April 2012

From autograph seeker to autograph signer – Brandon Crawford

I was one of those kids who knew every player on every team in baseball. I was, and still am, a major fan. My dad took me to spring training in Arizona every year. My family had Giants season tickets at Candlestick then AT&T – I grew in Pleasanton. So I was always getting autographs. I kept my baseball cards organized by team and position so I could pull out the right card immediately. But I’m a quiet guy, so my approach was to wait for someone else to call out the player’s name and I’d just have my stuff ready for them to sign.

I have Willie Mays, Will Clark, Robby Thompson, J.T. Snow, Rich Aurilia. Almost every Giants player, I think. One of my favorites, though, is the card and ball signed by Ken Griffey Jr., who everybody tried to get when he came through town. I also went with my dad to signings at the convention center and the Cow Palace. He has tons of balls, cards, magazines – all kinds of signed memorabilia.

Now I’m on the other side of the equation. It’s important to me to sign as much as I can. But now I understand why players can’t sign for everyone who wants one. It’s just not possible. Yesterday I was in the early batting group in BP so I could sign for a little longer. The day before that I was in the last group. When you’re in the last group, you really don’t have a whole lot of time because you have to go into the clubhouse and get ready.

It’s tricky because no matter how long you sign you can’t get to everyone. You can sign for ten minutes but the people who are just getting down there, they don’t know you’ve been signing for ten minutes. So they might think you’re some jerk who’s not signing for anybody. You know it’s not true, but still it’s tough to just walk away from people who are calling out your name, especially kids. But I guess you have to get used to it a little bit.

On the road it’s a little tougher to have time to sign because our batting practice is after the home team’s, so when we’re done it’s almost game time. But I try to sign at least ten people before I go in. I’m surprised at how many Giants fans we have all over the country. It’s great to see the Orange and Black in the stands. We definitely hear them, especially in San Diego. It feels almost like a home game sometimes there. They don’t get a huge home crowd, so the Giants fans stand out. I remember last year in San Diego when Pablo had a big hitting streak, you could hear boos when they walked him.

As for fan mail, one of the best was an envelope from Japan. A guy there drew a picture of me and sent it to me along with a baseball card. I signed the card but the picture was a gift. I thought that was really nice.

Sometimes I’ll get a card with four or five of the same cards to sign. You figure they’re selling them. So every now and then I’ll keep one because my parents like to have my cards. And sometimes I’ll personalize the cards so they’re not as likely to go on eBay.

Unlike Brandon Belt, I’m not going to the wine country on my day off Monday. I’ll stay around the house with my wife or go visit my parents and sisters. Maybe I’ll find Romo and Tim Lincecum online playing Call of Duty and we’ll play together as a team against other teams. Exciting, huh?

Then on Tuesday it’s back to the park against the Marlins.

I’ll see you there and hope I’m in the early batting group so I have more time to sign!

-Brandon C.

 

 

A Job Like No Other – Brandon Belt

Last night’s game was a blast. It’s a great feeling when you can come through when the team really needs something to happen. We haven’t been very good so far this season in driving runners home, so getting the double to put us ahead gives you a boost that you hope carries over.

A fan left a comment on the blog asking about my and Crawford’s experiences with the fans. So we’re both answering.

Like a lot of ballplayers, I idolized the major leaguers when I was growing up. It almost seems that there’s something in kids’ brains that’s programmed to look up to athletes. Because I remember how it was for me, I sign autographs as much as I can, though we don’t always have as much time at the park as fans might think we do. There’s a lot of stuff we have to do to get ready for every game. But I never want the fans to think I don’t appreciate them coming out and supporting us. So I try to do at least something every game to show that.

When I’m signing autographs, it’s nice to chat with people  They ask me if I like my “Baby Giraffe’’ nickname. (I do). They ask how I’m feeling, and I try to be honest. These days I tell them I’m feeling pretty good, but sometimes it’s a battle up there at the plate and you have to work things through. Sometimes people tell me not to worry about playing time and just keep doing what I’m doing.

Seriously, how many people have jobs where thousands of people are cheering you on and patting you on the back and making you feel like you’re really something special? I hope I can always appreciate how lucky I am.

Of course, there’s the flip side, too. It’s a public job so you can become a target of criticism. But here in San Francisco, the fans are incredibly supportive so I haven’t experienced the downside yet. Everyone has been really nice.

All of us get fan mail. Guys like Buster and Timmy get armloads. I have a little stack. But even with my little stack I procrastinate answering them. When the stack gets a little too high, I sit in front of my locker and answer. I received a really nice and unusual letter the other day. It was from a lady who just wanted to say she enjoyed watching me play and she liked the Giants. I almost never get letters like that. Just about every envelope has a card or photo to sign and send back. So that was a nice change.

