I was happy to get two hits yesterday, given the skid I’ve been on. But I’d rather have an 0-fer and win than get a bunch of hits and lose.
I started the year so well at the plate, then the hits just stopped coming. You try everything to figure out what you’re doing wrong. I’ve put videos ofmy swing from the past week side-by-side with my swing from the first few weeks. My mechanics are exactly the same.
I was particularly stumped by a fly ball I hit recently to left field for an out. An identical swing on an almost identical pitch resulted in an opposite-field home run last month. What was the difference? I saw it on a slow-motion replay. On the home run, the ball hit the bat square. On the fly ball, it hit a few millimeters off center. A fraction of a fraction of an inch. That’s how thin the line is between success and failure at the plate.
The toughest part of going through a slump is maintaining your confidence and keeping a consistent mental approach. Hitting is all about that. The thing is, almost any kind of swing can be successful. Look at Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro. They have completely different swings,but they’re both good hitters. And they’re both confident in the swings they have, so it works for them.
I think maybe there are certain times when I’m trying to do too much instead of just seeing the ball and hitting it like I was earlier. Maybe I’m overthinking what the pitcher might be throwing.Or I’m trying to pull the ball in certain situations instead of just staying up the middle.
During the game, your teammates aren’t going to offer too many suggestions. They’re busy with their own stuff. But the other day in batting practice, Buster said I was pulling my front shoulder off the ball a little bit. So I tried to incorporate that into my batting practice, keeping the shoulder closed and putting the ball up the middle or the opposite field.
I never lose my confidence on the field. Even when I was getting criticized early last season for errors, I didn’t lose my confidence because I have no doubts about defense. If you can play defense in the minors, you can play at the Major League level. A ground ball is pretty much a ground ball.But hitting in the Major Leagues is different from the minors because the pitching is better. It’s an adjustment. It takes time to develop the same sense of invincibility at the plate that you feel in the field.
A blog reader asked about “the weird pad’’ on my left hand when I’m batting. I think he’s talking about the thumb guard (see the photo). A lot of guys wear them. It keeps the handle of the bat from sinking into the webbing between your index finger and thumb. I think it makes for a quicker bat. And you don’t feel the sting as much when you get jammed. I’ve been using it my whole pro career.
Then when I get on base, I take off the thumb guard and gloves and put on a different thumb guard. I sprained my thumb at the beginning of last year so I wore it all season to protect it when I slide headfirst. This year I jammed the thumb again putting down a tag at second on Carlos Gomez, so I’ve put the thumb guard back on.
A follow-up from the previous blog post. We ended up not going to Sea World in San Diego. One of Jalynne’s nieces was sick. So we walked along the coast to Seaport Village with the dog and the stroller. It was great – and we didn’t have to pay $150 or whatever to watch a sea otter show that Braylyn won’t even remember.
It was also great to go back to our new home in Arizona when we played the Diamondbacks. The best part was sleeping in my own bed. My bed in Arizona is a lot more comfortable than the one here. The bed here is the same cheap one we bought when I was called up from the minor leagues. It might be time for a new one.
A few thoughts on the Dodger series and our tendency to play close games. I think it was Hunter who said we’re addicted to one-run games. We do our best to make sure it’s a one-run game whether up by a lot of runs or down by a lot of runs. That Saturday game, we were up 5-0 and thinking maybe we’d make it 10-0. Then all of a sudden we’re losing and have to come back and win 10-9.
Flan jokes that maybe it has something to do with the yin/yang, fiery/laid-back pairings in our batting lineup. You start with Pagan and Scutaro, then Pablo and Buster, then Hunter and either me or Belt, then Blanco and either me or Belt. It’s an interesting observation, isn’t it?
OK, I’ll be late to the park if I go on any more. Let’s hope for a better game today than the first two against Philly.
Just to clarify my blog mate’s last post about me missing dinner with the guys in Chicago. (He seemed skeptical about my claim that I didn’t know about it.) I knew about it, but I didn’t know when and where. I was in my room waiting for someone to text me. When no one did, I went to the movies.
I saw “The Place Beyond the Pines’’ with Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, which is a great movie if you haven’t seen it yet. It’s a little dark, but I like dark movies. You might not peg me as an independent-film kind of guy, but I’m a fan. Since I can’t get Haylee to see them, I go by myself on the road.
