The Baseball Gods Have Returned

I could see it from the first game after the All-Star Break. Everything started to change. Our bats came alive. And the baseball gods started smiling again. Bloopers fell. Grounders found holes. Before the break that wasn’t happening. We’d hit bloopers right at people. Opposing teams made great plays to stop the grounders. It was weird.

Now it’s like starting over.

That Tuesday game in Philadelphia — the one that went 14 innings and 5 hours and 46 minutes — showed a lot. We were so exhausted, and the Phillies kept bringing in one tough pitcher after another. We’re thinking, “This is never going to end.’’ I dashed up to the clubhouse to eat some bread and butter, drink a protein shake. In the dugout we were all eating protein bars and drinking water to try to keep from getting cramps or pulling a hammy.

In the 13th inning, I was tossing the ball in the outfield with Tyler Colvin. He told me he might pitch. Bochy had asked if he could do it. I thought, “OK, wow, this is where we are.’’ He wanted to warm up, and suddenly this outfielder is throwing me some nasty sliders and change-ups. I was like, “You can do this!’’

After we scored in the 14th, he was joking, “Oh, now I might not pitch!’’

It was one of those games where Bochy could have asked anyone to do anything and the answer would have been “yes.’’ I’d have pitched! I’ve only pitched two games in my life, when I was a kid, but for sure I’d go in if Bochy asked. We all really appreciate playing for the Giants. We’ll do whatever it takes to win. Look at Lincecum coming in to pitch. That right there shows us how much we want to win. It’s a game in July and Lincecum is coming in to pitch in relief.

But that was a loooooonng game. We’re still tired! After the game we all just said, “Good thing it’s not a day game tomorrow!’’ We got back to the hotel around 2am, and of course you’re still hyper from the game. You know it’s going to be hard to go to sleep. I closed the curtains tight so it would stay really dark when the sun came up, and finally went to sleep.

The next night we thought the game might go into extra innings again, but luckily — after Bumgarner pitched so well — Hunter came through. It was that kind of trip.

During the All-Star break, we really enjoyed the new house in Miami. Neighbors came by to welcome us. One family is from the Dominican. Another is from Panama. The contractor came by to make sure everything was OK. We had friends over to have champagne and a barbecue to christen the new house. We went to the beach one day.

My nine-year-old son, Granger, came in from Venezuela with my dad. He had never really seen me play in the Major Leagues because we weren’t able to get him a visa until last December.

Now Granger is here in San Francisco with us, too. He was dying to come to San Francisco, so he’s here with us now for about a month. Then he has to go back to school. I can’t wait to show him around. He’s coming to the game tonight!

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading and for coming out to support us!

7-25-14

3:30 p.m.

Going Camping (Sort Of)

Just a quick post because I’m with my family and want to enjoy as much time with them as possible!

My wife and son and I flew to Miami after the game on Sunday. We saw our new house for the first time — it’s awesome. I bought it last year while it was still under construction. I just got the keys before I left San Francisco. My dad, my older son and some of my wife’s family joined us here from Venezuela.

There was nothing in the house when we arrived. Nothing. We bought air mattresses so we could sleep. We went to the store yesterday to buy dishes and all that stuff and some furniture. We got a couple of TVs and the cable guy hooked them up. So now we can watch the All-Star Game tonight. I doubt I’ll watch the whole thing. I’ll tune in during the late innings when our guys will get a chance to play. It’s exciting to watch them and cheer for them from home. They deserve it and I’m really proud of my teammates.

Mostly during the break, I want to let my body rest. We all need this break as a team. It’s good to clean our minds and hit reset and start fresh in the second half.

I want to say it’s awesome having Marco back. Everybody from the fans to the clubhouse guys are happy to see him here. And he’s really excited to be back. He said when he got here, it felt like the first day he made it to the big leagues.

