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.
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 had a long talk with Brandon before he left for Fresno last week. We talked about how baseball is a constant work-in-progress. The route to becoming an established major-leaguer is rarely a straight line. He understands that going to Fresno is simply part of the process.
So I hope he doesn’t feel in any way that he failed. He didn’t fail at anything. Just two years ago, the guy was in college. Since then it’s been a whirlwind for him. In one year, he went from Single A, to Double A, Triple A, Arizona Fall League. You heard about this guy coming the whole time. The Giants have done a tremendous job bringing him along, but I think the expectations from the fans and the media were huge.
Then he comes to spring camp, and the media is following his every move.
Then you face big-league pitching. Guys he’s never faced before. He couldn’t make an out without people second-guessing him. It just seems like a lot for a young kid to take in.
And on top of that you’re following Buster, who I think is unequivocally the best young player I’ve ever see come up. You follow in those footsteps — that’s pretty tough to reproduce if that’s what people are expecting. And Brandon handled it well. He’s going to be just fine. He’ll take a deep breath, process what happened and make the necessary adjustments to come back up. He knows he has some things he needs to work on. And I think he knows the next time up it will be different.
I went back and forth to the minors when I started with the Braves. I had the skills, but I wasn’t ready for the major leagues because I wasn’t confident enough. I was still in awe of it. I was in awe of the whole thing. Being a big league player was my dream as a kid. Then I get drafted by Braves and when I got called up the first time, I walked into the clubhouse more as a fan than as someone with a job to do. So it took me a little bit to get over the fact that these are my teammates now. That I belonged up there. But I think that’s good. There has to be that awe factor when you get to the big leagues. Otherwise what the heck are you playing for?
Next time: The particular challenges of staying ready when you don’t know when, where and if you’re playing on any given day. And: Patience as a virtue is over-rated: I am really, really ready to feel 100 percent again.
I don’t even know where to start. The past week has been unbelievable. I keep using that word over and over. It’s like I’m in a dream. I’ve watched baseball my entire life on television and finally I’m here seeing it in real life. It’s almost as if I’m having an out-of-body experience. I always imagined what it would be like to be up here and play in front of 50,000 but you can’t imagine it until you do it. It’s a lot louder. When you’re at the plate don’t notice people because you have your back to them. But you see them when you’re on the field. And when something happens and everybody starts screaming you realize, man, I’m here.
My wife, Haylee, has been with me since spring training and traveled to the games in Los Angeles and San Diego. My parents and younger brother flew in for the San Francisco home opener. It was the first time my dad has ever been on the plane. He’s afraid of heights – and he likes to be in control. When I was playing in Single A in San Jose last year, he and my mom drove from Texas to watch me. They drove to Arizona this year to visit me during spring training. But my dad couldn’t take the time off work to drive, so he got on the plane on Thursday. He’s not a huge drinker but he got some help on this one.
I appreciated my brother Cameron coming. He’s not a sports fan at all. He likes computers and science. He follows me but not baseball in general, and he doesn’t follow me all that well. My dad is a geometry teacher at Hudson High, where my brother and I went to school, and my mom is a hairdresser.
For the home opener on Friday, when I was standing there on the third-base line and they were introducing the players, my heart was just pounding. I was thinking about my mom and dad up in stands and how they’ve been waiting their whole lives to see me out there. All the games they sat through. That’s what made me the most emotional — just happy they were there and Cameron and Haylee. I was thinking, too, about everybody watching back in my hometown. I feel like I’m doing this for a lot of people.
So I was waiting for my introduction and looking up in the stands to get a wave from my family, but I don’t know this park and didn’t know where they were. When the introductions got to me, the camera was right on me. I really don’t like everyone staring at me, though I know it’s part of baseball. I tried to act real cool, but it was nerve-wracking. I just waved real quick so the camera would move on.
After the game, I went out with my family and we were all saying that was the coolest thing we have ever seen in our entire lives. We just couldn’t stop talking about it. The flyover, the big flag out on centerfield. It was the best thing we ever witnessed in real life. I can’t imagine two better days than Friday and Saturday. The pre-game ceremonies, coupled with 45,000 fans, coupled with just making the big leagues, coupled with my family in the stands – you can’t get much better than that. I keep trying to figure out, is this really happening right now? Is somebody going to come and wake me up soon?