I know she’d like a lot of the movies if she’d just go with me. So it was funny the other night when she dragged me to a restaurant she wanted to try, Epic on the Embarcadero. She knows how I am about new restaurants. I reluctantly agreed to go. And I loved it. Haylee was thrilled.
“See?’’ she said. “You have to try new things. You might find you like them.’’
“That’s how I feel about you going to the movies with me!’’
She laughed and said she’d go to more movies.
Our season itself has been like a Hollywood script. It’s crazy how our games are going. Every one of them seems to be a heart-stopper. Not to the players, though, to be honest. When we were in the dugout after the Dodgers rallied back Friday and Saturday – and again yesterday – there was never a doubt in our minds we would win.
If we give up a bunch of runs, you don’t hear guys in the dugout saying, “OK, we’ve got to get our butts in gear!’’ We just go about our business. We stick to the game plan. We know what we have to do.
We talk about “synergy’’ a lot. We focus our energy on the guy in the spotlight at that moment. We genuinely believe that guy is going to come through – and it usually happens! It’s crazy. I don’t even know if I believe in all that stuff, but it’s amazing how often it works. It’s just that positive attitude that gets us through a lot of games. You don’t know who it’s going to be. But someone usually comes through in the clutch.
When Quiroz was up Saturday, I don’t think anyone was necessarily thinking he was going to get a walk-off home run. We were all focusing our energy on him getting on base and getting the train in motion. Then you hope the next person gets on, and the next. Then all you need is a blooper to win the game. We really try to keep it as simple as that.
When Q hit the home run – only the third homer in his Major League career — it was awesome. Everybody was so happy for him. He’s a real positive guy. Real easy-going. He’s always rooting for everybody else, so it’s easy to root for him. For us to have walk-off home runs two nights in a row was pretty awesome.
I keep thinking back to the Milwaukee game on April 16. We were down 9-3 and battled back to score five runs. We didn’t give up. We don’t care what the score is. We didn’t win, but I remember how relentless we were. That’s what this team is about. We keep on going out there and battling.
The sweep of the Dodgers this weekend had to be one of the most entertaining series in baseball this season. I wish I could have contributed more at the plate, the way I did in Arizona last week. But that’s the way it goes. Sometimes it’s your moment. Sometimes it’s somebody else’s moment.
As long as we keep winning. That’s all that matters.
I loved giving Pablo a hard time when I had more home runs than he did.
“Yeah,’’ he’d say, “talk to me in September.’’
I had to get my shots in while I could.
It’s great hitting home runs, believe me. I had four all last season and have three already this year. But to tell you the truth I take just as much pride in laying down a crucial sacrifice bunt, like the one last night in the ninth inning.
Sacrifice bunts might not get the scoreboard flashing and the water spouting, but they are noticed by your teammates. They know you did your job and that it was a key to winning the game. My job last night was to move Torres into scoring position, just as in the fourth game of the World Series it was to move Theriot into scoring position. In each situation, the next batter got a hit that scored the runner. If the runner is still at first, he doesn’t score.
OK, so laying down the sac bunt isn’t as much fun as getting the winning hit. You’re not in the newspaper the next day or on the highlights that night. But you know what you did. Last night, after everyone punched Belt in the ribs a few times, my teammates congratulated me on the bunt. I point this out to make the point that winning is a team effort. When you stop playing as a team, you stop winning.
I was really happy for Belt getting the big hit after scuffling the way he has. He was definitely due for a good rip.
People have been asking me why I’m hitting better this year. I made an adjustment in the spring. Former Fresno manager Steve Decker, who’s now the organizational hitting coordinator, was in the batting cage with me down in Arizona. I was warming up as I usually do by hitting off the tee, and Decker was placing the balls on the tee. I think I’ve written about my routine before, about how I position the tee in nine different locations so I practice my swing as if the pitch were in different locations – high, middle, low, inside, over the plate and outside.
Later during batting practice, Decker told me to swing as if I were hitting off the tee at its highest point. That meant I stood taller. My hands were higher. My front shoulder, which usually turned in toward the plate, now stayed more stationary. It was a simpler and shorter approach. It allowed me to have a flatter swing, so I got more backspin, which meant the ball had more of an upward trajectory.
