May 2012

Playing Catch with My Dad – Brandon Belt

 

Brandon Crawford and I decided to write posts about our earliest baseball memories.

In my earliest memory of baseball I’m no older than three. I know this because we moved to Nacogdoches when I was three, and in this memory we’re still at the house in Oakwood, Texas. I don’t remember specifics about the town but my parents tell the story of visiting a neighbor’s house and suddenly realizing that nobody has seen my little brother, who wasn’t even two years old yet. He went missing for about three hours. He finally was spotted down at the railroad tracks watching the trains go by. He apparently had heard a train and followed the sound.

“We just lost track of him,’’ my mom says when she tells the tale.

My brother and I still kid them about being the worst parents in the world.

Anyway, in my earliest memory I’m playing catch with my dad in the back yard. The yard is huge and covered with tall prickly-burr weeds called stickers.  I have a little glove and we’re using a plastic ball.

I know that playing catch with your dad is sort of a “Field of Dreams’’ moment when a father passes his love of baseball on to his son. Except my dad didn’t like baseball. He was a high school football coach. He still is. He didn’t play baseball. He didn’t watch baseball on TV.

But for whatever reason, I’ve loved baseball for as far back as I can remember. When I was five years old and I wanted to play T-ball, my dad said I should wait because I’d get burned out. I think he just didn’t want to sit through the interminable games, to be honest.

But he never stopped playing catch with me.

Well, he stopped when I was about 13. I could throw the crap out of the ball, but I wasn’t too accurate. He started getting mad at me for throwing too hard and for throwing too many baseballs past him and into the woods behind our house. I imagine there’s still a whole stash of baseballs back there. Even though he wasn’t crazy about baseball, he came to all the games he could and was my biggest supporter along with my mom.

I really don’t know why I connected with baseball. Maybe it was because I was better at it than most of the other kids I knew. Maybe it was because it’s a summer game and I loved being outside during the summer. I played football, too, of course. There’s no getting around that when you grow up in Texas and your father’s a football coach. I played quarterback for a while.

But I loved baseball. Nothing could pull me away, not even breaking my finger during my very first season. I was eight years old and playing shortstop. A line drive hit my left index finger.

When I looked down, the bone was sticking out of the skin. It was disgusting. By coincidence, the surgeon who repaired it was the father of the kid who hit the line drive.

I wonder if all sports are like baseball in that you fall in love with them for no obvious reason. I’m still excited to get to the park every day. Maybe it sounds stupid, but I love the feel of the ball in my hand. I love throwing it. Someone recently showed me this great quote from a writer named Roger Angell.

“Any baseball is beautiful. No other small package comes as close to the ideal design and utility. It is a perfect object for a man’s hand. Pick it up and it instantly suggests its purpose; it is meant to be thrown a considerable distance — thrown hard and with precision.’’

That’s exactly what I think. I’m glad someone put it into words.

-Brandon B.

Always Learning – Brandon Belt

One thing that sets baseball apart from most other sports is how you never stop learning. You can never master every part of the game – and  certainly you can’t master all the parts at the same time. There are just too many pieces and too many variables. That’s what makes baseball so interesting to watch and fun to play.

Take base-running. The goal is pretty straight-forward: reach home before your team gets three outs. But there are a million different ways to improve your chances, to give your team an edge. Last week against the Cardinals is an example. I’m on second with two outs. Huff hits a grounder toward David Freese at third. I want to go but I see Freese coming in toward the ball and I don’t want to interfere and get called out, or run close enough to Freese for him to tag me out.

But instead of charging the ball, he waited for it to come to him. At the pace I was running, I’d be past him by the time he set up to throw to first. So I stutter-stepped, putting myself right in front of him as he cocked his arm. The point was to obstruct his view or break his rhythm. If you can break a fielder’s rhythm, there’s a chance the ball could end up in the stands. I can’t say for sure my stutter-step caused Freese to overthrow first and allowing me to score, but that’s the story I’m going with.

The point is you’re always trying to outplay, out-think and out-maneuver your opponent in even the smallest ways. You never know how big they’ll pay off.

During last week’s home stand I was feeling really comfortable at the plate. I’m still not where I want to be, but as with fielding, hitting is so much about rhythm. I’ve always been a rhythm hitter, and once you get in that groove you’re more comfortable and confident up there. Then those singles turn into doubles and then hopefully some home runs. And that, you hope, translates to more wins.

So Bam-Bam Meulens, our hitting coach, watches us closely, particularly us younger guys. He’s always teaching us, and we’re always learning. I had an at-bat against the Rockies last week that he talked to me about later. The pitcher, Rex Brothers, had walked the bases loaded. Then I swung at the first pitch. My thinking was he’d be trying to groove a strike right there, and the pitch looked good coming out of his hand. I thought, “This is my pitch.’’

So I jumped on it – only to miss it and ultimately strike out. I’ve always been a guy who doesn’t worry about going after what I think is my pitch. It doesn’t bother me to be down 0-1; I still have two more strikes. But in the big leagues, unlike every other level, the pitching is so good that you have to give the pitcher every opportunity to fail and give yourself every opportunity to work the count.