In my last blog I wrote about my routine before games when I’m not in the lineup. So someone asked about my routine when I am in the lineup. I don’t do as much. I enjoy my time by myself and my teammates and conserve energy. I arrive around 2 for a 7 o’clock game. I stretch, do come core work, and take it easy. After batting practice, I have my meal — usually just a protein shake. I don’t like to eat much before a game. Then an hour before the game I sit in the hot tub, then take a nice shower and then stretch again. And right before the game, I hit a little bit in the cage and have one more stretch. Then I say to myself, “For the next three hours, play the best you can, give 100 percent and enjoy the game.’’

To answer another question, I follow the same routine at away games.

Someone else asked how I remind myself to stay within myself at the plate and not try to do too much. I don’t do anything special. If I put too much effort into one swing, I take a big breath and say to myself, “Remember who you are. Don’t try to do too much.’’
 
Thanks for supporting us through our tough stretch. Can’t wait for the second half, but right now it’s pretty nice here in Miami with my family.

Here are some photos from the first half of the season that I don’t think I shared before. Little Gregor really likes the microphone! And he loves Pablo.

IMG_1100IMG_1105IMG_1110IMG_1107

July 15, 2014

10 a.m.

 

Cloak of Invincibility — Gregor Blanco

[The administrator didn't post this until now, though it was posted two days ago on the Spanish-language site . . . sorry]

    I have a wrap on my ankle today. It’s not a big deal. When I woke up this morning, I felt little bit like a truck had run over me. You probably feel that way sometimes, too. Just one of those days. For ballplayers, when we’re halfway through the season, different body parts start to feel a little sore and strained.
    I bring this up because I’m asked sometimes about my routine for staying in shape during the season. Like a lot of guys, I’m kind of fanatical about it. And I guess it’s working because I have never been on the DL. Not even in the minors. I once pulled my oblique muscle and had to miss five games, but I avoided the DL.
    The only time I would have had to go on the DL was last year. You might remember when I collided with Angel Pagan in the outfield and badly sprained my ankle. The doctor said I couldn’t play for two months. Lucky for me it was the last game of the season.
    Another reason I’ve never been on the DL is all of my years of playing the outfield I have never run into a wall or a fence. In most circumstances, the team needs you to stay healthy more than it needs you to catch one ball. You’re better off in the long run playing it off the wall or letting it drop. There are exceptions — like saving a perfect game or making an out in a World Series that might mean the difference between winning and losing.
    So I’ll tell you about my pre-game routine that helps me stay healthy. It’s different depending on whether I’m in the lineup or not. I’ll tell you my not-in-the-lineup routine.
    I arrive before 2:30 for a 7 p.m. game. I start by working out with Carl Kochan, our strength and conditioning coach. We work in the gym on core, legs or upper body. I stretch, then go run on the field. Then I meet with Bam-Bam and Joe Lefebvre about hitting. I might work with Flan on bunting. Or run the bases by myself, putting myself into different situations. Then I do BP with the team.
    If I do all that, I’m ready when the game starts for whatever the manager needs from me. I want to be ready 100 percent. Even during the game, I stretch some more. I think stretching is one of the most important things. (But I don’t stretch after games. Time to give my body a rest.)    
    If any part of my body is bothering me, I try to take care of it before it can become more serious. That’s why I have this wrap on my ankle today. I do whatever the trainers tell me to do. Then I do extra when I get home — I ice my muscles, I drink lots of water, take electrolytes if I need them, eat healthy food. (I’m not sure I’ll wear the wrap during the game today. I’ll check it out during BP. If I don’t like it, I’ll take it off and just play through it.)
    The bottom line is I never want to leave the game. I learned that from my parents. No matter what, try to play. They told me if I get hit, you still play even though it’s going to be a little painful.
    On a different subject, I have one thing to tell you about my home run on Saturday against the Padres — my first home run of the season. I was talking to my twin brother, Gregory, before the game.
    “You’re going to hit a home run today,’’ he said.
    “OK,” I joked, “let’s do it!’’
    When I hit the home run, I was so excited. I wasn’t thinking about what Gregory had said. I was thinking how great it was for the team. I was really pumped up, and the team was really pumped up. I was feeling like, “See? We can do this!’’
    When I was running past third base, I remembered, “Oh my god, my brother told me this!’’
    I called him after the game.
    “Tell me I’m going to hit a home run tomorrow!’’
    Thanks for reading and for all the really nice comments on the last blog. Feel free to leave your questions. I’ll answer them like Crawford does in his blog.

