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.
Here a few photos from our visit today to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom to meet Brandon the baby giraffe just born last 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.
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.
First I have to tell you how happy I am to be back in San Francisco. I really didn’t think I’d be here until September call-ups. So Haylee and I were just about to give up our lease on our San Francisco apartment when I found out we’d need it immediately.
One thing I’ve learned from both Triple A and the big club: This game yanks you up and down with such frequency and force that you basically live with a perennial case of mental whiplash. One day you’re on top of the world, and the next day you’re sitting in front of your locker with your head in your hands.
That’s where I was today, in front of my locker with my head in my hands.
But before we get to that, this has been my whiplash week so far.
On Monday, I struck out four times in five at-bats for Triple A Fresno. Why did I strike out four times? I couldn’t even begin to explain it to you. I felt fine. My mechanics felt great. I just kept fouling off balls, getting behind in the count then striking out.
After the game, I just wanted to get away from the field as soon as possible. I was angry at myself and wondering, “What just happened?’’
On Tuesday, I was unexpectedly called up to San Francisco, and I wanted to show that Monday’s game was a fluke and that I still had confidence at the plate. And
I hit a home run and a double, helping to beat the Dodgers.
On Wednesday, with the Dodgers up 1-0, I struck out with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
What’s gnawing at me today is that I let the first two pitches go. They didn’t look like strikes to me. One looked low and one looked outside. The umpire had a different idea of where the strike zone was. He called both strikes. I guess I’m still learning how to adjust to each umpire’s zone. I need to learn how to cover more of the plate so, when you’re fighting for your life in the bottom of the ninth, I can at least put the ball in play.
It’s a frustrating thing, and something that comes with the territory, I guess, in the big leagues. And when a major-league pitcher knows an umpire is calling an outside strike or a low strike, he has the ability to keep hitting that spot. You don’t see that as much in the minors. So I’ll talk to our hitting coach, Bam-Bam Meulens. I have to figure this out as soon as possible or I’ll be left behind.
On a happier note from today, I stretched what should probably have been an infield out into a double. My mindset is to be aggressive. Period. If I see the outfielders not running after the ball as fast as they should because they don’t think I’m going to go, the chances are I’m going to go. The outfielder didn’t look like he was running full speed to the ball, so I just took advantage of it.
I can’t explain baseball sometimes.
I have a cast on my wrist now to make sure the fractured bone doesn’t move. We’ll do a CT scan next week and hopefully go back to a splint for another week. Then I hope they give me the OK to get back on the field.
One thing all the veterans tell me is to be patient with an injury. The worst thing you can do is start playing again before you’re healed. Then you end up doing more damage and you have an injury that won’t go away.
In the meantime, it is so great to be back in the majors. Big difference between the majors and Triple A – which you really notice when you’ve been back and forth like I have.
In Triple A, we get up at 3 or 4 in the morning to catch a commercial flight for a road trip. It’s usually on a small plane, so when you’re as tall as I am, there’s no sleeping. And you have to be careful to keep your luggage under 50 pounds. Sometimes you go right to the park. Or you might have a few hours of down time at the hotel. But it seems you’re always tired when you’re on the road.
In Triple A, you get $25 a day for meal money. We eat a lot of burritos at Chipotle’s. In the majors, you get more than $100 (I can’t remember exactly how much), so you can eat wherever you want.
But here’s what I like most about the big leagues: the water pressure in the showers. The water pressure is outstanding. You get clean in half the time.
Haylee flew into St. Louis to meet me during that road trip. I’ve always wanted to go to St. Louis because it’s such a great baseball town. And I wanted my wife to go with me. The ballpark there is awesome. The whole atmosphere. And that team. They have so many great players that I grew up watching. Pujols. Berkman. Holliday. Then you add the guys we have on our team, and you’ve got a lot of stars on one field.
Back here in San Francisco, after the day game on Sunday, Haylee and I drove to San Jose to see my host mom, Stacy Hanel. I lived with her from April to July last year when I played Single A. She made us dinner then we watched the movie “The Town’’ (with Ben Affleck) and spent the night. She really is like a second mom. We formed such a bond that she came to our wedding in Texas late last year, and we always keep in touch. I was the first player she ever hosted. (I kid her that every player after me is at a disadvantage because I set the bar so high . . .)
Thanks for reading. Feel free to write me with questions!
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.
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.