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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Matt 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.
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.
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.
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!