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.)
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!
Life has been a little different since my catch in Matt Cain’s perfect game. A lot more people recognize me on the street and around the park. Almost everybody asks me the same questions: How did I make the catch, and how did it feel? It’s really cool to have people appreciate what I did. It makes me want to do something like that again, another play that people will always remember.
I was talking yesterday on the phone with my friend Martin Prado from the Braves, where I played from 2008 to 2010. He’s also from Venezuela. We were just catching up on our families and things like that. Then he says, “I want to ask you something. How did you make that catch?’’
I laughed. I said, “I don’t know. Seriously I don’t know. I ask myself the same question.’’
Even a couple of umpires talked to me about it. So that’s pretty different for me.
What isn’t different is how I go about my work every day. That’s the key to everything. Talent gets you only so far. If you didn’t know that before getting to the big leagues, you learn it quickly up here. The best players – the ones who stay the best for a long time – are the ones who keep working hard.
I get to the park around 2 or 2:30 for a 7 o’clock game. I change clothes then do some running on the field – sometimes sprints, sometimes just a jog to stretch out my legs. I’ll ride the stationary bike. Then in the weight room, I work mostly on my core muscles, doing crunches, that kind of thing. Then I spend 30 to 40 minutes in the indoor batting cage. Lately I’ve work with Bam-Bam, our hitting coach, on hitting the ball on the ground and staying away from pop-ups. I’ve also returned to using a pitching machine that can throw 102 mph. I used it in spring training and was hitting really well. Then I got away from it during the season because I thought, “I want to save my bullets for the game.’’
But when my bat went cool, I added it back into my pregame routine. Trying to hit pitches coming at you at 102 mph hour sharpens your eye. When you see a 95-mph fastball in a game, it looks much slower and you’re more likely to get your bat around on it.
There’s also a psychological reason to work really hard every single day. It gives you confidence. You feel strong. You feel ready. So much of this game is played out in your head. If you know you are in peak shape, that no one out there has worked harder than you have, you feel that there isn’t anything you can’t do.
Having said that, when we had an off day last week, I just wanted to chill. On the last off day, my wife and I took the kids to Santa Cruz, which was fun but exhausting. This time, I said, “Hey honey, let’s just stay here. Let’s relax and watch movies and play with the kids.’’ It felt good.
There was a comment from a mom that her son was in the backyard pretending to be me. Wow, that’s so amazing. I remember growing up and imitating Chipper Jones and Kenny Lofton and Ken Griffey. I’d try to run the bases like Rickey Henderson. I wanted so much to be in the major leagues. I always tell kids if they really want something, they should keep dreaming because it’s possible.
But you have to work hard and leave a lot of things behind like parties and drinking and girls. When I was growing up, I played with a lot of guys who had really good talent but they never made it to pro ball. They got too involved in stuff off the field. They’d asked me, “Hey, why don’t you hang out?’’ I’d say, “I just want to go play baseball and run and get better.’’
And look where I am now.
The guys I really like to watch now are Rafael Furcal and Jose Reyes because they play the game hard every single game. They’re aggressive hitters and runners. But now that I play with Melky, he’s the guy I look up to the most. I watch how he goes about his business. He’s an unbelievable player. I’d like to be the kind of player he is.
The person who has influenced me the most, though, is my mother. She didn’t graduate from high school, but she never stopped educating herself. She worked in a bank and eventually became a high-level manager. She’s an example to everyone she knows, not just me. Because of her, I try to be someone people can look up to.
So when I hear that there are some kids who want to be like me, I’m really humbled. That’s part of the reason you do this. I want kids to believe that playing sports is a way to live a positive life. There are a lot of bad things on the streets, and sports gives them an alternative.
So if I contribute in some way to kids wanting to play sports, that’s awesome.
I hardly got any sleep last night. I went home after the game still trying to really absorb what happened.
A perfect game from Matt Cain. The most unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen.
And I keep thinking how incredibly grateful I am to have made the catch that kept the perfect game going.
I watched the replay a dozen times when I got to the apartment I’m renting a few blocks from the park. My wife and almost-two-year-old son were waiting up for me. She was upset she didn’t come to the game, but I told her it was OK because it was so loud and the baby probably would not have been happy. She told me that when I was being interviewed on TV, the baby just stared at the screen like, “That’s my dad!’’