In an at-bat like the one against Brothers, Bam-Bam told me, I have to take the first pitch, no matter what. See if he’s going to keep throwing balls. Keep the pressure on him. I didn’t. Lesson learned.

Last week, some friends from our church in Texas spent five days with us. They’d never been to San Francisco, so Haylee happily played tour guide while I was at the park. Thursday night after our day game, we all went to Pier 39 to walk around and grab some dinner. We’re away from Texas all season so it’s great to see people from home now and then. They loved it here and said they’re going to try to come back ASAP. We’ll take them up to Napa next time.

On Friday before the game, I had the opportunity to visit the staff at Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City. Some of them brought their kids. It was great. They sat me at a table to sign autographs and had an enormous giraffe balloon behind me. I love getting out and meeting people who are doing such great work for the community.

We’re in Milwaukee now then on to Miami. We’re back home a week from today against Arizona. There’s nothing like playing at AT&T. I appreciate it more with every road trip. Players from other teams even mention it to me, how great it would be if they could play in front of sell-out crowds every day. We know we’re lucky, and believe me we never take it for granted.

So see you in a week!

-Brandon B.

Dealing With Failure – Brandon Crawford

I can’t explain last Thursday’s game against the Marlins. My at-bats were bad. My defense was bad – two errors. It was a bad day all round.

The first grounder of the game, from Marlins’ leadoff hitter Jose Reyes, went between my legs. It was hit hard on wet grass and it kind of skipped, but it’s a play I always make. It’s a play I HAVE to make. This is the big leagues. Missing a ball like that isn’t OK on any level. Reyes ended up scoring. So my error cost us a run. And we lost by a run.

For the first time ever in my baseball career, I felt a little crack in my confidence. It’s something I have never experienced. I’ve made two errors in a game before. But never like on Thursday where I just completely missed the ball and didn’t know why.

And confidence is such a huge thing in baseball. It’s way bigger than the physical side. You have to be confident that you’re going to make every play.

So I had a blunt conversation with infield coach Ron Wotus, who has seen it all and does not sugarcoat anything. And Bochy told me he was going to sit me Friday and Saturday. I came early to the park the next few days and took lots of extra infield practice. Wotus hit balls at me and we worked on basics like eye-hand coordination — kind of reloading on muscle memory.

On Friday, the day after my bad game, Matt Cain pulled me aside to remind me that everyone has down times. As a pitcher, he said, he knows he’s going to have bad starts. That’s baseball. He said everyone knows I’m a good player and I should never doubt myself. It was a really nice thing for him to do, and helpful, too.

Friday was also the day of the team meeting. I know it wasn’t directed just at me, but it was great to hear the veterans say they have confidence in the younger guys even if we’re struggling right now.

In some ways it was good to have those two days off to regroup. But I couldn’t wait to get back out there, too. I started on Sunday, and I was really glad to get a grounder in the first inning. It was like, “OK, you’re off to a good start. Back to normal.’’

As a player in the major leagues, it’s not that you’re embarrassed about errors as much as you’re frustrated. You feel bad for letting your team down. At this level, it’s not about yourself and how a mistake reflects on you personally. It’s about the team and about winning and losing. If you cost the team a win, you take it hard.

At the same time, you have to let it go. It’s a tricky thing sometimes. When I was younger, I’d hold onto mistakes. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten better at putting them behind me and moving forward, taking each game pitch by pitch. You can’t let failure defeat you. This game will crush you if you do.

-Brandon C.

Sticking Together – Brandon Belt

It’s been a week already since I was in Napa with Haley. It was awesome. We went to Black Stallion winery on Silverado Trail. They were Giants fans so they took really good care of us. Then we went to Il Posto Trattoria and I had the best chicken parmigiana. It was such a relaxing time and really great to spend time with Haley. During the season, you never have enough time with your family, so you really appreciate the time you do have.

Neither one of us knows anything about wine, but we have a great time bumbling through and trying not to embarrass ourselves too much. Everyone’s really nice about explaining how the wine is made and what to pay attention to in the different kinds of wine. I don’t know if I’ll ever be a big wine drinker, but Haley and I both love it up there. I think the wine country will be an annual getaway for us.

As you know, it’s been a really uneven start to the season for us. With the injuries and some of us scrapping a bit more than usual, Angel Pagan called a players-only meeting on Friday. He talked about how we’re a good ball team that knows how to win and that if we keep playing hard, things are going to start going our way.

Then other players spoke. Buster, Melky (with Angel translating), Huff. Javy Lopez. A lot of the veterans. (Buster is like a veteran even though he’s so young.) They reassured the younger players that even though you might be struggling now, it’s a long season and you’re going to get on track. Don’t let your struggles affect your confidence.

I think it helped. As a young player, when things are going bad, your mind can start racing. You’re thinking, “Maybe I should be doing this. Maybe I should be doing that. What should I be doing different?’’

So the veterans were telling us to just step back and take a deep breath and get some perspective. There’s still a lot of season left to play. We can still make up ground. They reminded us to just work hard every day. Trust what got you here. Stick together. Be a team.

It was great to have just the players in there because we know it’s up to us. Bochy can have the best strategies in the world but it’s up to us to execute. We have to play the game the way it’s supposed to be played – the way we know we can play it.

We can’t wait to get into Dodger Stadium.

-Brandon B.

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