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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?

 

My Question For Bonds

The big news in camp today, as you know, was Barry Bonds showing up to coach for a week. I think it’s great. I didn’t talk to him today other than to say hey. I know he’s open to anyone asking him about hitting. Not every one will do it, but I’m going to.

I want to ask him what his mentality was at the plate. That’s the most important thing about hitting at this level. I want to know what he was thinking every single time. He was like a super human playing baseball. He had incredible focus. I just want to know what he was thinking.

I didn’t hear a lot of advice today. I think he was mostly trying to get to know everybody and putting us at ease. He was kind of joking at the batting cage, teasing guys about how hard they were hitting the ball. I think it’s great that he’s here to help us.

It’s kind of a baseball tradition to pass what you know down to the next guy. I had a chance to do that today with one of our minor-leaguers. I was playing in the intra-squad game yesterday against our young guys. Andrew Susac, a second-round pick in 2011, was catching for them. I was on first base and noticed I could see his signs to the pitcher.

Obviously, that’s not a good thing. If the base runner can see the signs, he knows when the pitcher’s throwing over to first, throwing to home, throwing a breaking ball. If he had called a breaking ball, I could have stolen a base pretty easily.

So today in the dugout, I saw Susac with bullpen catcher Billy Hayes. I told him what I saw from first base and said he needed to close up his legs a little. He was really appreciative. I told him it was no big deal — that’s how you learn.

​I really liked playing in that game and getting to see more of the young guys. When I got to second base, I chatted with last year’s Number One pick, Christian Arroyo, asking how he was doing and joking with him. I told him I had bad hamstrings and I was really tired and getting old and that he didn’t need to worry about me on the base paths. He was just laughing.

​I also talked to Chris Lofton, an outfielder for Single A San Jose last year. I told him I remembered when I was in his shoes. I said, “Every time you’re here you have to show 100 percent of yourself. You have to use all your tools. You’re a speedy guy. You’ve got to run, you’ve got to bunt, you’ve got to show them that you’re hungry.’’ I told him it’s such an exciting time in his life and he should enjoy it.

I’m heading home from the park now. I think I might go to the movies. I love going out to the movies. I love it. Whenever I have time, I try to go. I might go see RoboCop today. My wife will probably go, even though she always falls asleep. We took our son one time to watch a kids’ movie, but we had to get out of there not long after we sat down. He kept saying, “Vamos! Let’s go!’’ He’s three and can’t yet sit through a movie. So we won’t be doing that again any time soon.

​We’re waiting for the water park here to open, supposedly March 15. That’s more his thing. There’s a pool at the apartment we’re renting but the water’s still too cold. I check it every day. Maybe in a few days. In the meantime, I’ll take my son sometimes onto the practice field beyond the stadium’s right-field wall. He runs and we play catch. He loves baseball already. When he comes to watch batting practice, he gives his mother a hard time when it’s time to go home. She practically has to drag him to the car.

​One of the great things about having a three-year-old is that if he had to choose between me and Barry Bonds as the better player, he’s choosing me every time. How much longer do I have of that? Believe me, I’m appreciating it while it lasts.

​Thanks for reading.

Turning Things Around

blanco_photoMatt Cain came through the clubhouse today handing out T-shirts to everybody. The shirt has a photo of a blubbery shirtless guy in red-white-and-blue boxing trunks. I thought at first it was just some random fat guy. Somebody just told me it’s the body of Butterbean, the fighter, with the face of Carl Kochan, our conditioning coach. It’s pretty funny. Cainer must have had them made this morning. I think it’s a reminder that we have to loosen up and have fun and stay united. We’re a team that has always had a good time together and we have to keep doing that.

In baseball, you go through streaks when the luck is with you or the luck is against you. Last year in the postseason everything broke our way. For the last couple weeks, nothing is. Everything seems hard right now. It’s weird. It’s really weird. I’ve never been on a team when so many guys are going bad at the same time.

We’ve also run into some good pitching. In the Cincinnati series, I saw only one or two pitches the whole series that I felt I should have done something with and didn’t. Give the other teams credit. They’re pitching well and playing good defense.