July 8, 2014

3:30 p.m.

Awesome Day at the Park

Wow, I’m so happy for Timmy. He’s such a great guy and a great teammate that you just want to see him get a no-hitter every time he steps on the mound. He’s one of those guys who treats everybody exactly the same, whether you’re a rookie or a superstar veteran. He talks to everybody. He comes to the park every day wanting to have fun and do everything he can to win.
After a no-hitter, you have a little celebration in the clubhouse for the pitcher. We all had our paper cups of champagne and Timmy walked in from the dining room with his medieval helmet on and a USA soccer jersey with his name on the back. The no-hitter pitcher is supposed to say something about the no-hitter and what it means to him. But Timmy is so humble he didn’t want to say anything. So he just thanked us and said how much he appreciated everybody.
Timmy is different from any other pitcher I’ve played with. He’s always loose and always ready to have fun, even on days he pitches. Most pitchers stay to themselves on the day they pitch, and you’re not supposed to talk to them. Timmy’s the opposite. Or rather he’s the same whether he’s pitching or not. Even during the no-hitter, he was chatting and joking in the dugout. Pretty awesome.
From centerfield today I could see he was throwing every pitch pretty much exactly where he wanted to throw it. On 3-2 counts, he threw the change-up without hesitation. He located his fastball on 2-0 counts. Nobody did any damage against him. It was great to watch. As a fielder, I wasn’t nervous about the ball coming to me. Actually I wanted every ball to come to me. I like to back up my pitchers.
Timmy’s hitting was unbelievable, too — two hits! As Bochy said, it was The Timmy Show today. I’ve told him several times that he has an outstanding swing. He really does. After his two hits, he worked the count for a walk! What he did today was really amazing.
I was really happy for Hector, too. A no-hitter is huge for any catcher but especially for a back-up. In the minor-leagues, Hector struggled with his defense. He worked on it, and now he’s a different guy. He has the confidence of his pitchers. He knows how to call a great game. I’m really proud of him and so happy this happened to him.
I’m writing this quickly because we have Family Day at the park this afternoon. Once a year, the players’ and coaches’ families come to the park to play on the field and get family photos taken and eat an early dinner together. There’s face-painting and wiffle ball and probably hula-hoops. My little son is tugging at me right now to get out there! He won’t remember that Timmy threw a no-hitter today, but he might remember swinging a plastic bat and running the bases at AT&T Park with all the other kids. That’s a cool memory, too.

 

Hard Work, Attitude & Decaf

The best thing for me about yesterday’s game against the Mets: We won, and I was one of the guys who got some high-fives in the dugout. Getting a hit or making a big play or driving guys in — it’s a big deal when you’re not an everyday player. It’s an even bigger deal on a team like we have. You could play your whole career and never be on a team like this. It’s not just about the winning. It’s the attitude.

 

Every day we have the attitude that we’re going to win, and we believe it could be anybody on the roster who makes that difference that day. And everybody has the same mentality. Everybody. I’m talking about everybody. Somebody’s going to step up and get the job done. Saturday it was Morse. Friday it was Posey. Yesterday when I came through with three RBIs, I can’t tell you how great that felt.

 

One of the things about this team is that nobody jumps on you for messing up, not even the coaches. If you screw up — like getting thrown out trying to stretch a double into a triple! Too much coffee in the morning! — the coaches don’t get on you. Or if you don’t get a guy in from third with less than two outs. The coaches prepare us and let us play. They know we’re going all out.

