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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?

 

A New Home, and a New Approach

The two big headlines for me since I last blogged:

We moved from Venezuela to Miami, and for the first time in 11 years I didn’t play winter ball.

 My wife and I bought a house in Miami last year with the money we earned from the World Series. If you’ve been watching the news, Venezuela isn’t a very safe place to be. It hasn’t been a safe place for a long time. I was there from Dec. 20 to Jan. 10 – 20 days – and personally witnessed three robberies. Everybody has been the victim of at least one crime.

Mine happened when I was 16. I was kidnapped for four hours with a gun to my head.

I had just signed a professional contract, and my mother bought me a car as a congratulations gift. I drove to the beach with my girlfriend. We stopped at KFC on the way back. When we were pulling out of the parking lot, a car hit us from behind. The driver told me we should exchange our insurance information somewhere else, so I followed him. I was just a teenager and didn’t suspect anything.

Then all of a sudden I see one guy over there, another guy here, and before I knew what was happening, they grabbed my girlfriend and me and forced us into the other car. They held a gun to my head while I called my mom and told her she had to pay $1,000 in ransom. I have since learned that the kidnappers don’t ask for a lot because they do this so often. They didn’t even try to hide their faces. That’s how sure they were that the police wouldn’t do anything.

My mom dropped the money where they told her then called to say it was done. They must have watched her because they let us go as soon as she called. I never saw my car again. The kidnappers were never caught.

Marco Scutaro told me his car was stolen once, and when the thieves found out it was his, they called him and returned it. Marco lives in Miami now. So does Pablo. When we were looking at the house we ended up buying, I asked the realtor about our potential neighbors in the gated community. She said about 95 percent of the homeowners were Venezuelan. Everyone wants a safer place for their families. I wish my dad and the rest of my family would move to Miami, but so far they want to stay with their friends and in the community they’ve known all their lives.

I’m so glad I didn’t play winter ball. The Giants pointed out that I had been playing baseball 11 years straight without a stop. My body needed a break. And some of my teammates – Hunter, Marco, Pablo, Buster – told me I’d have more endurance if I got stronger. They knew I was dragging sometimes as the season wore on.

So instead of playing winter ball, I worked six days a week with a trainer and changed the way I ate. I ate salads (no dressing, just lime and sea salt), vegetables and good fish (mahi-mahi and salmon) with no oil. In January I began introducing some carbohydrates back into my diet.The important thing is that now I look at food as fuel.

 

 

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From October 28 to the beginning of February, I didn’t swing a bat or throw a ball. That was hard. Baseball is such a part of me. Sometimes I’d go into the garage and hold a bat just because I missed it so much. But I think it was the right thing: I feel stronger, fresher and healthier than at any time in my life. I’m more explosive. My bat is faster. My legs are stronger. It’s exciting. And it’s fantastic to be back on the field.

Thanks for reading. Can’t wait to get back to SF and see everybody!

A Dream Day for a Fellow Shark

It was so great to arrive home Sunday night. On the off day Monday I just wanted to sleep in and spend the day in bed with my family watching movies. And that’s what I did.

That was a really, really long road trip. Two of the best moments came on the final day, Sunday.

          First, we got to witness the tribute to Mariano Rivera at Yankee Stadium. I couldn’t believe I was right there to see it up close. I filmed the whole thing on my phone. I grew up watching Mariano Rivera. He has been so inspiring, especially for Latin players. Watching the pregame ceremony, I felt like I was in the middle of history. I didn’t get to meet Mariano, but I could tell he is a really humble man. Before his speech, he thanked God for all he had accomplished. I liked that.

I had never been to Yankee Stadium, so that was fun in itself. Everybody was telling me I should go see this or that at the field. But to tell you the truth I didn’t go see any of it. I was there to play baseball, not to be a tourist. I didn’t want to get all caught up in seeing everything and then not be ready for the game. So I’ll have to go back another time.