Tomorrow, Monday, is a rare day off here at home. Haley and I are going back to Napa, which we went at the end of last season. I’m not a wine guy so I wasn’t looking forward to going, but then I loved it. It was one of my favorite days of the year. So we’re going back. We’ll eat at my friend’s brother’s restaurant, Il Posto, and spend the night. Tuesday is a night game so we can sleep in.

Then it’s back to the park and the Florida Marlins.

Hope to see you out there!

Please leave your questions in the comments section — makes it easier for me to think about what to write!

-Brandon B.

The Art of the Double Play – Brandon Crawford

Seems like a good time to write about double plays.

There are few things in baseball more fun than being part of a great double play. Manny and I had one the other day in New York that’s gotten a lot of attention. Manny did the hard part – going far to his right and flipping the ball perfectly straight from his glove back to me at the bag. I caught it barehanded and threw to first.

I know those kinds of plays look completely improvised, and they are to a certain extent. No two situations are exactly the same. But we practice it. Not often. But every now and then during BP, when there’s a ground ball up the middle, we’ll do a glove-flip kind of play just so we know we have it.

Manny and I are good friends off the field, so we have a lot of fun out there. He’s been kind of a mentor to me since I met him in Arizona right after I was drafted. I was in the instructional league and he was getting ready for the fall league. Then when I went to my first spring training the following year, he was there and told me what I should do, what the coaches are looking for, that sort of thing.

The first time we were actually on the same team was last year. We were both assigned to Triple A Fresno coming out of spring training. But then I got hurt and missed five to six weeks and went to Single A San Jose to do my rehab. Then I was called up to San Francisco, and we were in the big leagues together but of course not playing much.

Then we were sent to Fresno and spent the month of August playing together almost every day. The double plays became almost like dance steps. We know what the other’s going to do and where he’s going to be. Manny told reporters after the game in New York that he didn’t think twice about flipping the ball because he knew I’d be there.

We know each other well enough, too, to say what need’s saying. “Hey, forget about the at-bat,’’ he or I might say. “Let’s go play defense.’’

It’s also been great getting to know Ryan Theriot, who’s a really funny guy. We got to know each other in spring training and worked on our communication and timing. There was a play early in the season in Arizona with a ball hit over second base. Ryan started for it and was almost to the ball when I called him off. He immediately hit the dirt so the ball bounced over him. I fielded it cleanly behind second base and got the runner at first. I knew it was an easier play for me going toward first. And as soon as I called it, Ryan didn’t hesitate to get out of the way and let it go. But that doesn’t happen if you have worked on plays like that and come to trust each other.

Heading to the ballpark now. Feel free to leave questions and I’ll try to answer them next time.

See you Friday in San Francisco.

 

-Brandon C.

Unbelievable – Brandon Belt

We’re making our way to New York, but I wanted to write a short post about last night’s amazing game.

In the dugout, we were watching the pitching duel like any fan in the stands. Matt Cain and Cliff Lee were like surgeons out there — precise and efficient and super confident. You knew neither was giving an inch. A win would have to be earned the hard way — one base at a time.

But I knew I had to keep ready (more on that in my next post). Boch could call on me at any time.

That time came in the 11th.

Cliff Lee was, thankfully, finally out of the game after ten innings. I was facing Armando Bastardo. All I thought about was putting the ball in play. Just keep it simple. Forget everything that’s happened before. I was looking for a fastball, but he gave me a slider and fortunately I was able to stay with it just enough to put it in play for single up the middle.

When I reached second on an error and Melky came to the plate, I was thinking: Whatever happens, be aggressive. Get home however you can.

As soon as I saw the ball come off the bat, I took off. I was probably overly aggressive right there but I trusted my instincts.

When I’m rounding third, I take a look at the fielder to see if I’m going to have to slide. I saw the ball in the air and I’m thinking – get to the plate as fast as you can and get down.

When I crossed that plate – it was one of the greatest feelings. You’re happy for the win but you’re really happy for Matt. He had fought so hard out there that you just wanted to do it for him. And I couldn’t be happier for Melky, who’s been winning games for us all season. He had a great at-bat and he came through for us again.

And I have to tell you there’s nothing better than a dog pile. It does something for you as a player and as a team. Pulls you closer together maybe. I don’t know for sure. But there’s a carryover. I can feel it today. Everyone’s still smiling.

And in the aftermath, you can really start to appreciate what we saw last night. It’s hard to imagine any of us will ever see a better pitching duel. It’s a game that you know you’ll be telling your grandchildren about – the way people talk about Koufax and Marichal.

It’s a great way to head into four games against the Mets.

Thanks for reading.