 

I had such a slow start to the season. I was hitting something like .100 in the middle of May. Now I’ve gone .400 in my last 20 games. I can just say hard work pays off. I knew sooner or later things were going to go well for me. I wasn’t frustrated because at some point I was going to start playing the way I know I can play. I just kept preparing myself for every situation because I want to be here for a long time. I don’t know if that will happen or not, but I feel really good here. I want to be the guy who can come off the bench, or play a few games or play a regular position.

In batting practice, I really focus on hitting only low line drives and ground balls. I’m getting better every time. In my last BP, I hit only one fly ball. That’s going to help me. It shows in the game.

 

I’m not sure yet if I’m in the lineup today. It doesn’t matter. I’m ready for whatever Bochy needs. And I’m thinking of switching to decaf.

 

 

 

 

The Game within the Game

I know I’ve talked about this before, but in baseball the same issues come up over and over. There are certain things for every player that are like skin rashes that keep coming back. You think you’ve dealt with it and there it is again.

My skin rash is about trying to be something I’m not. You can get a little crazy when you’re not going well. You go up there trying to drive in five runs in one at-bat. On the recent road trip, I was watching the opposing team’s lead-off batter. I can’t remember now who it was. I thought, “That’s the type of player I am. Putting the ball on the ground, getting on base, walking, bunting, stealing bases.’’

I had a sit-down with myself, and I’ve been playing better ever since. My numbers are creeping up. On Sunday when Angel took a day off, I went 3 for 4 in his spot. And most importantly, we won. I really needed a game like that. Not just for me, but I want Angel to feel he can take a day off and not think he’s leaving a big hole in the lineup.

I love the game within the game of stealing bases. When I’m in the dugout, I watch the pitcher to pick up on patterns or tells. I watch the way he throws off-speed pitches because that’s what you’re looking for. When you’re on base, you’re trying to think along with the pitcher and catcher. On what pitch-counts would he be throwing off-speed? Which batters?

When I get caught stealing, like I did on Sunday, I always look at why. Usually it’s pretty obvious. On that one, I just got a bad jump. You’re supposed to take off as soon as the pitcher lifts his foot to throw. I started when he was already up. Just that split second of hesitation can make all the difference. And the catcher’s throw was perfect. That didn’t help.

I remember when I first started in pro baseball, I didn’t know the tricks that first basemen try to play on you. They’ll talk to you and try to distract you. They’ll say, “Time out! Time out!’’ even though there’s no time out. Or they’ll ask you about dinner the night before or where you’re from. You just think they’re being friendly. In Single A, I was on first base and the first baseman is talking and talking and suddenly the pitcher throws over and gets me. I was pretty embarrassed. I told my manager, “That will never happen again.’’

Now when I get on base, I ask the first baseman how he’s doing — I like to be polite. Then I ignore him.

 

 

 

 

My Two Families: Home and Clubhouse

I flew my wife and son to Los Angeles for the Dodgers series, though they usually don’t join me on the road. But I wanted us to be together for Mother’s Day. Even though I didn’t even have time to have breakfast with them Sunday morning — I had to pack for get-away day and get out to the park for the day game — it was important that we got up together as a family. I reminded my son to say Happy Mother’s Day, and I gave my wife a present. I wanted to make sure she had a good Mother’s Day.

I think, of course, about my own mother on Mother’s Day. She died eight years ago at the age of 47.  I know she wanted so much to see me play in the Major Leagues and she never did. But I know she’s here watching me now and she’s proud.

I was thinking about how my mother always told me to appreciate what I have and to be the best at everything I do, whether it’s playing baseball and being a good teammate or being a good husband and father. One of the toughest lessons to learn in baseball — maybe in anything, but I only know baseball — is to balance your life at the field and your life at home. It’s really easy to get so focused on baseball that you don’t make enough time for your family. Or even if you make enough time, you’re actually thinking about what happened at the park.

Or on the other side, you can be thinking so much about problems at home, that you’re not as focused as you need to be on the field. I know this from experience in my first marriage. So I really try to give 100 percent to baseball when I’m playing baseball, and 100 percent to my family when I’m with my family. If you keep that kind of balance, you’re going to be happy in both places.