Soon after that, Hunter and I were working on our hitting in Scottsdale while most of the team were playing on the road.
“You’re getting your hands up really well,’’ Hunter said.
We talked about mechanics and why this tweak made a difference.
And it has. I would not have hit an opposite field home run, as I did in Milwaukee, with my old stance.
In Chicago, a group of us went out to dinner – Affeldt, Buster, Hunter, Nick Noonan, Bumgarner, Javy, a couple more, I can’t remember everybody. (Belt didn’t go. He went to the movies by himself. He claims he didn’t know about it.) One of the highlights of any meal is watching Bum eat. It’s entertaining to marvel at the amount and the speed.
When it was time to pay, we considered the old “throw your credit card in’’ game. I quickly pulled an old hotel key-card and tossed it on the table. But in the end, Buster and Hunter split the bill. The one advantage to making less money is you don’t pick up too many checks. But I got Starbuck’s for Buster one day. I think we’re even.
Jalynne, Braylyn and I are flying down to San Diego right after the game tomorrow. We’re going to spend the off day at Sea World with Jalynne’s sister and her two little daughters. I don’t know how much Braylyn will appreciate the killer whales and sea otters, but I know she’ll enjoy herself. She lights up at the smallest things these days. I hated to leave her today to go to the ballpark because she was laughing at everything and having such a great time. Glad she and Jalynne will be on this road trip!
Haylee made me a great cake for my 25th birthday on Saturday. Chocolate and vanilla. I was so hungry when I got home from the game that night I ate a huge piece while we waited for our pizza to arrive. I love chocolate. I’d have an all-chocolate cake with chocolate ice cream and chocolate sauce. But Haylee’s cake was really, really good. There’s nothing like a homemade cake. I think she spent about two hours making it, so I restrained myself from asking why there wasn’t ice cream.
We had an official birthday dinner Sunday night after the day game. We went to Bobo’s on Lombard and Van Ness. Stopped for a milk shake at a burger joint then went to see the new Tom Cruise movie. Just the two of us. Nice night.
Maybe the cake and milk shake will help put some weight back on me. I only gained back 3 or 4 pounds of the 11 or so that I lost when I was sick at the start of the season. It’s hard to keep weight on during the season, much less gain weight, because you’re playing every day. I’m drinking more protein shakes when I’m at the field, so I’m sure I’ll eventually get back to normal.
Bochy is giving me time off against left-handed pitchers, hoping to help me recapture the good rhythm I had in spring training. I know people make a big deal when you start the season slowly. They look up at the scoreboard and see your average is below .200 and kind of go a little nutty. But as a player you have to ignore the numbers. All you have control over is your current at-bat. You have to approach each one the same way, with the same confidence. You don’t have control over the results. You know that the balls will start to fall and the numbers on the scoreboard will start to creep back up.
This doesn’t mean that you completely ignore your struggles. I’m working with Bam-Bam and Joe in the cage and watching video. But in baseball especially, you have to take the long view. There are still more than five months left in the season. We’ve played only three weeks! So it’s crazy to get all panicky. I’ll be fine.
In the meantime, Crawford is hitting well enough for both of us. He’s seeing the ball really well. He’s so comfortable at the plate. He’s in such a good groove I think he’ll be hitting the ball well for a long time.
It seems to work out that way on this team. When one person’s down, the next guy picks him up. You never know on this team who’s going to be the guy who comes through with the big hit or the big play. Even though I’m scrapping right now, or maybe especially because I’m scrapping, I’m having a great time watching Crawford crush home runs.
Believe me, I’m not excited to be sitting on the bench. Nobody likes sitting. I’d like to play every inning of every game. As long as we’re winning, I’m happy.
I spoke to a group of Little League players before Sunday’s game, and one of them asked if I missed pitching. I grew up as a pitcher. I wanted to be Randy Johnson, another tall lefty. So I said I hoped that someday we’ll be going into the 27th inning and Bochy will be out of pitchers and I’ll get the call. That would be awesome.
Another kid asked what I ate before games. I said, “Anything that’s put in front of me, plus a Red Bull.’’
And someone else wanted to know who was the funniest guy on the team. “Bumgarner,’’ I said, “even though he doesn’t try to be. If you can understand what he’s saying, he’s pretty funny.’’
