September 2012

The Greatest Feeling

Last night was unbelievable. It was the greatest feeling I’ve ever had in my baseball career. The fans were so great. I loved running around the field and slapping everyone’s hand and saying thank you. And the clubhouse was crazy. But at some point in the midst of the champagne and music and hugging, I thought about last year.

I was in the minors the whole season, first for Kansas City then I was traded to  Washington. I didn’t play a single game in the major leagues. And by August, I was on the DL after surgery for bone spurs in my wrist. The Nationals released me on November 2. And for two weeks I didn’t have a team. I didn’t know what was going to happen.

Then the Giants signed me in mid-November to a minor-league contract.

“Remember where we were in spring training?’’ I asked Joaquin Arias, who signed a minor-league contract with the Giants a month after I did.

“I know,’’ he said.

We were at the bottom of the roster. Neither one of us thought we’d make the team. And now we find ourselves in the playoffs. It’s crazy. Such a great feeling.

My wife and baby came into the clubhouse with the rest of the families last night. She was so happy for me, and I was happy for her, too. We’ve been through a lot together and to share that moment meant a lot for both of us.

But all through the clubhouse, even while we were celebrating, guys were saying, “Now we have to accomplish the next step.’’ We have the talent, the chemistry and the fight to do it.

That’s been the rallying cry all season for us – pelea. It’s Spanish for fight. Our manager started it, I think, early in the season. He was just having fun, but we all followed him. When someone’s up at bat, we yell, “Pelea!’’ When a pitcher is facing a big at-bat, we yell “Pelea!’’

It’s a word that describes our team really well. Fighters.

 

Play Hard. Be Happy.

I’m getting ready for our fourth game against the Rockies, hoping for a sweep. We’ve been playing so well on the road, so it’s great to play so well in front of our own fans. The magic number is down to five, but we take nothing for granted. We keep focused on every single game and try to win every one. We have to keep working harder and harder so if we make it to the playoffs we’ll be ready for them.

And our fans deserve for us to play hard, no matter where we are in the standings. They cheer for us every single day, so we need to show them that we want to win as much as they do. We’re fans, too, of the San Francisco Giants and we want to go to the World Series again. If we keep playing the way we’re playing, we have a chance to do it.

Look at what Matt Cain did yesterday. Look what Pablo did. Guys are stepping up. I had three hits yesterday for the first time since early July. I had some inflammation in my shoulder and had to take a few days off, and maybe that’s what my body and mind needed. I’m feeling really, really good at the plate.

I’m not in the lineup today, which is one of the hardest thing as a player. But you always have a job to do, even when you’re on the bench. Paul left a question for me that ties right into this. He asked what I think my role is on the team. I think it’s to bring extra energy to the club and to always be really supportive. So when I’m on the bench, my job is to cheer for everybody and to pump them up when they’ve made a mistake. I always have a smile on my face and just try to keep people loose and happy.

Someone asked what I do on the road. Usually I eat with Scutaro and sometimes with Pablo and Sanchez, my Venezuelan buddies. We talk about the games, about food, about families. I also watch a lot of movies. I love watching movies. That’s the thing that relaxes me the most. On the last road trip I watched a scary movie. I can’t remember the name, but it was a good one. I watched it by myself, and I wasn’t sure that was going to be OK. But I was fine. My favorites are action movies like Independence Day and Armageddon.

Like most players, I have routines on game days. When I get to the ballpark, I do my batting and fielding, and after BP I have a protein shake. I don’t like to eat too much because I’ll be full during the game. Then around 6 o’clock (for a 7 o’clock game) I put on headphones and listen to Venezuelan music while I stretch and get focused. I always say to myself, “You can do this. Go out there and have fun and play hard.’’

When I go up to bat, my walk-up song  is “Welcome to Jam Rock’’ by Damian Marley. I’ve had the same song all season. It makes me happy to hear it.

OK, got to get out to the field to warm up. Then I’ll drink my milkshake and I’m ready to go. Thanks for reading and for supporting our team! It means a lot to all of us.

Venezuela West

Jean Machi’s arrival this week means there are now six players in the Giants clubhouse from Venezuela – Pablo, Hector Sanchez, Marco Scutaro, Jose Mijares, Machi and me.

By the way, we pronounce Machi like this: Ma-SHEE.

Being so far from home, it’s really nice to have people who know the same food, same traditions, same music. We all know each other from winter ball, so we were really happy to see Machi finally get a chance in a major-league game at the age of 30 after 12 years in pro ball.

“You deserve this,’’ I told him when he came in from Fresno, where he was the closer for the Grizzlies. “You worked for it and nobody can take it away from you now. Enjoy it.’’

Then he went out and threw a perfect inning in his major-league debut. I think everybody in the park was happy for him because he had waited so long and had worked so hard. What they don’t know is that he’s a really nice guy. His personality is a lot like Pablo’s in that he has a lot of energy and enthusiasm. But he’s quieter than Pablo.

Pablo is kind of the leader of the Venezuelans because he’s such a great player and a great teammate.

Scutaro has become a leader, too, even though he hasn’t been with the team very long. But he’s the oldest of the Venezuelans and has the most experience. Marco tries to help everybody. He knows I’ve been struggling at the plate, so every day he says to me, “You are a great player. We believe in you. Everybody in here believes in you.’’ He tells me to relax, to trust my hands and go with the pitch and hit the ball the other way. That’s what he does. And that’s the kind of player I am when I’m locked in. I’m patient at the plate like he is. I have quality at-bats. So he talks to me a lot about getting back into a good groove.

If someone asked what all Venezuelan players had in common, I’d say two things: We’re team players and we’re passionate about baseball. And one more thing: Pride. Every single Venezuelan I’ve played with takes great pride in how he competes and what he contributes to his team.

We haven’t all gotten together away from the park yet, though we want to. I tried to do it August 13 for my baby boy’s birthday, but Pablo was celebrating his birthday the same day.

OK, I’m heading to the cage to get in some extra batting practice. I hope it doesn’t rain, though the skies look a little dark. After back-to-back extra-inning games, the last thing we need is a rain delay.

Looking forward to the day off tomorrow before the big series against the Dodgers. September baseball, in first place, playing our rival – what’s better than that?

 

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