          The second great moment was Adrianza hitting that home run to break up Andy Pettitte’s no-hitter. I couldn’t believe it. Everybody was really excited for him, but especially me because I’ve known him since he was 14 or 15 years old. That’s when the Tiburones – the winter-ball team in Venezuela I play for – brought Adrianza to the field for a workout. They said, “This guy is really young, but he’s going to be a Major Leaguer.’’ I thought, “OK, I want to watch him.’’ He was amazing in the field. So I thought, “OK, let’s watch him hit.’’ He was terrible! Yes, he was using a wood bat instead of aluminum, which he was used to. But he was so bad he looked like he was using a bat made of paper. He couldn’t hit it out of the infield.

At 16 he signed with the Tiburones then signed with the Giants shortly afterward. So I’ve been watching him and working with him ever since. We’ve spent a lot of time together during winter ball. I said this before but he reminds me a lot of myself. He has a great work ethic and really, really loves the game. All he’s focused on is being a Major Leaguer and taking care of his family.

If ever there was evidence of how far his hitting has come it was that home run in New York. I know him so well, so I could tell that when he got back to the dugout he didn’t even understand what had just happened. A home run in Yankee Stadium against an almost-perfect Andy Pettitte! He didn’t comprehend it. The next day, I think he kind of said to himself, “Did I do that? I think I did that.’’

          There will definitely be more great moments that like for him.

          Thank you so much for filling the seats last night against the Dodgers. I am so grateful to be playing here in San Francisco. No other fans are like you. You give us energy in this last week when it seems there’s nothing to play for. But everyone in this clubhouse feels there is a lot to play for: You. And next year.

A Bite of Turner Field

In honor of the September call-ups, Crawford, Belt and I are remembering our first day in the Major Leagues – and offering advice to the rookies in their first week here.

I made the Opening Day roster of the Atlanta Braves in 2008. When the manager told me the good news, I went out by myself onto the empty infield at Turner Field. I grabbed a small piece of grass, and I ate it.

“This is the Major Leagues,’’ I said to myself. “Now it is a part of me.’’ (I still pick up a pinch of dirt before my at-bats as a thank-you to the field for letting me there.)

After I ate the piece of grass, I whispered to my mom, who had passed away several years earlier: “We made it to the Major Leagues, Mom. I wish you were here with me.’’

That moment when you make the Major Leagues is something you remember forever. You’ve been dreaming about it since you started playing baseball as a little kid. To be honest, though, I was so nervous I could barely function. I saw the other players as so big and so famous that I couldn’t talk to anyone. I sat by myself at the end of the bench during games. I didn’t move, not even to get a cup of water. I didn’t speak, not even to say “Nice job’’ to a teammate after a big hit.

One of my teammates, Martin Prado, finally took my aside and told me to just be myself. Cheerfor you teammates the way you’ve done all your life. Help them out in any way. Be there for them. Always be ready for whatever the manager needsyou to do.

​Now I’m saying the same things to Adrianza, who’s also from Venezuela. He reminds me of myself back in 2008: quiet and shy with good tools to play the game. I’m telling him to be humble but also play the way you’ve always played. Act the way you’ve always acted. Be yourself. Be comfortable. Be part of the team because you are.

​It’s awesome to see so many guys in the clubhouse helping out the young guys. Last year we were super focused getting in the playoffs that we didn’t take as much time helping the rookies. This year we’re really cheering for them and building them up and making them feel at home. I didn’t have that when I came up, but this team supports everybody – the managers, coaches, players, the young kids. The chemistry here is so good.

Adrianza and the other young guys already seem to know a lot of the unwritten rules of the Major Leagues. They were prepared well by the guys in the minors who had spent time up here. They already knew to sit at the front of the plane and to double up. When I was a rookie, I didn’t know anything. I made so many mistakes. My first road trip I sat down on the plane and here comes Chipper Jones.

“That’s been my seat for ten years,’’ he said. “Get out of there!’’

He was joking about being mad. But I moved pretty fast. Another time I was in the back of the plane talking to the guys. Another player came back there and kicked me out.

“Sorry,’’ I said. “I didn’t know!’’

