June 2012

Perfection, All-Stars and Trash-Talk – Brandon Crawford

I haven’t posted anything since Matt Cain’s perfect game so I’ll write about it now.

I was probably the most nervous I have ever been in a game. More nervous than my opening day in Milwaukee.

I watched the game from the dugout for six innings then went in cold in the seventh. You know you can’t make a mistake. I told myself just to breathe. The first play of the inning was the shot to Gregor Blanco who made what might be the most spectacular catch ever. So then I’m thinking, “Oh, jeez, now I really can’t mess up.’’ If he makes that superhuman play, I better get to everything – and God forbid I bobble something straight at me.

Then it was the top of the eighth with two outs. Cain was four outs from perfection. The ball comes off the bat and it’s a topspin, bouncing grounder up the middle. My ball. I watched it come toward me, making sure I got the right hop, not an in-between hop. So I backed off a little bit, got it and didn’t even think about the throw. I had made that throw a hundred times so just let it go. When Belt caught it, I let out a huge sigh of relief.

Afterward, you’re just so happy for Matt and you’re so happy for the team because a perfect game is a full team effort. I wondered what Buster must have been thinking. Most catchers go through their whole careers and feel really lucky if they get the opportunity to catch a World Series game or a perfect game — and Buster has done both and he’s only 25 years old. That’s pretty crazy.

In the clubhouse, we probably watched the replay of Blanco’s catch about 50 times, switching from MLB network to ESPN to Comcast. We kept asking him, “What were you doing there?’’

None of us will ever forget that night.

Here in Oakland, I haven’t gotten a hit these past two game, but I’ve had some really good at-bats recently. It’s a boost of confidence when you get timely hits off some of the best pitchers in baseball — Felix Hernandez in Seattle and Jared Weaver in Anaheim.

Having said that, I know it’s not my hitting that has pushed me into the top five among shortstops in the All-Star voting. It’s all about the San Francisco fans. I know I don’t deserve to be there numbers-wise, but it’s pretty cool to see my name on the list. It’s awesome that the fans are showing me so much support.

I spent Thursday’s day off in Los Angeles with Jalynne’s family. In fact, I stayed with Jalynne at her parents’ house during the series against the Angels. They’re night owls so they were always awake when I got home from the game. So it was almost like having a home series. They live near Newport so we spent Thursday out on the water. We fished, in that we had a fishing line dangling from the boat, but we didn’t catch anything and didn’t care. It was just a great relaxing day.

On our last day off at home Jalynne and I took my two sisters to Marine World as a celebration of their graduations – one from high school and the other from middle school. We got “back stage’’ passes so we could see the animals up close. They loved it.

Brandon Crawford with family at Marine World Brandon and Jalynne Crawford

Brandon Belt mentioned in his post about wearing his baseball pants old school – just below the knee. I used to wear them like he does. But about halfway through my sophomore year in college, I tried wearing them down over my shoes and it was so much more comfortable. You don’t have that elastic band squeezing your calf. When you have big calves like I do, it can get uncomfortable. In spring training, you get measured so your pants will be just how you like them. If you want them over the shoe like most of the guys wear them now, it’s called “open bottom’ – they take the elastic out of the hem and flare the bottoms so they’ll fit over the shoes.

On a completely unrelated note, someone asked me what I talk about when they see me chatting with an umpire or an opposing player during a pitching change. It can be about anything, from the weather to something that happened in the game. Last year, a veteran umpire told me that a play I had made earlier in the game was one of the best he’d ever seen. The same guy this year told me that I’d made a hard play look easy and how good I am defensively. So that was nice to hear.

As for players, if I know him we’ll talk about family or what we’re doing after the game. When we were playing Texas, Josh Hamilton was on second and just started talking to me. I’d never talked to him before, and I’m thinking kind of like a fan – like, “Wow, this is Josh Hamilton.’’ He asked how I was doing and then told me not to hit him any more pop-ups in left field. He had lost the last one in the sun and missed it. I laughed and told him I was trying not to. He seemed like a pretty nice guy.

Unlike football and basketball, there’s not much trash talk in baseball. It’s not like the runner on first is taunting the pitcher about stealing on him. The only times you hear some talk is if a batter gets hit and a team think it’s intentional. Then there will be some back and forth. Or if a guy shows up your pitcher when he hits a home run. There might be a few words greeting him when he comes around third.

