustment after adjustment after adjustment so that it all kind of clustered together into one big complicated muddle. There’s so much going on during the season that you can’t really step back and press “reset.’’ You’re just hurtling forward. My mechanics have always been the same, and I lost them somewhere along the way. So I need to untangle the mess and get back to my original form because that’s where I’m at my best. The simplicity will take over and I won’t think about the mechanics as much and I can just go up there and hit.
When I head down to Dominican in a week or so, I’ll check out the living situation and then maybe Haylee will come down and join me. Even if she doesn’t spend the whole time down there with me, she’ll come for visits. Then I’ll be back in late November. I’ll have December and January without baseball. Just conditioning. Then spring training in February.
As tired as I am right now, I’m excited about starting next season. I’ll know a lot more about what it takes to be successful and hopefully avoid some of the mistakes I made this year.
Thanks for all the encouraging comments. They lifted my spirits during the tough stretches and reminded me that, even when my belief in myself wavered, you were rooting for me and kept believing. I can’t tell you how much that helped.
I’m not sure I’ll be blogging from the Dominican. I’ll try but if I don’t, I’ll be back in touch when I get to Scottsdale. I hope I’ll see you there.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.