What I learned from my father was to be appreciative of everything I have. I try to see what’s good in my life and not focus on what might be missing or not so good. I’m going through a slump and am working really hard to get through it. I’m realizing that, because I don’t play all the time, I’m trying too hard to make a big splash when I DO get in instead of being who I am: a kind of small guy who should hit grounders and get on base and steal. I’m not a slugger. So I’m telling myself, “Don’t forget who you are. Do the little things you did before and you’ll be fine.’’

In the meantime, I’m completely appreciative of having the opportunity to play for the Giants against this season, and I’m having a great time watching our guys win. The road trip was unbelievable. We seem to find a way to win games, and it always seems to be somebody different who comes through. Sometimes it’s been the bottom of the lineup. Sometimes the top.  Sometimes the bench guys. Hector’s been so good. Watching him and everyone inspires me to be better and get out the slump. I want to be part of it!

Thanks for reading. See you at the park! And a late Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms!

Pinch-blogging: El Iman! The Magnet!

The Brandons seemed to have a lot of fun with their pinch-bloggers, so I asked Hector Sanchez to fill in today. I asked him a few questions about things I thought you might want to know. We taped the answers, and here they are.

Why did you become a catcher?

I was a third baseman, but my agent said I wasn’t fast enough or good enough at third to make it as a professional. He said maybe I should try catching because I had a good arm. I was 15 at the time. I worked on catching for about 6 or 7 months, and I was signed by the Giants as a catcher. They sent me to the team’s baseball academy in the Dominican Republic with other young guys from Latin America.

My first year there, 2006, was embarrassing. I could barely catch the ball. My glove would fly off from the impact of the pitches. The manager there nicknamed me El Iman (pronounced ee-MON). The Magnet. Every ball hit me. I’d be one big bruise at the end of the day. I’d have bags of ice on every part of my body. My glove hand hurt all the time because we used the same cheap mitt all season, and the padding got flattened to a pancake. I’d tape my hands as best I could. To this day, I tape my thumb because it still hurts from being bent back so many thousands of times I was learning the position.

The guys who know me from the Dominican academy, like Adrianza and Jose Casilla, still call me El Iman. Now Gardy (bullpen coach Mark Gardner) does, too. He’ll yell,  “Hey, Iman!’’

After that first season in the Dominican, I knew I had to get better fast. Back home in Venezuela, I just worked and worked with my coaches. I did drills with my hands to learn how to catch the ball softly. I learned block positions. I threw to the bases. I just forgot about hitting and worked only on catching.

The next year, in 2007, I was a different guy when I returned to the Dominican I knew a lot more about what I was doing. And in 2008, when I was 18, I was MVP of our Dominican league.

Was the 11-inning game in Colorado the other day the longest game you’ve ever caught?

            No! The longest I ever caught was 18 innings for San Jose in 2011. The manager asked me in the 12th or 13th inning if I wanted to come out. I said, “No, I feel good!’’ I was having a good game — I had four hits — so I wasn’t coming out. I ran out to my position every inning to show I was good to play. Still, when Stockton’s shortstop bobbled Jarett Parker’s grounder and the winning run scored, I dropped to my knees and looked up at the sky and said, “Thank you!’’

You hit a solo home run and a grand slam in that 11-inning game against Colorado. Were you doing something different at the plate?

Before that, I had been trying to do too much. It’s something that happens especially when you don’t play very much. You put pressure on yourself. Bam-Bam reminded me to relax and to keep my front shoulder closed. That was the big difference. I kept the shoulder closed and I told myself to think just about the pitcher and myself. Forget about the other players. Forget about the fans. Just keep it simple.

It seems funny that the less you try to do, the better you do.

 

Thanks, Hector.

Hope everyone enjoyed hearing from him!