See you out at the ballpark.
No batting practice today so I have a little time to blog.
I went to bed last night thinking about getting the ring today. I woke up thinking about it. I could hardly sleep, to be honest with you.
When we get that ring, then it’s official: We’re world champions. I know that raising the flag on Friday was kind of the official moment. It was awesome running out from center field and watching the video of the postseason highlights. I could watch that all day. Every time I see it Ithink, “How in the world did we pull that off?’’ I still don’t know. Winning six elimination games still blows my mind.
But the ring is the thing for me, the day I’ve really been waiting for all off-season. It’s something tangible for each one of us. Something we’ll have for the rest of our lives no matter how far from San Francisco or baseball we might get.
I think I’ll wear it two weeks in a row before I put it away. Then I’ll just wear it when I’m wearing nice clothes. I’m afraid I’ll leave it somewhere. I don’t plan on taking it to the ballpark or the gym or any place where I’d have totake it off. (Remember I left my wedding ring in the cup holder of my truck in Lufkin?) I don’t know where I’ll keep it but it will be somewhere very safe.
This season Haylee and I are living in San Francisco about a mile from the park. Probably less than a mile, actually. Madison and Ali were already living there and told us about it. We’re close enough to the park that I’m thinking about getting one of those stand-up electric scooters that Hunter has. Now Timmy and Sergio have them, too. I want to get one for Haylee, too, so we can ridearound the city together.
We loved Walnut Creek but some nights I’d get home so late that by the time I drove from the park, ate and wound down, it would be really late and I felt I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I am not a morning person at all, so I hope being in the city will allow me to have better sleeping habits.
I made it to Olive Garden at the Stonestown Mall the other night. It was awesome. I had the Tour of Italy like always and Alfredo sauce for the breadsticks. James our waiter was second to none. The whole staff knew we were coming because someone at Olive Garden had made the arrangements. So after dinner I took pictures with everyone who worked there and with fans, too. I’ll post them on twitter.
It was good for me to eat a lot because I lost 11 pounds while I was sick. I weighed 229 when I left Scottsdale and weighed 218 yesterday. I hardly ate for four or five days when I had that stomach bug and what I DID eat just came right back out. I feel like I have a lot more energy now.
And even though I don’t have a hit yet, I feel I’m swinging the bat well. Yesterday I hit two balls right on the nose but they didn’t fall in. Last year if this had happened, I wouldn’t have handled it as well. But now I know eventually the balls will drop in. I have a lot of confidencefrom playing a full season last year and having such a strong spring. I have the ability now to just breathe up there and slow the game down when things aren’t going my way.
Last night, Haylee and I walked down to the Embarcadero after dinner in San Bruno. We took a picture in front of the bridge. Then we stopped for a milkshake so I could load up on some more calories. I’m working out really hard, too. Haylee had to wait about an hour and a half after the game for me to finish up my postgame workout before going home. She was the very last person in the family room when I finally got out there. It’s not easy being the wife of a baseball player. But don’t tell her I said that.
I’m going to be miked for the ring ceremony for the Giants’ video crew. I don’t know why. I’m about the most boring person they could pick. I never say anything. And if I do, it’ll probably be something embarrassing.
Next time you hear from me, I’ll be the proud owner of an actual World Series ring. It’ll be awesome.’
Below: In the dugout before the ring ceremony.
Salad dressing. That’s how you know you’re in a good restaurant. (Or if it’s TexMex, salsa.)
If you follow me on twitter (@bbelt9), you already know my favorite salad dressing is at Olive Garden with their unlimited salad and bread sticks. You might be surprised to know that not everyone thinks Olive Garden is one of America’s best restaurants. I’ve discovered that people in San Francisco hate chain restaurants with a passion. I come from a small town, and the way we knew we were in a city is if it had an Olive Garden. Then Lufkin got one six or seven years ago. I’ve been ordering the Tour of Italy ever since – lasagna, alfredo and chicken parmesan.
Even on the road, I’m opposed to trying new restaurants. If the food isn’t very good, my whole night is ruined because I could have gone to Olive Garden.
Back to salad dressing.
Lots of restaurants have kind of the same food so a restaurant that has really good salad dressing sets itself apart. So that’s how you know it’s a good place. House of Prime Rib had great salad dressing, so that’s my favorite in San Francisco.
