May 2012

Stealing Home

Stealing home is something I’ve been hoping to do all season. Everyone knows we’re a team that has to be aggressive to get runs. And, really, what’s more fun or more a test of your base-running skills than stealing home? I’d never done it in the majors. But I did it this winter with my Venezuela team – while the pitcher was still holding the ball. More on that in a minute.

So Monday against the Diamondbacks, Angel Pagan was on first, and I had a good lead off third. Boch and third-base coach Tim Flannery had told me if I ever got in that situation, and the catcher threw to second, I should just go.

Sometimes catchers will bluff. So you have to wait until the ball is in the air. Once I saw the ball leave the catcher’s hand, I took off. Pagan was safe, and because I had such a big lead, the shortstop didn’t even throw home. I scored standing.

So here’s what happened in winter ball. I had three things in my favor. One, it was a left-handed pitcher, so he was facing first base. Two, he never looked at me. And three, he had a pretty slow motion. When a pitcher sets, he has to hold the ball for a second before he throws. So as soon as this pitcher went into his motion, I ran. When he saw me, he fumbled to throw home. Not only did I beat the throw, the pitcher was called for a balk. I would have scored either way.

When I told Flan about it, he raised his eyebrow and said very slowly and deliberately “If you try that here, you had better make it.’’ I don’t think I’ll be doing it any time soon.

As you can tell, I love running the bases. I love the cat-and-mouse strategy, the athleticism, the burst of adrenaline. In Miami on the last road trip, I got caught in a rundown between home and third. It was a 1-1 game in the sixth inning. Melky had hit a hard grounder to the pitcher, I had broken down the line and the pitcher had thrown home. Now I was caught. To be honest, I thought I was dead. So my job at that point is to keep the fielders occupied with me long enough to allow Melky to get to second – in scoring position. We needed a run.

Both the catcher and third baseman were worried about Melky and were taking theirs eyes off me for split seconds at a time. Maybe, I thought, I had a chance. I dove past the third-baseman with a wide slide and slipped my hand under the tag.

Do we practice rundowns? Of course. We practice everything. So over the years, we each develop individual strategies for various situations. Here’s my strategy for run-downs:

Don’t get tagged.

See? It’s a simple game.

 

No Regrets

One of the things I really like about playing in San Francisco is that it’s a lot like playing in my home country of Venezuela. Fans in Venezuela are really passionate and really vocal. They’re completely into the game. They’re always telling you what to do. It’s like 20,000 people trying to be the manager: “Run!’’ “Bunt!’’ “Slide!’’

The atmosphere at AT&T is a lot like that. Fans here aren’t quite as bossy, but they’re just as passionate. They are completely into the Giants. Completely into the game. They like guys who play hard and do everything they can to win. And that’s what I love to do more than anything: Play hard and win games.

So just like in Venezuela, I feed off the fans’ energy. I can’t say for sure but I’d bet there isn’t anybody on this roster who appreciates being here more than I do.

As you might know, I didn’t play a single game in the major leagues last season. I was riding the bench on the Kansas City minor leagues. Then the team put me on waivers.

But no team picked me up. That was the lowest point of my career.

“Maybe it’s over,’’ I told my wife. “Maybe that’s it.’’

“Whatever you want to do, I support you,’’ she said. “But I believe in you. I know how good you are.’’

That made me stronger. I realized that no matter what happened, I was already a lucky man to have my wife and my kids and that we all had our health. So I kept playing and now here I am with the Giants.

Through all the ups and downs – being benched, traded, cut – I learned that the only thing in my control is how hard I work. So I get to the ballpark early every day to do weights, get in the batting cage, run. I do everything I can to be the hardest out in the league, to get on base in whatever way I can.

I’ve also learned something else about myself. I play better when the goal is winning. In the minor leagues, the goal is development. In the majors and in winter ball, it’s winning. It’s all about championships. I like to play under pressure. I like to compete. I think I’m more focused when the stakes are highest.

You might have noticed my ritual before stepping up to the plate. I pinch a little bit of dirt in front of the batter’s box, in fair territory. Then I make the sign of the cross, touching my forehead, shoulders and heart. I’m asking God to give me the opportunity to get the ball in fair territory.

But I know it’s up to me to make sure I’m as prepared as I can be. So I keep myself focused on what I want in my life – a healthy and loving family, loyal and competitive teammates — and just keep working hard.

If I do that, I’ll never have regrets.

My Family of Gregs

Since I’m new not only to blogging but to the Giants, I’ll start off with a little background.

I grew up in Venezuela. I have a twin brother (not identical) whose name is Gregory. And I have a younger brother whose name is Gregsman. So Gregor, Gregory and Gregsman. Why? I still don’t know. My mom said she just liked the names. She even named our house “The Gregs’’ and put up a sign.

My twin brother and I have carried on the tradition more or less. My six-year-old son is named Grenyer, and my 18-month-old son is named Gregor Alejandro. Gregory’s son is named Greyver.

Growing up, my twin and I were always together playing baseball. Nobody ever seemed to call us by our names. It was, “Hey, Twins, what’s up?’’

Gregory played in the Angels and Pirates minor leagues as a catcher but left after a few years to become a phys ed teacher. Gregsman works as a jobs recruiter for the government.

My dad, Hernan, sold insurance for a while and now owns and runs a taxi company. My mother died of brain cancer six years ago when she was 47 years old. I still think about her every day.

I’m married to my childhood sweetheart, Zulay. We’ve known each other since we were 12.

I never wanted to do anything but play baseball. I signed with the Braves at the age of 16 and made my major-league debut eight years later, in 2008. I stayed in the majors most of that season and parts of the next two.

I was traded to Kansas City in the summer of 2010. Between the Braves and the Royals that year, I hit. 283  — my best season ever.

Then it all fell apart. I didn’t spend a single day in the major leagues in 2011. Kansas City started me in Triple A then traded me to the Washington Nationals, who also put me in Triple A. I developed bone spurs in my wrist halfway through the season and had to stop playing. It was the worst year of my career.

The Nationals released me in November.

I didn’t know what would happen. The Giants soon contacted me – one of their scouts had seen me in Triple A before my bone spurs and had sent a good report back to the Giants’ front office. The Marlins were also interested.

By this time I was already home in Venezuela, playing for my usual winter-ball team, Tiburones de la Guaira. (Tiburones means sharks, so that’s where my nickname “White Shark’’ comes from.) Giants batting coach Hensley Meulens was coaching in the same league. Between him and Pablo Sandoval, they convinced me I should sign with the Giants.

What I really appreciated at spring training was the open competition. If I performed, I’d make the team. And I did.

I know we’re struggling now, but this is a team that fights to win every day. That’s what I really like about being here.

It’s tough without Pablo in the lineup, I’ll be honest. He’s so important. I’ve known him a long time. He’s a few years younger than me, so I watched him come up through the ranks in Venezuela. There’s no one else like him. At least he’s still in the clubhouse and in the dugout to keep us loose and laughing.

I usually hang out on the road with him and Hector Sanchez, another countryman. But yesterday, on our day off in Arizona, they went to Glendale to get tattoos, so I was on my own. I went shopping for a Mother’s Day gift for my wife, watched “The Avengers’’ then played some video games.

Let me know what you want to read in this blog. I really want to hear from you.

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