I generally don’t say much, but I got into it with another player just this past November in the fall league. It was the last week of the league. Everybody’s pretty tired. A guy slid really hard through the bag at second on a double play. Joe Panik was playing second base and could have gotten hurt. Those games don’t count for anything, and that kind of slide was really out of line. I said to the guy, “Hey, take it easy. It’s November.’’ And he tried to be Mr. Tough Guy. So we chirped back and forth a little bit. If you try to take one of our guys out, I’m going to say something.

Everyone’s looking forward to getting back to our own park with our own fans – though playing in Oakland seems almost like a home game. There seems to be as much orange in the stands as green and gold.

Obviously the series this week against the Dodgers is a huge one. Sweeping our cross-bay rivals would a great warm-up to sweeping our division rivals.

See you out there.

-Brandon C.

The Hard Work of Keeping It Simple – Brandon Belt

Playing baseball can be a mysterious thing. I mean, you know how to swing the bat, how to field the ball, how to throw. But there are times  – and often you can’t pinpoint the exact reason – everything is working or almost nothing is working.

Right now for me at the plate, a lot of things are working. To be honest, I’m the most comfortable I’ve been since I’ve been in the big leagues. I’ve hit safely in last 11 games and have four home runs and 12 RBIs in that span.

The difference is that I’m not thinking about anything at the plate except seeing the ball. I’m not thinking about my mechanics. I’m not guessing at pitches. I’m seeing the pitch where it actually is.

It’s what baseball people call simplifying the game. It’s kind of counter-intuitive because you have to work really hard in order to get yourself in the frame of mind to keep it simple. And I’ve worked really hard. Now it’s paying off: I can clear my head of everything except seeing the ball.

And because I’m not swinging at pitches outside the zone, I’m walking more, too.

There is no better feeling in baseball than being able to come through for your team. Last night, the two-run homer in the sixth put us ahead for good in the win against the A’s. But the double on Friday night to tie the game in the ninth is the kind of hit that you always hope for.

Timmy had fought back from a rough first inning and didn’t give up a hit through the next five. And the bullpen gave up nothing. So you really want to do something to make all that work pay off. And we’d had a tough two series in Anaheim and Seattle, so we really needed to get something going.

I remembered that the last time I faced A’s closer Ryan Cook he threw me a couple of sliders. So I knew there was a good chance, with two strikes, I’d get a backdoor slider, and I did. I just tried to get the bat on it and put it in play. It got past the leftfielder and both runners scored. When you just get the bat on the ball, good things can happen.

As for the play at first base in that bad first inning on Friday, it was one of those unfortunate things. As a fielder, you always go through in your mind what you’ll do if the ball’s hit to you. With bases loaded and no outs, I knew if I got a ball to my left, to my backhand, I’d have no chance at a double play, so I’d throw home to get the force. If the ball was hit straight at me or to my right, I’d go to second for the double play.

It was hit to my left, so I purposely stepped over the bag to get the force-out at home. But Sanchy thought I stepped on the bag. So he went for the tag at home and wasn’t able to get the runner. Throwing home for the force-out to save the run was the right play. It was just one of those unfortunate things that Sanchy couldn’t see if I had stepped on the bag or not.

I’ve gotten a little ribbing about my orange shoelaces. I guess they’re kind of bright. They were already on the shoes when they arrived from Under Armour. I didn’t put them on the shoes myself. But I’m going to keep them. Good things seem to happen when I’m wearing them.

The truth is I don’t really pay much attention to what I’m wearing or how I look. I wear my baseball pants kind of old school, just below the knee, but it’s not a real conscious choice. I’ve just been wearing them that way since I was eight years old and never changed.

On our day off on Thursday, I dragged Haylee to the movie theater to see “That’s My Boy’’ with Adam Sandler. It’s not a movie that’s going to wow the critics, but I love Adam Sandler and I laughed through the whole thing. Even Haylee laughed. She hates going to the movies. She’d rather just watch a movie at home. But I love it. When she doesn’t want to go, I’ll just go by myself.

Thanks to all of you who left such nice comments here after the last post about Matt Cain’s perfect game. Through all the ups and downs of the last two seasons, you’ve always been there. The incredible support I’ve gotten here in San Francisco has really helped me deal with the doubts that inevitably creep into your mind when things aren’t going well. For any player, knowing that the fans are behind you gives you a little bit more juice. I’ve read every comment and appreciate each one. I wish I could write back to everyone but there’s just not enough time in the day. But I want you to know how amazing it is to take all your good thoughts onto the field with me.

-Brandon B.