I was so happy to see Adrianza get in as a pinch runner – which was my first appearance in a Major League game, too. He’s been itching for his first at-bat and his first hit. “That will come,’’ I tell him. “But you already will be able to tell your children and grandchildren that you played in the Major Leagues.’’ That’s a huge deal for any of us.

​On another topic, we were all so happy for Petit getting his first complete-game shutout –and soooo close to a perfect game. We were all waiting for him inside the clubhouse to toast him. When he came in, we clapped and cheered and told him he better have a speech ready for the toast. We gathered around and gave him the microphone. He was just staring. He didn’t know what to do or say. I think he was still so focused from the game that he was in a bit of a daze.

Finally he said, “Toast!’’

​Everybody broke up laughing.

​Thanks for reading. We’re looking forward to these last few weeks of the season. We want to climb up the division ladder. Get as far as we can.

​That’s the other thing I love about this team. Everybody has so much pride. We’ll be fighting until the final game.

 

Gregor Blanco

Back to School, Part 3

Back to School Edition, Part Three

 

It’s my turn to answer the same three questions Crawford and Belt did in their blogs this week.

What’s the best advice you ever got? It’s from my mom. She always had great advice, but the one I remember most was: Always try to be a role model for everybody and do the best in everything you do. I think I was about 12 when she said this. She always was teaching us to be a good person and behave in a way that will make people look up to you. She worked for Visa and didn’t have any real education in finances. She started as a secretary and worked her way really high up. The way she did it was always trying to be better and doing everything right. She was a great role model and I learned a lot just from watching her.

What do you wish you knew back in high school that you know now?

That life is not as easy as it seems at that age. When you’re 15, you think you’re going to do this or that. When you grow up, you realize it’s not that easy. You realize when you’re a grown man thatyou don’t have the same kind of support you did as a kid. Nobody’s going to do the work for you or make anything happen for you. You have to count on yourself. And you have be prepared that things are not going to go as you imagined they would. I went through a lot in my career, and maybe I struggled so much I wasn’t prepared. All of a sudden I found myself in a hole and had no ideawhat to do. So I think it’s good to appreciate the good times when you’re young but understand it’s not always going to be like that.

If you had never become a pro baseball player, how do you think playing sports as a kid would have helped you in life anyway?

One thing I learned through baseball was how to socialize with people. I’ve always been shy and quiet but since I started playing baseball I became more open. I learned how to be myself around people. That’s one of the most important things that baseball taught me. Baseball also helped me to stay focused on goals. I know guys I grew up with who are dead, who went another way. The way my country is, if you don’t have much money there are a lot of bad ways you can go. My family and baseball kept me on a good path.

Sports also taught me how to deal with failing.When I was 13, I was supposed to make the national team for the first time, but they picked someone else – a guy who had been on the national team for a few years. I was better, but for political reasons he got on the team instead. My twin brother also made the team. I was really crushed and frustrated. I was crying. But then I decided, OK, you have to work harder. So at the age of 13, I started going to the field by myself. It was three miles from my house, and even if it was nighttime I’d run, ride a bike or go on my roller blades. People would say to me, “You’re only 13! You’re crazy!’’ I would slide into bases by myself. I’d throw the ball as far and hard as I could by myself. I’d hit against the backstop by myself. I got better. Two years later, I was ready to be a pro player. So that failure at 13 motivated me to work so hard that I was able to sign a pro contract as soon as I turned 16.

​Feel free to send in your own questions and I’ll share them with Belt and Crawford. I think it’s fun to see how different guys look at things. 

Gregor Blanco

The Mystery of Hitting

It seems crazy that professional baseball players can go so deep into slumps. You’ve been playing all your life. You know how to hit. Then suddenly you can’t. It’s not like the game has changed. It’s the same game. But somehow you’re not the same.

How does that happen?

​I’ve been asked that question more than a few times during this bad stretch. I’ve asked myself that question a lot. I think it’s like handwriting. You know how to make your letters, right? You’ve been writing your whole life. But then sometimes maybe your hand gets tired or your brain is not sending all the right messages to your fingers, and you start writing different. The letters aren’t as neat and straight.