When I tweeted about Olive Garden’s salad dressing, the restaurant sent me a message saying they wanted to send me free salad dressing. I tweeted that this was probably the best day of my life.
Haylee and I had a good time socializing with teammates in Arizona. Nick Noonan and his fiance bought a condo right before we broke camp. They had no furniture but invited people over anyway. It was a BYOC party – Bring Your Own Chair. It’s really nice getting together with guys off the field. I’m happy Nick’s here in San Francisco. He has a great chance of making the roster on Opening Day.
Tune into 95.7 on Monday afternoons. I’ll be talking to Bucher and Townie every week at 4:30. And I’ll be doing interviews with Amy G. on the Comcast website.
Thanks for reading!
Hope to see you at the park. Or at Olive Garden.
I’m back at my same locker in the AT&T clubhouse. It feels like I never left. When I got here today, I parked in the players’ lot, walked through the left field gate, onto the field, down the third-base line, into the dugout, down the stairs, around the corner, up the stairs and into the clubhouse.
Didn’t I just do this? I can’t believe five months have passed.
We flew in last night after yesterday’s last game in Arizona. I’m staying at a hotel in the city until we can get into our rental house in Walnut Creek in April. Jalynne drove the SUV from Scottsdale to LA with Braylyn and the two dogs, Marley and Koda. She’s going to stay with her parents for the weekend because we’re opening the season in LA. It didn’t make sense for her and the baby to come all the way to San Francisco only to turn around on Sunday and go to LA.
A lot of guys had their families on the flight from Phoenix to SFO. Buster, Kristen and their one-and-a-half-year-old twins were sitting in front of me. Addison, Buster’s daughter, was getting fussy and suddenly Buster gets up and hands her to me.
“Here, go back with Mr. Brandon!’’
I take her and she starts screaming. She wanted her dad, not some guy she doesn’t know with a beard and long hair. Buster was nice enough to come back and sat next to me, which got Addison to stop screaming. I guess I know what’s waiting for me with Braylyn in a year or so.
There were dogs on the plane, too. Romo, Cain, Zito all had their dogs. Zito had one on his lap and one in the seat next to him.
The kids were louder than the dogs.
OK, going out to batting practice. We are so ready for the real season to begin.
And so ready for LA.
See you next week at our home opener.
Marco Scutaro returned to the team this morning from the World Baseball Classic. So great to have him and Pablo back. The clubhouse is always a bit louder with Pablo around. He was there this morning playing cards with some of the Latin players at the round table near his locker. I don’t think there is ever a moment when Pablo isn’t finding a way to have a good time.
While Marco was gone, different guys played second, including Tanaka who speaks very little English. Communication is probably the biggest thing between a shortstop and second baseman so it’s something we work on in spring training.
If a ball’s hit to right-center, for example, you have to communicate who’s the cutoff man and who’s going to trail. With Scutaro I already know that I’ll take the cutoff because I have a stronger arm. But if Joaquin Arias is playing second, he’ll take the throw. A shortstop has to work that out with every second-baseman.
Or if I’m expecting a hit-and-run — let’s say there’s an average runner at first and a good contact hitter at the plate — I’ll alert the second-baseman that I suspect a hit-and-run to the right side and that I’ll be covering second.
Of course the other team can’t know what you’re saying. So there’s a lot of nonverbal communication. Before a pick-off play, I’ll point to the second-baseman if he should cover the throw, or I’ll wiggle my glove if I’m going to take it.
If we’re expecting a runner to steal second, I’ll signal with my mouth to the second baseman who’s covering the bag: If I open my mouth, he’s covering; if I close my mouth, I’m covering. I do this, of course, behind my glove so the the opposing team can’t see.
Yesterday all the fielders worked on taking cutoffs. You might think, “What’s there to work on? A cutoff’s a cutoff.’’ But Bochy had us doing something different. He noticed that when outfielders had to retrieve balls all the way to the wall, their throws weren’t as crisp and strong. The reason is they had to basically stop to pick up the ball before throwing, which means they had no momentum. The throws sailed in on an arc, and we’d have a tough time making the play.
Bochy had the infielders position themselves about 15 feet farther out than usual to receive the throws. The result was that the outfielders’ throws were stronger and faster, and so the cutoff men got the ball back to the infield more quickly. It should give us a better chance at nailing runners at third and home.