-Brandon Belt

 

A win, a night out and a day off – Brandon Crawford

I’m hanging out in my hotel room on our day off in Denver, just taking it easy. Some guys went fly fishing. Some have their families here. My wife Jalynne is at this moment driving our car from Arizona back to the Bay Area to the place we’re renting in Walnut Creek. (I grew up in nearby Pleasanton.) We have a three-bedroom house that we share with Jalynne’s two sisters – her twin, Janelle, and their older sister Jamie Dantzscher, who was on the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team that won the bronze medal in Sydney in 2000. She’s coaching gymnastics in the Bay Area now, and Janelle is working as a first-grade teacher in Pleasanton. It’s great they’re there because we’re on the road so much and now Jalynne always has company.

We celebrated our first win of the season yesterday with eleven of us going out to dinner together to a restaurant called Ocean Prime. Huff organized the whole thing – and picked up the check. It was a good mixture of pitchers and position players – Manny Burriss, Cain, Lincecum, Affeldt, Nate, Pill, Bum, Romo, Belt, me. It was a lot of fun to be together off the field. Part of the reason the 2010 team did so well – I’ve been told – is that the team was tight and everyone was pulling for everyone else. That’s how it already feels.

We all talked about Zito’s nine-inning shutout – how smart he pitched, how controlled. Everyone’s so happy for him after all his struggles. He’s such a gracious, genuinely good person, so you’re always rooting for him. I heard someone say that maybe that game was a sign of what kind of team this will be – that you never know who’s going to be the hero. That seems like an echo of 2010, too.

As thrilling as it was to hear my name announced on Opening Day in Arizona, I know it will be nothing compared to Friday at AT&T. I wonder if I’ll be as nervous as I was in Arizona, given that it was my first time on an Opening Day roster. Huff told me later that for all the years he has played, he still gets nervous on Opening Day, so that was reassuring to hear.

Then I go and boot the first grounder hit to me. But you have to just forget about it and make sure you get the next one. I’m pretty even-keeled, so it’s not difficult for me to let go of mistakes. I know it’s a long season. There will be a lot of ground balls over a lot of games. That’s why inside the clubhouse – contrary to what I’m sure was happening on talk radio – nobody was panicking about losing three in Arizona. Did we hate to get swept? Of course. But there were still 159 games left to play at that point.

It felt great to get the three-run double yesterday. I’ve been feeling good at the plate since the first game, even if the results didn’t show it. You just hope the ball eventually finds a hole, and that one did.

Someone asked me recently about the communication and partnership a shortstop has to have with his second baseman. Good question. I’ll write about that next time.

See you Friday in San Francisco.

-Brandon C.

Belt

Last year when Bochy called me in his office and told me I made the Opening Day roster, I was so emotional that I had to take a few minutes to collect myself before going back into the clubhouse.

This year was a little different. I still didn’t know if I was going to make the team. So that part was the same. For six weeks in spring training you’re wondering and wondering. You’re thinking, “God, I just want to know.’’ They don’t tell you anything. It’s nerve-wracking. I figured I wouldn’t find out until Wednesday, when the final cuts were to be made and announced.

So Tuesday afternoon in Oakland, I’m at the cage during batting practice before the preseason game against the A’s. Bochy comes up to me and asks how I’m doing.

“I feel pretty good,’’ I say. “Hope to get a couple more hits tonight.’’

“If you get two,’’ he says, “you make the team.’’

I laugh and say, “I’ll do my best.’’

“No,’’ Bochy says. “You made the team. Congratulations.’’

It was awesome to hear that. I was really happy and relieved. But no tears this time. (By the way, I got only one hit that night so good thing Bochy was kidding.)

The biggest difference from last year to this year is my confidence. Last year, I didn’t know what was going on. Even as far as the plane and hotels. You’re always one stupid move from making a complete fool of yourself.

And when I struggled at the plate, I got advice from a bunch of different people and felt obligated to listen to all of them. This year, I’m confident in my approach at the plate, something I worked on in the Dominican winter league and during spring training. If I do go into a slump, I know I’ll come out of it without scrambling around and changing everything. I know myself better and what works for me. So I’ll take the advice that’s useful and leave the rest.

The team feels different this year, too. Not radically. But I feel we gelled right from the start of spring training. It seems like everyone’s kind of on the same level, like there’s no hierarchy.

Of course, it could be just that my perception has changed because I’m no longer a rookie. Last year, I came into a clubhouse with a lot of veterans and I kind of felt I was by myself. This year, not only do I have a year of experience under my belt, but there are more young guys  – Brandon Crawford, Brett Pill, Hector Sanchez.

The other thing is having Buster back. He’s one of the biggest leaders in the clubhouse and one of the biggest bats in the lineup – both of those are huge and have an impact on how the team feels overall. Everyone’s real confident.

I’m sharing the blog this year with Crawford. We’ll be alternating. So look for his entry in the next couple days.

See you back in San Francisco next week. Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave comments. I love reading them and will try to answer your questions in an upcoming entry.

-Brandon Belt

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