But I’m really aware of taking care of business, of being ready to play ball. It’s been a little more difficult to get all our work in, but I think now I’ll settle in. It was helpful to talk with my dad about my hitting. He was a football coach and doesn’t know baseball as well as he knows football. But he knows me. He knows how to pick me up. We talk things through and he gets me thinking and then I start to figure things out on my own. That’s why I pretty much call him all the time.
After Saturday’s ninth-inning win, my family and I ended up at Denny’s on Mission Street. There were a few Giants fans there and then more kept coming in. People were asking for autographs and photos. I’m not used to that. In my hometown people recognize me, but not in a city of a million people! It was fun, but I can see where it could become a burden on a family to deal with that everywhere. I’m going to have to figure out how to approach that part of being a ballplayer.
Look forward to seeing you at the park and beating the Dodgers!
Just finished the final game against the Cardinals. We couldn’t pull off the sweep, it’s been a weekend we’ll never forget with the flag-raising on Friday and the rings on Saturday.
For me to open that box and see the World Series ring, it just put a stamp on a lot of hard work even though I was injured and wasn’t able to play last season. You look at that ring and think about playing catch with your dad and your brother in the yard, dreaming of playing in the bigs and then seeing it come to fruition. You’ve got to take a step back and think how far each and every guy in this clubhouse has come.
When I look at that ring, I’ll always remember Huffy’s red thong, the emergence of the bullpen, the moves Boch and Brian Sabean made, the two-out knock Freddy Sanchez got in Atlanta. All those things will come back. The ring is a just a beautiful representation of a miraculous season.
But I don’t think I’ll ever wear it. I’ll keep it in my office at home in Atlanta as a conversation piece. I’m not a big jewelry guy. Other than my wedding band, I’ve never worn a ring. And second, I would have loved to be on the field when it all happened.
So while the ring is something I’m really proud of, it’s not something I feel like I earned.
It was interesting that the same day we got the rings, we played a game that was the perfect symbol of what we were all about last season. We came from behind to beat the Cardinals in the ninth inning on Miggy’s double. That’s how we won a lot of games last year – not giving up, fighting the whole way. And that’s why I think the fans rallied around this team. Because outside of Timmy, there were no superstars. There were so many players for little kids and adults to latch onto. Your favorite player could have been anybody in the lineup – Freddy Sanchez or Cody Ross or Andres Torres. There were a lot of good guys to go around.
As great as all the flag-raising and ring ceremonies have been, we’re looking forward to getting back to some normalcy. Ballplayers are creatures of habit. So hopefully as we get back into our routines, you’ll start to see more consistent ball.
It’s fun to watch a guy like Brandon Belt because it brings back memories of my own first year. I got called up to the majors for the first time on September 2, 1998. I was playing in Zebulon, North Carolina, for the Pirates’ Double A team. I was shocked. I wasn’t on the 40-man-nothin’. I was 23 years old, a year-and-a-half in the pros. I ran outside and called my dad and he didn’t believe me. I was in a complete panic when I walked into the major-league clubhouse. I knew to keep my head down and my mouth shut. Though you know you have skills, you can’t help wondering if you really belong up there. Until you perform in front of 20,000 people in a stadium with the world watching, you don’t know if you can do it. It took me three call-ups before I got comfortable. It’s such a huge leap from the minors to the majors. It’s night and day. The intensity is different. The stadiums. The pitchers are completely different. Even to this day, I have moments where I’m proving to myself I belong. I remember getting a hit off Mariano River and going to first and thinking, “OK.’’ I remember going against Randy Johnson and getting a walk. You get to this level and then there are levels within this level that you test yourself against.
What I’d tell Brandon Belt is to take it all in because this first season happens only once. Your dream is being realized right in front of you. Expect to be nervous. Realize you’re going to feel different than you have ever felt playing baseball. Pick the brains of the older guys. Carry yourself like a professional, meaning that every day you walk into the clubhouse you’re the same guy, no matter how you did the day before. And you have to always be confident that whatever situation you’re in, you can handle it. If you don’t have that mentality up here, you’ll get chewed up.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to post questions.