We all know we’re still in the race, and there’s still half of the season left to play. I don’t think we’ve been really down actually as far as our attitude. The good thing about this team is we stay together. We arrive at the park with same attitude. We’re still pounding each other’s backs and taking care of each other like brothers. We tell each other we’re going to get through this, that we’re winners and we’re going to be OK.

Personally I don’t keep track of my numbers. My family from home will call and say, “You’re oh-for-whatever.’’ I don’t care. Don’t tell me that. Just talk to me about winning. That’s all that matters. Did we win?

I know better now than to over-react and start changing things when I go through a bad streak. You have to stay with what’s been successful for you most of the season. I’ve said this before, but I’ve learned a lot from watching Marco and Buster. They know what they can do. They don’t panic. They really believe in themselves and know that things will turn around. I’ve been having good at-bats and hitting the ball hard. The balls will start dropping.

In the meantime, it is so great to be home. I love having my son at the park before the games. He came on the field with me before batting practice. He likes to throw the ball – and he lifts his front leg already like he’s seen all our pitchers do.

We’re ready for the Dodgers. This the game that will start turning things around. We believe that every single game.

Letting Go

Before the game today, I read the passage for June 19 in a book that Joaquin Arias gave me in spring training. It’s called “Jesus Is Calling You.’’ I’m not a really, really religious guy, but I’ve been reading the book every day since February or March. It reminds me about humility and service, about keeping everything in my life in perspective. In particular, I’ve been trying to work on calming my anxiety. I put a lot of pressure on myself to keep proving myself in the Major Leagues. I talk to Marco a lot about it. He is always telling me to have fun and not worry so much.

 

So the passage in the book today was about letting go of my worries and handing them over to God.

 

When Bochy put me in the game as a pinch-hitter with two runners on, I told myself, “Let go. Relax. Believe in yourself.’’ When I saw the ball fly into the gap for a two-run triple, let me tell you that there is no better feeling in baseball. That’s what means the most in this game — coming through when your team is counting on you. It means a lot to me that Bochy gave me the opportunity there.

 

After the game, someone said that Bumgarner had told reporters that I was one of the best all-around players he had ever played with. That is the highest compliment. I am the happiest when I can utilize all my tools – getting on base, driving in runs, stealing bases, playing solid defense, cutting down runners. I’ve played like that back in Venezuela for a long time but struggled to play like that in the Major Leagues. Now, finally, it’s all coming together.

 

Some guys like to know exactly what their role is. But I like that the manager feels he can use me a lot of different ways. I like hitting leadoff because it gives me opportunities to run, to bunt, to take pitches, to get aggressive. But I like hitting six or seven because I get a chance to drive in runs.

 

To tell you the truth, I just want to be in the lineup.

 

On Tuesday, you might have noticed I stepped out of the batter’s box a few times right before the pitcher was set to throw. I do that sometimes to break his rhythm. But mostly I do it because the pitcher’s taking too long and trying to break MY rhythm. I start feeling anxious because he’s not throwing the ball, so I step out. I always apologize, even to the catcher. I know they don’t like it. But I need to control my at-bat, not let them control it. So I try to let them know, “This is my at-bat, not yours.’’

 

I don’t know if I wrote about this before, but one of my rituals when I go up to bat is to draw a line across the batter’s box. I’ve done that for about six years. It’s a reminder to stay back. If I find myself crossing the line, I’m going forward too much and not waiting on the pitch like I should. You have to let the ball come to you rather than going out and chasing it.

 

That 13-inning loss the other night was a killer, especially since we had gotten back to San Francisco just that morning. We were pretty tired by the end. But I had to admire Will Venable’s catch on Juan Perez’s long fly ball. That’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. I had a similar ball in left field the next night. I should have caught it. If I’m able to get to the ball, I expect to catch it. So I asked myself why it hit off my glove. I watched the tape and I think it was because when I stepped from the grass down to the dirt on the warning track, I moved my head just a little bit and moved my glove. But that’s not an excuse. I should have caught it.