​So you have to clear your mind and get your focus and sharpness back. I’m in that process. It’s been hard mentally. It’s been on my mind so much — when I go to bed, when I get up in the morning.I come to the park every day and just try to figure out why it’s different from two months ago when I was hitting well and playing looser.

I feel much better since our team meeting the other day. I won’t go into the details of the meeting because that kind of stuff needs to stay private among the players and coaches. But I feel calmer and more relaxed. It was a reminder of how much support you have from your teammates and all the coaches.

​That support is so important when you’re having a rough time. A month or so ago, Hunter was struggling. He was hitting the ball right at people and striking out and not finding the hole. I saw him fighting himself. I went to him one day and said, “You just need to let it go. Have fun. Start a new season.’’

A couple of days ago, he came to me and said, “Man, I really appreciate what you did for me and I’m going to try to do the same thing for you.’’ So we had a good talk and I can’t tell you how great it is to have guys like that to pick you up when you need it.

​I’m not going to make huge changes to my mechanics at the plate to try to get back on track. The way I swing the bat, that’s me. That’s who I am. I know I can hit. But I knew I had to do something. So I got a lighter bat. I think my shoulders were getting tired a little bit, so my swing hasn’t been as compact as it could be. A lighter bat would help me have more control.

Yesterday the lighter bat arrived – it’s 31 ounces compared to the 31 ½-  and 32-ounce bats I’ve been using. I used it for the first time and hit the ball really well twice. (One line drive was caught, the other went into left field for a single.)

​Tomorrow is my son’s third birthday, so I’m looking forward to that. We’re bringing a birthday cake to the family room so he can celebrate with the other kids. Then we’ll go to a park after the game to celebrate some more. I can’t believe how quickly he’s growing up.

     

Here’s a photo of him pitching to me in the dugout. Notice the leg kick!

Thanks for coming out the games. Giants fans are amazing. You support us no matter what. Believe me, we are working so hard to get our hitting back on track to support the great pitching we’ve been getting. We know we’re a much better team than we’ve been showing, and we’re going to keep battling to the last game of the season.

Frustration, Embarrassment and Hope

We’re as frustrated and stumped as you are. We’re about to pack up our stuff and go back out on the road, which is supposed to be the hard part of the schedule. We made it rougher on ourselves during this home stand than anything we could face on the road.

I feel embarrassed – I think we’re all embarrassed – at what we did to Tim Lincecum today. He pitched phenomenally and got two of our five hits. And we didn’t support him. We couldn’t drive in runs. That shouldn’t happen, not with the players we have on this team. I told him, “You pitched great. You did everything you could. I’m sorry we couldn’t get the win for you.’’

I had a chance with two outs in the bottom of ninth, coming in off the bench as a pinch-hitter. I was looking fastball, and I got three. I got good swings on two of them but just couldn’t capitalize. I didn’t come through.

Everyone keeps asking, “What’s the difference in this team between last year and this year?’’ I think part of it is about having fun. I know it’s easier to have fun when you’re winning, but you always have to have fun to play well. Having fun keeps you loose. It keeps you from over-thinking everything you do and trying to force things to happen. You have to let the game come to you, a little like a wave in the ocean. You read the wave and you ride it. You fight the wave – try to manipulate it, control it, redirect it – and you’re going under.

I’m going to talk to Marco and Pablo and Buster about maybe organizing a dinner or some kind of team thing where we just have fun together. Why not? We need to make jokes about last year and this year, about the struggles and the good things we’ve done. I think we have to remind ourselves that, even though we’re Major Leaguers, this is a fun game. We need to just relax and do what we know how to do.

The good thing is we have stayed together as a team. Nobody points fingers. We pat each other’s backs, and the coaches’ too. But I see people battling themselves. I see it in myself. That’s one of the toughest things – to keep yourself from thinking all the time about what you did wrong. We always have to remember we’re human beings. Things are going to happen. You’re going to have tough times. It helps to go home to our families and play with our kids and try to keep things in perspective.

We still have two months and we have a great team and we still believe in ourselves. None of us have ever seen a stretch like this in our lives. Let’s hope it’s over and we never see anything like it again.

