June 2012

Life After The Catch

Life has been a little different since my catch in Matt Cain’s perfect game. A lot more people recognize me on the street and around the park. Almost everybody asks me the same questions: How did I make the catch, and how did it feel? It’s really cool to have people appreciate what I did. It makes me want to do something like that again, another play that people will always remember.

I was talking yesterday on the phone with my friend Martin Prado from the Braves, where I played from 2008 to 2010. He’s also from Venezuela. We were just catching up on our families and things like that. Then he says, “I want to ask you something. How did you make that catch?’’

I laughed. I said, “I don’t know. Seriously I don’t know. I ask myself the same question.’’

Even a couple of umpires talked to me about it. So that’s pretty different for me.

What isn’t different is how I go about my work every day. That’s the key to everything. Talent gets you only so far. If you didn’t know that before getting to the big leagues, you learn it quickly up here. The best players – the ones who stay the best for a long time – are the ones who keep working hard.

I get to the park around 2 or 2:30 for a 7 o’clock game. I change clothes then do some running on the field – sometimes sprints, sometimes just a jog to stretch out my legs. I’ll ride the stationary bike. Then in the weight room, I work mostly on my core muscles, doing crunches, that kind of thing. Then I spend 30 to 40 minutes in the indoor batting cage.  Lately I’ve work with Bam-Bam, our hitting coach, on hitting the ball on the ground and staying away from pop-ups. I’ve also returned to using a pitching machine that can throw 102 mph. I used it in spring training and was hitting really well. Then I got away from it during the season because I thought, “I want to save my bullets for the game.’’

But when my bat went cool, I added it back into my pregame routine. Trying to hit pitches coming at you at 102 mph hour sharpens your eye. When you see a 95-mph fastball in a game, it looks much slower and you’re more likely to get your bat around on it.

There’s also a psychological reason to work really hard every single day. It gives you confidence. You feel strong. You feel ready. So much of this game is played out in your head. If you know you are in peak shape, that no one out there has worked harder than you have, you feel that there isn’t anything you can’t do.

Having said that, when we had an off day last week, I just wanted to chill. On the last off day, my wife and I took the kids to Santa Cruz, which was fun but exhausting. This time, I said, “Hey honey, let’s just stay here. Let’s relax and watch movies and play with the kids.’’ It felt good.

There was a comment from a mom that her son was in the backyard pretending to be me. Wow, that’s so amazing. I remember growing up and imitating Chipper Jones and Kenny Lofton and Ken Griffey. I’d try to run the bases like Rickey Henderson. I wanted so much to be in the major leagues. I always tell kids if they really want something, they should keep dreaming because it’s possible.

But you have to work hard and leave a lot of things behind like parties and drinking and girls. When I was growing up, I played with a lot of guys who had really good talent but they never made it to pro ball. They got too involved in stuff off the field. They’d asked me, “Hey, why don’t you hang out?’’ I’d say, “I just want to go play baseball and run and get better.’’

And look where I am now.

The guys I really like to watch now are Rafael Furcal and Jose Reyes because they play the game hard every single game. They’re aggressive hitters and runners. But now that I play with Melky, he’s the guy I look up to the most. I watch how he goes about his business. He’s an unbelievable player. I’d like to be the kind of player he is.

The person who has influenced me the most, though, is my mother. She didn’t graduate from high school, but she never stopped educating herself. She worked in a bank and eventually became a high-level manager. She’s an example to everyone she knows, not just me. Because of her, I try to be someone people can look up to.

So when I hear that there are some kids who want to be like me, I’m really humbled. That’s part of the reason you do this. I want kids to believe that playing sports is a way to live a positive life. There are a lot of bad things on the streets, and sports gives them an alternative.

So if I contribute in some way to kids wanting to play sports, that’s awesome.


Still Unbelievable

I hardly got any sleep last night. I went home after the game still trying to really absorb what happened.

A perfect game from Matt Cain. The most unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen.

And I keep thinking how incredibly grateful I am to have made the catch that kept the perfect game going.

I watched the replay a dozen times when I got to the apartment I’m renting a few blocks from the park. My wife and almost-two-year-old son were waiting up for me. She was upset she didn’t come to the game, but I told her it was OK because it was so loud and the baby probably would not have been happy. She told me that when I was being interviewed on TV, the baby just stared at the screen like, “That’s my dad!’’

When I watched the replay, all I could think was, “I can’t believe you really did that. That’s crazy.’’

What I liked most was the feeling it created in the ballpark. Everyone just went crazy. And I think at that moment Matt knew he was going to do it. It was like he got more confident as the crowd got louder.

When he tipped his cap to me, well, that’s the greatest compliment a fielder can get because he knows you’re there for him. That’s what a team is about.