 

It’s been so much fun watching Juan Perez. I like his attitude. He really believes in himself. He’s confident that whatever he was doing in Triple A he can do here. He’s not trying to prove anything. He’s just playing the way he knows he can play. I don’t think he even played center field in the minor leagues and look what he’s doing. His throws! They’ve been unbelievable. Teams keep running on him. And he keeps throwing them out.

 

I had a great Father’s Day. My wife and son flew all the way to Atlanta to spend the day with me. They woke me up with gifts. My little boy gave me a present of Starbucks coffee and a coffee cup. My wife gave me a couple shirts. I told them the best present was just being there with me.

 

 

Weirdness All Around

It’s been a weird schedule. We were home for just two games and now we’re on the road again for a long time. But it was worth coming back here, no matter how short a time. We can see our families, and we get to play in front of our fans. R.A. Dickey was tough yesterday, to say the least. All you can do is try to hit a mistake, which is what I was able to do. He has so much movement on the ball, and he gets your timing all off.

Glad we have a day off today to kind of shake the game off.

St. Louis was a weird experience, too. That storm on Friday, which postponed the game till Saturday, was scary. I’d never been in a tornado, so I was nervous about what it might be like. When we got back to the hotel, some of the other Latin guys and I were eating together, and Madison Bumgarner came over. He asked if we had gotten the textabout the possible tornado. That was really nice because he knew none of us had ever been through something like that. I don’t know if he had been through a tornado before, but he seemed really comfortable so maybe he has. He said if anything happens just go to the basement. That made me feel better, but I slept with my phone just the same. I didn’t want to miss a text or a call telling us to take cover. Luckily nothing happened.

Playing a double-header the next day, and losing both games, makes for a really, really long afternoon. Between games, I took a nap in the weight room. They had the lights down and yoga mats on the floor. So I got a towel to use as a pillow and slept for about 45 minutes. Pablo was in there sleeping, too, and Quiroz, and a couple other guys. I think it was a good thing to do but obviously didn’t help us win. You just have to say tomorrow’s another day. That’s why baseball’s so great. Tomorrow you can do something new.

As it turned out, Chad Gaudin was our “something new.’’ I played against him in Venezuela a couple years ago. He’s kind of a different guy now. He works out every day so he’s in better shape. He has a more explosive fastball than before, and his off-speed pitches are better. I’m really impressed who he is right now. I was watching him from center field and I was thinking, “OK, this guy’s really good.’’ He was commanding his fastball low. He didn’t care who he faced. I was so glad we got the win in general and for him in particular. He’s really been working so hard.

I spent my day off on Monday with my wife and son. We went to the dentist in the morning. I had a cleaning and my wife had a root canal. I thought she’d be in pain all day, but she was fine. The doctor did a great job. We got sushi, brought it home and watched the NBA playoffs on a new projector and big-screen television we just got. It was really fun to watch basketball like that.

Today when we get to Arizona, I’ll go watch a movie. Probably The Fast and the Furious 6. Then we play the Diamondbacks and hopefully gain some games on them in the standings. We need to remember to have fun. That’s when we’re at our best. I think we haven’t been having as much fun as we did last year, and we have to get that back.

Thanks for reading! See you in a couple weeks.

A Reason For Everything

I have a few minutes before I go back out for batting practice, so I’m going to write a short post.

 

I just got in from doing some running. If I’m not in the starting lineup like tonight, I go out with our conditioning coach Carl Kochan almost as soon as I get to the park. Sometimes he has me running, sometimes doing agilities. Today he had me sprinting six times along the curve where the outfield grass meets the infield dirt.

 

He wanted to me to run from baseline to baseline in 12 seconds. He was excited I did it in 10. The pregame workout keeps me conditioned when I know I’m not going to get much, or any, exercise during the game. And it keeps me loose in case Bochy puts me in.

 

I know everyone’s talking about our bad road trip. But the way I see it, the bad stuff just makes us stronger. I think things happen for a reason, and this will just make us work harder. We believe in ourselves and in each other. We know things like this happen over the course of a season and that we’re going to snap out of it and be fine. We proved that to ourselves last year.