 

An Awesome Almost

I’m enjoying our day off but wanted to do a quick post today about my almost-inside-the-park-home-run. It’s an example of how, even if you fall short, you can be thrilled about and grateful for the attempt. I’m still thinking about how close I came! It’s a dream of mine to accomplish that, like Angel did last year.

To tell you the truth, I was actually thinking about a home run when I went up to bat yesterday. I hadn’t had a hit yet this season, so I was thinking, “Why not hit a home run for your first hit of the season? Why not an inside-the-park home run?’’

As soon as I hit it into the gap, I was thinking about going all the way. When I reached second base and saw the ball rattling around in the gap, I thought, “This could happen!’’ And Flan was waving me home.

But when I rounded third, my legs just didn’t go as fast I needed them to go. When you’re coming off the bench, as I was, your legs aren’t as loose as they are when you’re in the whole game. It’s so much tougher to sustain your speed around all the bases.

The catcher already had the ball as I barreled to home. I thought, “OK, just do your best to get around the tag.’’ I dove, and he did a great job of going after me. I completely scratched up my right arm and my chest and abdomen.

I high-fived Flan afterward and thanked him for sending me. It was just awesome — especially for my first hit of the season.

Then Crawford saved all of us with his huge home run in the 10th. As soon as he hit it, everybody knew it was gone.

This team has that special feeling you get sometimes. It’s like you never know who’s going to come through, or how they’re going to do it.

The excitement and energy from yesterday’s game is exactly what we want going in against the Dodgers tomorrow. Hope to see you out there!

Holy Opening Day, BatKid!

The best part of Opening Day, even more than winning, was watching the BatKid take the mound and throw out the first pitch to Matt Cain. Wow. We were all in the dugout watching this little five-year-old who’s been battling leukemia. I think he got the biggest cheer of the day, which is exactly how it should be.

My mom died of cancer so I really followed the BatKid’s story last year and have been cheering for him ever since. Seeing him today having so much fun — coming out of the BatMobile in full BatKid costume — makes you appreciate everything you have in your own life. Matt brought him into the clubhouse after the game. He didn’t seem impressed, but looked happy when I saw him leaving with what looked like a BatKid bobble head.

There’s no arguing that the BatKid did his job. He kept our park safe from Diamondbacks.

I was happy to get in the game and contribute. I’ve been talking to Ehire Adrianza about how important it is for players to understand their roles. I’m going to be coming off the bench this season to pinch hit, play defense, run bases, bunt. So is he. It’s a different role than what he did in the minors, and it’s a position you have to learn just like any other position on the team.

For example, knowing I’m going to be pinch running sometimes, I put in extra time in practice not only running the bases but talking to Flan, our third-base coach, about thinking through different situations — inning, outs, batter, fielders, etc. If there’s any hesitation, or if you’re not 100 percent prepared, you can lose quickness and lose the game.

So I practice getting a good jump. I practice making great turns at the base — hitting the inside of the bag and pushing myself as quickly as I can toward the next base. I probably do more conditioning now than ever. I get to the park early to run by myself. I work with Carl, our conditioning coach.

Bochy called on me today to pinch run for Morse in the fifth with two outs. Crawford singled to right. I rounded third, knowing their right fielder, Gerardo Parra, has a great arm — and knowing there’d be a play at the plate. I said to myself, “Just go and try not to get tagged.’’

For all the plans you make, all the drills you do, sometimes there are situations in the Major Leagues that are like sandlot baseball — just don’t get tagged!

So the catcher caught the ball. I took a side-step, somehow slid around him and brushed my fingers across the plate. You can’t practice that kind of slide. It’s just instinct.

The other thing I tell Adrianza about being a bench player is that it’s our job to support the guys who are on the field. When we’ve given up a couple runs and guys come off the field with their heads down, it’s our job to pump them up. We need to pay attention to the game as much as if we were playing because you can be called on at any moment. And you have to anticipate when the manager is going to call on you so you’re ready.

Everybody on the roster today was ready. More than ready. We were coming off an incredible road trip. And we had the BatKid on our side. How could we lose?

 

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