A Part of History – Brandon Belt

Like everybody else, I couldn’t go to sleep last night. I think I watched the replay of the final out fifteen times. Then I kept replaying the game in my head.

And what I was thinking when I woke up this morning was just how unbelievable it was to be a part of history.

I’ve been a baseball fan my whole life. And then to be on the field when a guy pitches a perfect game, it’s incredible. It wasn’t just about being IN the game but I found myself watching the game almost like a fan. Seeing Blanco make that play. That’s going to go down as one of the best plays in the history of the game. And I’m there watching it from a few yards away.

In the dugout, we all went about our normal routines. We talked about our at-bats, about the plays on the field. We just didn’t do it around Matt.

Then I did something that I will get grief about for the rest of my career, I’m sure.

It was the seventh or eighth inning, and Matt was up at bat. I was wandering around the dugout, watching the game. Matt was batting. I sat down on the bench. Usually pitchers will put a towel or their jacket on the spot. Maybe something was there and I just didn’t see it.

But suddenly Matt is standing there staring at me. I figured I was doing something wrong. I looked down and realized I was sitting in his spot. Vogelsong was giving me a dirty look, so I got out of there as fast as I could. I think Vogey was ready to kill me. I still can’t believe I did that.

As the game went on, I was as nervous as I’ve ever been on a baseball field. As Matt pitched to the last batter, I was thinking, “Don’t hit it to me. Just strike him out.’’

You’re telling yourself not to freak out: “If it’s hit to someone else and the throw’s in the dirt, don’t panic. Just do what you normally do. Let the game come to you.’’

Then when I caught Arias’s throw to end the game, I put the ball in my pocket for safekeeping – and to make sure it didn’t get knocked to the ground and somebody rolled an ankle on it. I was the second guy to reach Matt after Buster. In the pile, I was kind of squished up against him, so I kind of put my head down on his chest; I didn’t want to get hit in the face. My shoulder was jabbing into Crawford’s nose. It can get pretty rough. You really have to be careful. But in the moment you’re not thinking about anything but how happy you are for Matty.

In the clubhouse, when I was about to give Matt the ball, I thought maybe I could get something out of this. I asked him for a Corvette. It’s probably not going to happen.

Seriously, though, handing him the ball was one of the coolest things. You see stuff like that on TV and you wonder how you’d feel doing that for a teammate. Honestly, it was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had playing the game. I was just so happy for him. He deserves this so much. He goes out every game with good stuff and you knew it was just a matter of time before something really special was going to happen. He’s a bulldog. He fights every day.

When I look at someone like Matt and how professional he is, how much he prepares day in and day out, I feel really inspired. You want to live up to the standard he sets. You realize what it takes to be great in this game. It’s not all about talent. It’s all the other stuff. Dedication. Courage. Focus.

I thought later about passing by Matt’s locker before the game. I thought he was asleep. He looked like he had just woken up from a nap. But I’m sure he was getting in the zone. Obviously it worked.

And I still can’t believe I was a part of it.

-Brandon B.

A Lesson from Draft Day – Brandon Crawford

Last week’s amateur draft got me thinking about my own draft day. It’s such an exciting time because, really, you’ve been waiting for it your whole life.

I was at the end of my junior year at UCLA. I think our baseball team was finished with regionals, but the semester wasn’t yet over. I still had to take finals. Believe me, I wasn’t thinking about my grades or my GPA. I just wanted to get started on my baseball career.

There are all these websites and experts that predict in what rounds players will get drafted. Most had me going in the second round, even though I struggled that season. My agent thought I’d go in the first two rounds, too. That’s what we were expecting.

My father flew down to Los Angeles from Pleasanton. He, Jalynne, my best friend Matt Jones –who went to elementary school, middle school, high school and UCLA with me and later was best man at my wedding —  gathered with me in Dad’s hotel room. The first round was televised, so we watched that round then switched to my computer.

The second round came and went. I wasn’t picked.

Then the third round.

I was really disappointed.

It’s not just that the money goes down with each round. But you assume that the lower you go, the lower the organization’s expectations. You assume the team won’t pay as much attention to you. You think it will take you longer to get to the big leagues. I later found out that isn’t true. But at the time, you think the worst.

There’s some ego in there, too. You want to be a top pick.

Early in the fourth round, the Minnesota Twins called.

They asked if I’d be willing to sign for a certain amount of money. I said I didn’t know. We were talking back and forth. Then on my computer screen I saw, “The San Francisco Giants select Brandon Crawford.’’

