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!