In the dugout, everyone went nuts. They’re asking me, “How’d you make that? That was the greatest catch I’ve ever seen in my life.’’ There were two really great moments. Bruce Bochy came up to me and said, “In all my years, I’ve never seen a play like that, man. That was great.’’ And he gave me a hug.

Then Matt came up to me and said, “What are you doing playing there? How’d you make that?’’

“I’m there for you, man’’ I said. “I did it for you.’’

I was playing a few feet closer to the gap than usual. Ron Wotus, our bench coach, talked to me before the first game of the series on Tuesday about how we’d position ourselves for different hitters. He said Jordan Schafer is a gap hitter. So when Matty went 3-2 on him, I knew he’d have to throw Schafer a pitch he could hit and let the defense take care of it.

In a situation like that, all I’m thinking is, “Hit it to me.’’

All of us knew what was at stake, of course. You try not to look at the scoreboard. You try not to think too much about it. But you have a bit more intensity. You’re focusing more.

As soon as the ball came off the bat, I was running. I got a great jump. Then I just ran as hard as I could. I saw the ball coming closer. I kept running. Then I threw myself at it. When I popped back up with the ball in my glove, I think the umpire didn’t believe it because it took a few seconds before he called the out.

In the ninth inning, I saw Melky in left field waving his arms for the fans to get on their feet. So I did the same thing in right field. We all wanted to do whatever we could to send Matty all the support we could.

Then Arias threw it to Belt and the game was over. We all just leaped on Matty. It was the best feeling. Matt so deserves it for everything he’s done for this team. We were so happy for him.

I believe in fate. I was thinking about all the factors that had to come together for me to have been at that spot at that moment. So many great things have happened to me since I joined the Giants, so actually I was expecting to have a moment like that. I really was. There was something about this team that I felt in the clubhouse during spring training. Just how everyone gets along. I felt like there was something special going on. And I felt like there was some reason I had landed with this team for this season.

And now I have the highest honor a player can ever have: to play a key role in the greatest single game in a team’s history.

I’m still sorting through all my text messages, mostly from friends and family in Venezuela. For some reason, the sports channel in Venezuela was playing the game, so my family stayed up really, really late to watch. (They’re three hours later than the West Coast.) They were all so happy for me.

I think I’ll go the Murph, our great clubhouse manager, to see if there’s a ball or something from the game I could have. Wouldn’t it be great to have the actual ball I caught? And get Matt to sign it?

That would be something special to pass down to my son.

Hitting the Reset Button

After I went hitless in the first two games in Milwaukee two weeks ago, Bochy called me in. He told me I was sitting out the third game. He said everyone still believed me, but that a little rest would do me good.

When you made the team like I did – as kind of a long shot out of spring training – you can’t help getting nervous when you’re benched. You want to be the guy the team can count on, the guy whose name is in the lineup every day.

Like Melky and Angel. They’re unbelievable. They just play every single day. Of course, Melky has missed a few days with hamstring trouble. But except for injury, those two guys are out there. That’s what I want to be, too.

So my first reaction was to get really anxious. Was I losing the spot I’d worked so hard to get? I got myself pretty worked up because this opportunity means everything to me. Everything.

My coaches told me to relax, that I was doing a great job and just to keep doing what I was doing. They said I’d be back in the line-up the next day.

I’m sure you hear all the time that baseball is way more about your head than your body. A lot of guys are really talented. But I think controlling your thoughts – the key to maintaining your confidence – is the biggest thing.

So I said to myself, “OK, look at this as a new start. Like a new season. Forget the last few games. Hit the reset button.’’

I also reminded myself, as I do every day, how much I have to be grateful for. The biggest one is my family. “Your family is healthy,’’ I thought. “You’re in the big leagues. Things are good. Just go out there and play hard and do what you know you can do.’’

Melky and Angel always help me. They have been the best teachers. I sit with them during the games, and they tell what they see. They explain the pitcher’s strategy and what to look for when I go to the plate. They’ll point out how a guy tracks down a ball in the outfield or what he did wrong on his throw. They’re really open about what they did well and what they didn’t do well. I listen to everything.

So I’m really developing my mental game, but it’s not just about strategy. It’s about keeping perspective and not allowing doubt to erode my confidence.

After sitting out that game in Milwaukee, I went 2-for-4 (with three runs), 3-for-5 (with two doubles), and 3-for-5 in the next three games in Miami. I did well against Arizona then didn’t get a hit in three games against the Cubs (though I scored twice, and we won all three games).

In four of the last six games, I’ve had at least two hits, including a home run.

And I’ve played every day.

Thanks for your comments from the last blog. One reader, Syd Bird, asked about the first time I played baseball. I’ll write about that next time.