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.