We also worked on bunts. I’m pretty good at sac bunts — I hit the best sac bunt of my life in Game 4 in Detroit to put Theriot in scoring position at second base. But I need to get better at bunting for base hits. I always bunt too hard, and the third-baseman throws me out easily. You have to deaden the ball so the third-baseman can’t reach it. And the trick to that is to almost catch the ball on your bat. It’s really an art to get the timing just right — to pull the bat back just as it’s meeting the pitch. And you have to make sure you take the pitch at the top of the zone and push down so you don’t pop it up.
I’ll keep working on that and a dozen other things through spring training. We’re having a great time just being together. And the weather is perfect right now. But I’m a Bay Area guy, so I’ll be happy when we go north, back to AT&T and 40,000 cheering fans.
See you there.
Some of you might have seen an unusual tweet from me two days ago.
“I want to compliment you @channingtatum, you got a rockin bod in Magic Mike #winkyface”.
People tweeted back that they hoped I had gotten hacked. Someone told me I was weird. “You’re not wrong,’’ I tweeted back. Someone else wondered if Haylee had taken my phone and written it. She immediately tweeted that she had nothing to do with it. For an hour, I couldn’t explain my tweet. That was part of the bet.
This was the brainchild of my warped locker mate, Gary Brown. He bet he could beat me in miniature golf. No problem. I was the king of the windmills. Then I lost. I figured he’d make me tweet that he was the new king and I bowed to him. Instead he came up with Channing Tatum.
So when the hour was up and I tweeted out the explanation of the bet, not a single person tweeted back. Where was everybody? They only saw the Channing Tatum tweet but not my explanation? Great.
I’m getting this post done in the clubhouse after today’s game. Not a great outcome obviously. But spring is when you really focus on working on improving your game as an individual and as a team. I had my fourth home run and seventh RBI in the last seven games. I feel completely comfortable up at the plate right now. The best I’ve felt in a while. Everything’s clicking.
What’s different? I think a few things. Now that I’ve been in the majors a little while, I’m better at figuring out how the pitchers are trying to set me up. Their job is to mess with your timing. As soon as you think you know what they’re going to throw, they do something else to trip you up. Now I’m thinking more along with them and I’m not fooled as much.
I also think my off-season work is paying off. I worked with my high school on strengthening my forearms and my core. The forearms help you hit for power, and your core helps just about everything.
I didn’t start the spring so well. And the thought crossed my mind that maybe I’d never get a hit again. But what’s different now is that the negativity disappears as quickly as it arrives. Now I know I’ll come out the other side. I went through some dark baseball hell for a while when I first came up to the majors. Those struggles now give me confidence. You learn to believe in yourself no matter what happens because you’ve seen yourself battle through it.
I think that’s why sports is so important for kids. Where else do you get these kinds of lessons about failure and struggle and resilience? I learned that things aren’t always going to go my way, whether it’s on the field or in the rest of my life. You have to be mentally tough. My dad drilled that into me. I didn’t do such a great job of that sometimes when I first got to the majors. Sometimes you have to be dragged to your lowest point before you figure out how to believe in yourself and fight.
A few other good things are happening, too. My truck is supposed to arrive today or tomorrow from Texas. It should have been here a while ago but there was trouble with the shipping company blah blah. Haylee and I have had to share her car, which we drove to Arizona. I take the car to away games, which leaves her stranded in North Scottsdale. So she will be very happy to have her car all to herself again.
And yesterday Haylee gave me a new wedding band. We had seen it in a store here in Scottsdale. I liked it but told her I’d never buy it for myself. The next thing I know she’s giving it to me as an early birthday present. (My birthday is next month.) It’s very cool but not flashy. It has a bunch of tiny greenish garnet stones that refract the light and give off a nice sparkle.
My original wedding ring is in the cup holder of my truck parked at my house in Lufkin. I take it off when I work out and leave it in the cup holder. In the rush of leaving for Arizona, I forgot all about it. Good deal for me. Now I have a better one.
That’s it for now. Thanks, as always, for reading. I’ll keep you posted on a rematch with Gary Brown. Maybe ping-pong this time. Or basketball. I have a few inches on him. I’m open to suggestions.