When I watched the replay, all I could think was, “I can’t believe you really did that. That’s crazy.’’
What I liked most was the feeling it created in the ballpark. Everyone just went crazy. And I think at that moment Matt knew he was going to do it. It was like he got more confident as the crowd got louder.
When he tipped his cap to me, well, that’s the greatest compliment a fielder can get because he knows you’re there for him. That’s what a team is about.
In the dugout, everyone went nuts. They’re asking me, “How’d you make that? That was the greatest catch I’ve ever seen in my life.’’ There were two really great moments. Bruce Bochy came up to me and said, “In all my years, I’ve never seen a play like that, man. That was great.’’ And he gave me a hug.
Then Matt came up to me and said, “What are you doing playing there? How’d you make that?’’
“I’m there for you, man’’ I said. “I did it for you.’’
I was playing a few feet closer to the gap than usual. Ron Wotus, our bench coach, talked to me before the first game of the series on Tuesday about how we’d position ourselves for different hitters. He said Jordan Schafer is a gap hitter. So when Matty went 3-2 on him, I knew he’d have to throw Schafer a pitch he could hit and let the defense take care of it.
In a situation like that, all I’m thinking is, “Hit it to me.’’
All of us knew what was at stake, of course. You try not to look at the scoreboard. You try not to think too much about it. But you have a bit more intensity. You’re focusing more.
As soon as the ball came off the bat, I was running. I got a great jump. Then I just ran as hard as I could. I saw the ball coming closer. I kept running. Then I threw myself at it. When I popped back up with the ball in my glove, I think the umpire didn’t believe it because it took a few seconds before he called the out.
In the ninth inning, I saw Melky in left field waving his arms for the fans to get on their feet. So I did the same thing in right field. We all wanted to do whatever we could to send Matty all the support we could.
Then Arias threw it to Belt and the game was over. We all just leaped on Matty. It was the best feeling. Matt so deserves it for everything he’s done for this team. We were so happy for him.
I believe in fate. I was thinking about all the factors that had to come together for me to have been at that spot at that moment. So many great things have happened to me since I joined the Giants, so actually I was expecting to have a moment like that. I really was. There was something about this team that I felt in the clubhouse during spring training. Just how everyone gets along. I felt like there was something special going on. And I felt like there was some reason I had landed with this team for this season.
And now I have the highest honor a player can ever have: to play a key role in the greatest single game in a team’s history.
I’m still sorting through all my text messages, mostly from friends and family in Venezuela. For some reason, the sports channel in Venezuela was playing the game, so my family stayed up really, really late to watch. (They’re three hours later than the West Coast.) They were all so happy for me.
I think I’ll go the Murph, our great clubhouse manager, to see if there’s a ball or something from the game I could have. Wouldn’t it be great to have the actual ball I caught? And get Matt to sign it?
That would be something special to pass down to my son.
After I went hitless in the first two games in Milwaukee two weeks ago, Bochy called me in. He told me I was sitting out the third game. He said everyone still believed me, but that a little rest would do me good.
When you made the team like I did – as kind of a long shot out of spring training – you can’t help getting nervous when you’re benched. You want to be the guy the team can count on, the guy whose name is in the lineup every day.
Like Melky and Angel. They’re unbelievable. They just play every single day. Of course, Melky has missed a few days with hamstring trouble. But except for injury, those two guys are out there. That’s what I want to be, too.
So my first reaction was to get really anxious. Was I losing the spot I’d worked so hard to get? I got myself pretty worked up because this opportunity means everything to me. Everything.
My coaches told me to relax, that I was doing a great job and just to keep doing what I was doing. They said I’d be back in the line-up the next day.
I’m sure you hear all the time that baseball is way more about your head than your body. A lot of guys are really talented. But I think controlling your thoughts – the key to maintaining your confidence – is the biggest thing.
So I said to myself, “OK, look at this as a new start. Like a new season. Forget the last few games. Hit the reset button.’’