 

The high socks in yesterday’s game is an example of how we try always to stick together as a team. It was Pablo’s idea. I think he wanted to do something that would connect all of us. Some guys looked really bad. Affeldt really did. But no one looked funnier than Pablo. Maybe that’s why he chose that particular thing to do, so he could make everyone laugh.

 

I’ve been wearing the short pants and high socks every Sunday this season. Sundays are a day for God, so I wanted to mark the day by doing something different. So far, I seem to hit pretty well on those days, so I’ll keep doing it.

 

Let’s hope we get back on track tonight against the Nationals. It’s always great to be back at our park with our fans. Thanks for everything you do!

 

Boys to Men

My 21-year-old brother Gregsman is flying in from Venezuela and will be here for the next home stand. He’s never been to San Francisco. Somebody asked me what is the one thing I want to make sure he sees in San Francisco, and I said, “The ballpark!’’

 

He is not going to believe this park. How beautiful it is, yes, but mostly he’s not going to believe the crowd. He’s seen me play in Atlanta and Kansas City, but I told him, “Those aren’t the same as here.’’ He’s going to feel he’s back in Venezuela. The fans here get excited like the crowds at home. So I know he’s going to love it. I’ll take him to eat at Benihana in Japantown and the Spanish restaurant Zarzuela on Hyde Street. I’ll make sure he sees the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge. Everything. There’s so much to see, and he has 12 days, so he’ll get a good look around.

 

It will mean a lot to me to have him here. Every time I get a hit or make a play, he’s going to feel proud. And that makes me feel proud. But he better not show up without Cocosette and Torontos. They are the best candies in the world. Cocosette is a wafer with coconut cream and Torontos are small balls of chocolate with hazelnut. I’ve never seen them anywhere but Venezuela. So I’m counting on him to come through.

 

My two-year-old son, also named Gregor, has been coming to the park most days recently. His babysitter brings him as early as 4 in the afternoon, and Gregor will sit with her in the stands by the dugout and watch batting practice. (My wife is busy at home and arrives closer to game time.) He’s really calm and comfortable at the park. He never cries and hardly ever gets cranky. There’s a canvas tarp – maybe six or seven feet long — stretched from the railing on the field to the railing by the first row of seats. During BP the other day, Pablo and I were rolling a ball to Gregor and he was rolling it back, just having the greatest time. At home, he always has a ball and bat and wants me to play with him. I love teaching him and watching him have so much fun.

 

Every now and then, I’ll bring Gregor into the clubhouse. He’ll just jump on the guys. They play around with him, and he loves it. His favorite player is probably Pablo because he’s so much like a kid himself.

 

It’s been interesting watching Gregor learn to talk. He doesn’t talk a lot yet, and I think it’s because he’s a little confused about the languages. He listens to us in Spanish and to the TV in English. So he mixes up all the words. He sings Happy Birthday in English but not in Spanish. When he counts, he starts in Spanish and finishes in English. He’ll go, “One, two, three, quatro, five, seis.’’ I’m sure he’ll work it all out and become really comfortable in both languages. I wish I had learned English when I was young. It’s so much easier than trying to pick it up as an adult.

 

Yesterday against the Braves, we weren’t able to rally back like we often do. I don’t know why we have so many one-run games, and why we seem to win so many of them. I think it’s because we’re pretty much like little kids. You know how when little kids start playing baseball and cry when they lose? That’s us. We don’t like to lose. Sometimes it seems like we wait until the last moment, until our backs are against the wall, and we say, “We’re about to lose this game and then we’re going to cry.’’ Then we say, “OK, come on, we have to win so everybody will be happy in the clubhouse and listening to music and dancing.’’

 

See? You think we’re grown up. But no matter how old you are or how long you’ve been in the big leagues, when you play a boy’s game for a living, some of that boy stays with you forever.

 

 

A Path That Led, Finally, to Myself

I’ve been playing baseball all my life. I’m 29 now. But it wasn’t until a day in spring training this year that I finally stopped trying to be someone else. I finally figured out who I was as a player.