Playing for My Dad

The best part of the road trip was that my dad, Hernan, flew from Venezuela to Atlanta. It was the first time he has seen me play in the major leagues. And I hit a home run in that series, so he was really proud and happy.

Now he’s here in San Francisco with my family and me for a month. When I talked to him on the phone in Venezuela, I told him to bring the warmest coat he has because it can get really cold in San Francisco.

And I told him he’s going to love the fans. “You’re going to feel like you’re back in Venezuela!’’ I told him.

He had a great time at the game Monday night. He said I was right about the fans. They’re crazy for the Giants. He really loved that they lifted Melky out the stands when he made that catch.

You might have seen or read about me missing the suicide squeeze sign in Philadelphia. How did I miss such an important sign? I’m going to be completely honest. I never looked. With Buster on third, all I was thinking about was driving him home. I briefly thought about bunting, but Buster’s a catcher and so he’s not the fastest guy on the team. I saw the infield playing in, and I said to myself, “All you need to do is hit the ball hard to the outfield to get him in.’’

Then suddenly I saw Buster charging down the line. I thought, “Uh oh.’’ But in this game, you have to wipe a mistake from your mind. I told myself, “You made a mental mistake. Forget about it. We’re going to win this game. You’re going to have another opportunity to do something.’’

And I did, in the 10th inning. We had runners on first and third. Bochy told me to think about bunting to the right side. I had been watching the second baseman and first baseman – Utley and Howard – earlier in the game and saw they were both a little slow. (Both were coming off injuries.)  We had a fast runner in Melky at third.

When I had a 3-1 count – a hitter’s count — I figured the Phillies would think I’d swing away. They wouldn’t be expecting a bunt, a safety squeeze.

The key to a good bunt is to trust your instincts, trust your hands and relax. As soon as the pitcher goes into his motion, you put the bat out and hope the pitch is middle-in. It was.  I followed the ball, angled the bat pretty sharply toward the right side and pushed. The ball fell just right.

Howard couldn’t get to the ball fast enough, and Melky scored the go-ahead run.

Thanks to those of you who asked about my trip to Santa Monica during the All-Star break. It was awesome. I didn’t expect it to be as great as it was because you don’t hear much about Santa Monica. Everybody talks about Hollywood, LA, Malibu. We spent time on the beach relaxing. We also went to Disneyland. It was the first time for my son. He was all over Mickey Mouse and Donald. He really loved it.

That’s all for now. See you out at the park. (If you run into a good-looking, Spanish-speaking, shivering man named Hernan, say hello and maybe loan him a scarf.)

​Congrats to Melky and our All-Stars

I saw Melky when he got to the park today. As soon as he arrived, all the reporters were around him.

“What’s going on?’ he asked.

“You made the All-Star team,’’ somebody told him.

Then he smiled the way he does – he always looks like he’s trying not to smile but then it just spreads across his face. This time it broke through fast. He seemed genuinely surprised and really happy.

“I can’t believe it,’’ he said. “Nice!’’

He called all his family back home.

He really deserves it. He should have made it last year, but this year God has given him the opportunity to show again what he can do. He knows he belongs among the best in the game.

I’ve said this before, but Melky has become the guy I really look up to. I’m so happy for him. And I said to myself, “Next year, I’m going to try to do what he did and make the All-Star team.’’

I’m so happy for Pablo and Buster and Matt Cain, too. We’re so lucky to be playing in San Francisco with these fans. Even when we’re going bad, they’re always supporting us.

During the All-Star break, I’m taking my family to Santa Monica. We have never been there. I wanted a beach vacation. It’s the most relaxing place for me. So I went on the internet and researched places in California and decided on Santa Monica. We’ll fly down and stay in a hotel and just chill.

We go to Washington, D.C., this week. I was there with the Braves when the Nationals played their first game in their new ballpark in 2008. But I still have never toured the city. I’ve never had time. We are there four days this week, so maybe I’ll finally get a chance to walk around and learn about the history of the United States.

I’ll try to check in again before the All-Star break.

Thanks for reading!

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