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.