In previous years, every time I went 0-for-3 or 0-for-4, I’d change my mechanics. I’d copy Marco Scutaro or Buster Posey or whoever. So no surprise – I’d ride a rollercoaster of trying this and that, and the results were a rollercoaster, too. I was up and down and all over the place.

I arrived at spring training with the goal of figuring out how to be consistent.

It was the first spring training in my life that I could actually pick a component of my game to work on. Every other spring, I was trying to impress the organization so they’d put me on the roster. This spring, I had more security than I’d ever had, so I could afford to focus on becoming a more consistent hitter.

One day in Arizona, I was watching video with our assistant batting coach, Joe Lefebvre. He had put together a bunch of my at-bats from last year.

“Look at your swing,’’ he said. “That’s you right there. Just be yourself and you’ll be more consistent.’’

I said to myself, “That’s right. I’m going to start just being myself.’’

It was like a light bulb switching on.

The reason why Marco and Buster and Pablo are so successful is they always take the same approach. They believe in their approach and don’t change it just because they have a bad day or two.

That’s the biggest difference for me between last year and this year. I’ve found peace in myself and the way I play the game. Which translates into more consistency. I just stay who I am even if I go 0-for-4. I just keep believing in myself and my approach. I just keep swinging aggressively and naturally and with confidence.

My game is to get on base. Every time I get into the batter’s box, I’m just thinking, “Get on base no matter what.’’ That can mean bunting, slapping the ball, getting a walk. Get quality at-bats every single time. That’s what I want to do.

I don’t put nearly as much pressure on myself as I used to. I don’t expect myself to go 4-for-4 every game and then get all stressed when I don’t. I’m much more even.

And so far it’s working well. I feel comfortable at the plate, and I’m getting on base.

Maybe I learned this lesson a little late, but I guess I had to go through everything I did in order to get to where I am. I feel like I’m a better player now than I’ve ever been. And I have the Giants and you to thank for that. I will always feel blessed that I ended up in San Francisco.

 

 

Unbelievable!

When Larry Baer handed me the ring today, I thought I was going to cry. I really did. I was remembering my family, especially my mom, who’s up in heaven. I know she would have wanted to be here with me so badly. I dedicated that moment to her. I know she’s proud.

​To be out on that field today with my teammates with Cepeda, Mays, Marichal, McCovey, all the great Giants, it was not even real. I just looked at the ring in the box and then put it on my finger. It was more beautiful than I imagined. It just flashed like little light bulbs in the sun. I saw my name on the side, and thought, “Yes, it’s really mine. I am really a champion.’’ I can’t wait to look at it closer after the game.

Getting that World Series ring makes me believe that everything you want in life you can accomplish if you really believe in it.  The strongest thing a human being has is their mind. It’s tough, for sure, to get where you want to be. But you always have to have the mindset every day, every at-bat, every moment on the field. That’s true, I think, in everything, not just baseball. Last season taught me that.

This game is so much about your mind. I focus on the opposing team for any little thing I can use to my advantage. If I’m up at bat, for example, I watch the fielders really closely. If they move before the pitch, then I know where the pitch is going to be thrown. There’s so little difference between winning and losing so you can’t miss a chance to gain an edge.

Having a World Series ring means a lot to every player, but I think it has added meaning for the Latin players. Most of us came from poor countries. So it’s a really, really big deal to bring the ring back home. I’m not going to wear my ring. I’ll keep it in a safe and take it out only on special occasions. It will be my family’s legacy, something my son and future grandsons can have. They can say, “My dad and granddad was a world champion.’’

The best part of the ring ceremony was the last part. Every player got to throw a first pitch to the fans in the stands. I went to left field and tossed the ball up. I don’t know who caught it, but in my mind I was throwing to every fan in the park. I was thinking, “It’s unbelievable to play in this ballpark and in front of all of you. Thank you, thank you for believing in us!’’

Now all the ceremonies are over and it’s back to baseball and our usual routines. Now it’s all about playing — and believing in each other and earning our way back to the postseason and another ring.

Below: Blanco waiting to receive his ring

photo (3)

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