I also reminded myself, as I do every day, how much I have to be grateful for. The biggest one is my family. “Your family is healthy,’’ I thought. “You’re in the big leagues. Things are good. Just go out there and play hard and do what you know you can do.’’
Melky and Angel always help me. They have been the best teachers. I sit with them during the games, and they tell what they see. They explain the pitcher’s strategy and what to look for when I go to the plate. They’ll point out how a guy tracks down a ball in the outfield or what he did wrong on his throw. They’re really open about what they did well and what they didn’t do well. I listen to everything.
So I’m really developing my mental game, but it’s not just about strategy. It’s about keeping perspective and not allowing doubt to erode my confidence.
After sitting out that game in Milwaukee, I went 2-for-4 (with three runs), 3-for-5 (with two doubles), and 3-for-5 in the next three games in Miami. I did well against Arizona then didn’t get a hit in three games against the Cubs (though I scored twice, and we won all three games).
In four of the last six games, I’ve had at least two hits, including a home run.
And I’ve played every day.
Thanks for your comments from the last blog. One reader, Syd Bird, asked about the first time I played baseball. I’ll write about that next time.
Stealing home is something I’ve been hoping to do all season. Everyone knows we’re a team that has to be aggressive to get runs. And, really, what’s more fun or more a test of your base-running skills than stealing home? I’d never done it in the majors. But I did it this winter with my Venezuela team – while the pitcher was still holding the ball. More on that in a minute.
So Monday against the Diamondbacks, Angel Pagan was on first, and I had a good lead off third. Boch and third-base coach Tim Flannery had told me if I ever got in that situation, and the catcher threw to second, I should just go.
Sometimes catchers will bluff. So you have to wait until the ball is in the air. Once I saw the ball leave the catcher’s hand, I took off. Pagan was safe, and because I had such a big lead, the shortstop didn’t even throw home. I scored standing.
So here’s what happened in winter ball. I had three things in my favor. One, it was a left-handed pitcher, so he was facing first base. Two, he never looked at me. And three, he had a pretty slow motion. When a pitcher sets, he has to hold the ball for a second before he throws. So as soon as this pitcher went into his motion, I ran. When he saw me, he fumbled to throw home. Not only did I beat the throw, the pitcher was called for a balk. I would have scored either way.
When I told Flan about it, he raised his eyebrow and said very slowly and deliberately “If you try that here, you had better make it.’’ I don’t think I’ll be doing it any time soon.
As you can tell, I love running the bases. I love the cat-and-mouse strategy, the athleticism, the burst of adrenaline. In Miami on the last road trip, I got caught in a rundown between home and third. It was a 1-1 game in the sixth inning. Melky had hit a hard grounder to the pitcher, I had broken down the line and the pitcher had thrown home. Now I was caught. To be honest, I thought I was dead. So my job at that point is to keep the fielders occupied with me long enough to allow Melky to get to second – in scoring position. We needed a run.
Both the catcher and third baseman were worried about Melky and were taking theirs eyes off me for split seconds at a time. Maybe, I thought, I had a chance. I dove past the third-baseman with a wide slide and slipped my hand under the tag.
Do we practice rundowns? Of course. We practice everything. So over the years, we each develop individual strategies for various situations. Here’s my strategy for run-downs:
Don’t get tagged.
See? It’s a simple game.
One of the things I really like about playing in San Francisco is that it’s a lot like playing in my home country of Venezuela. Fans in Venezuela are really passionate and really vocal. They’re completely into the game. They’re always telling you what to do. It’s like 20,000 people trying to be the manager: “Run!’’ “Bunt!’’ “Slide!’’
The atmosphere at AT&T is a lot like that. Fans here aren’t quite as bossy, but they’re just as passionate. They are completely into the Giants. Completely into the game. They like guys who play hard and do everything they can to win. And that’s what I love to do more than anything: Play hard and win games.
So just like in Venezuela, I feed off the fans’ energy. I can’t say for sure but I’d bet there isn’t anybody on this roster who appreciates being here more than I do.
As you might know, I didn’t play a single game in the major leagues last season. I was riding the bench on the Kansas City minor leagues. Then the team put me on waivers.
But no team picked me up. That was the lowest point of my career.
“Maybe it’s over,’’ I told my wife. “Maybe that’s it.’’
“Whatever you want to do, I support you,’’ she said. “But I believe in you. I know how good you are.’’
That made me stronger. I realized that no matter what happened, I was already a lucky man to have my wife and my kids and that we all had our health. So I kept playing and now here I am with the Giants.
Through all the ups and downs – being benched, traded, cut – I learned that the only thing in my control is how hard I work. So I get to the ballpark early every day to do weights, get in the batting cage, run. I do everything I can to be the hardest out in the league, to get on base in whatever way I can.
I’ve also learned something else about myself. I play better when the goal is winning. In the minor leagues, the goal is development. In the majors and in winter ball, it’s winning. It’s all about championships. I like to play under pressure. I like to compete. I think I’m more focused when the stakes are highest.
You might have noticed my ritual before stepping up to the plate. I pinch a little bit of dirt in front of the batter’s box, in fair territory. Then I make the sign of the cross, touching my forehead, shoulders and heart. I’m asking God to give me the opportunity to get the ball in fair territory.
But I know it’s up to me to make sure I’m as prepared as I can be. So I keep myself focused on what I want in my life – a healthy and loving family, loyal and competitive teammates — and just keep working hard.
If I do that, I’ll never have regrets.
Since I’m new not only to blogging but to the Giants, I’ll start off with a little background.
I grew up in Venezuela. I have a twin brother (not identical) whose name is Gregory. And I have a younger brother whose name is Gregsman. So Gregor, Gregory and Gregsman. Why? I still don’t know. My mom said she just liked the names. She even named our house “The Gregs’’ and put up a sign.
My twin brother and I have carried on the tradition more or less. My six-year-old son is named Grenyer, and my 18-month-old son is named Gregor Alejandro. Gregory’s son is named Greyver.
Growing up, my twin and I were always together playing baseball. Nobody ever seemed to call us by our names. It was, “Hey, Twins, what’s up?’’
Gregory played in the Angels and Pirates minor leagues as a catcher but left after a few years to become a phys ed teacher. Gregsman works as a jobs recruiter for the government.
My dad, Hernan, sold insurance for a while and now owns and runs a taxi company. My mother died of brain cancer six years ago when she was 47 years old. I still think about her every day.
I’m married to my childhood sweetheart, Zulay. We’ve known each other since we were 12.
I never wanted to do anything but play baseball. I signed with the Braves at the age of 16 and made my major-league debut eight years later, in 2008. I stayed in the majors most of that season and parts of the next two.
I was traded to Kansas City in the summer of 2010. Between the Braves and the Royals that year, I hit. 283 – my best season ever.
Then it all fell apart. I didn’t spend a single day in the major leagues in 2011. Kansas City started me in Triple A then traded me to the Washington Nationals, who also put me in Triple A. I developed bone spurs in my wrist halfway through the season and had to stop playing. It was the worst year of my career.
The Nationals released me in November.
I didn’t know what would happen. The Giants soon contacted me – one of their scouts had seen me in Triple A before my bone spurs and had sent a good report back to the Giants’ front office. The Marlins were also interested.
By this time I was already home in Venezuela, playing for my usual winter-ball team, Tiburones de la Guaira. (Tiburones means sharks, so that’s where my nickname “White Shark’’ comes from.) Giants batting coach Hensley Meulens was coaching in the same league. Between him and Pablo Sandoval, they convinced me I should sign with the Giants.
What I really appreciated at spring training was the open competition. If I performed, I’d make the team. And I did.
I know we’re struggling now, but this is a team that fights to win every day. That’s what I really like about being here.
It’s tough without Pablo in the lineup, I’ll be honest. He’s so important. I’ve known him a long time. He’s a few years younger than me, so I watched him come up through the ranks in Venezuela. There’s no one else like him. At least he’s still in the clubhouse and in the dugout to keep us loose and laughing.
I usually hang out on the road with him and Hector Sanchez, another countryman. But yesterday, on our day off in Arizona, they went to Glendale to get tattoos, so I was on my own. I went shopping for a Mother’s Day gift for my wife, watched “The Avengers’’ then played some video games.
Let me know what you want to read in this blog. I really want to hear from you.