“Sorry,’’ I told the Twins. “I just got drafted.’’

I had no clue the Giants were going to draft me.

We celebrated that night, of course. I was excited to be drafted by my childhood team. It was amazing. But in the back of my mind, I was still disappointed and worried about my future.

Now I know how shortsighted and, frankly, ignorant that was. My career was not going to be made or ruined by what round I was selected.

It’s like wanting to get into a particular college or land a particular job. If you don’t get your first pick, or your second or third, you have to figure out how to make the most of where you are. It’s up to you to learn what you can and build on that.

In the end it didn’t matter where I was drafted — I’m here now in the big leagues. Things can always work out no matter where you start. You just might have to take a different path than you expected.

On another note, I’ve written about my fielding struggles, so now I’ll tell you that I feel that I’m getting back to normal. Infield coach Ron Wotus helped by telling me a week or so ago to follow my instincts. We always went over detailed scouting reports on opposing batters and I’d position myself in the field accordingly. But he told me basically that he trusts me to make the plays and to position myself where I think I should be. In other words, don’t over-think it.

That goes for my mechanics, too. When I’m trying to be too perfect, I lose what has worked for me my whole life. I was doing so many extra drills and hearing so much about my mistakes that it got into my head. I was thinking, “Oh, I have to do this on this certain play’’ rather than just letting my natural ability take over.

So now I just play the way I’ve always played. And it seems to be working.

There are certain plays you love to make because they’re so tough. The other day, I dove to my right for a hard-hit grounder and was able to get the runner at first. The dive isn’t the hard part. You’re just reacting; either the ball goes in the glove or it doesn’t.

The hard part is the simultaneous acts of popping up to your feet in such a way that you’re in position to throw across the diamond and transferring the ball to your throwing hand in such a way that you have a good grip.

What makes that play tough is that you really can’t practice it. You’re not diving for balls in BP. So when it happens in a game, you have to rely almost completely on your athletic ability and baseball instincts.

Once you’re up and positioned correctly with the right grip, the throw is the same throw you make on a normal backhand. I trust my arm no matter how deep I am in the field. I’ve been doing long toss since high school to keep my arm strong. I like to think I have as strong an arm as anyone on the team.

The only time I don’t dive for a ball to my right is if it’s a slow grounder. I’ll let those go into left field. The runner’s going to beat the throw, so it’s stupid to risk injury on a play that’s not going to get you an out. I know sometimes fans don’t understand that. I hear them yelling, “Why didn’t you dive for that ball?’’ (I hope those particular fans read this . . . )

On grounders up the middle, I’ll dive for just about everything because the throw is so much shorter. I feel I always I have a shot at getting the runner.

One other question I’ve gotten over the years: Why do I bat left-handed when I do everything else right-handed?

My dad had me switch-hitting since I was in T-ball. Once I got to Little League I hit mostly left-handed because almost all the pitchers were right-handed. So I stuck with it.

Thanks for the comments about playing baseball with my dad. And thanks to giantsfan9 for suggesting a post about the draft. Keep your questions and comments coming! To Issylina, it’d be cool to see a player from Samoa in the major leagues. We have to take some of those guys away from the NFL.

-Brandon C.

Sleep, dogs and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – Brandon Belt

My in-laws arrived last Wednesday for a six-day visit. They brought all our mail – but I was hoping they’d bring Lily, our dog. She’s a three-year-old dachshund-beagle mix and she’s the sweetest thing. She’s been staying with my parents since February. We didn’t bring her to spring training because she whines whenever we leave her and we were afraid she’d bother the neighbors. Our plan was for Haylee to bring her out to Walnut Creek when she went back to Texas for a visit, but she hasn’t gone home yet. She’ll get home for sure during the All-Star break, and I’ll go, too, if I can, and we’ll get Lily then.

Anyone who has dogs knows how much you miss them when they’re not around. There’s something about having a dog in the house that just makes you feel better no matter happened in your day.

Anyway, Haylee’s parents left today. We really had a great time. Well, they had a great time. They did everything with Haylee. I joined for lunches when we played at night and for dinner when we played during the day.

No breakfasts. I’m almost never awake for breakfast.

Most players will tell you that routines are crucial in keeping focused and staying fit for 162 games. And one of the most important parts of my routine is sleep. I need my sleep, and I take it where I can get it. And most of the time, it’s in the morning because I stay up so late.

After a night game, I leave the park around 11. (The game ends around 10 or so, then I talk to reporters, eat, lift weights and shower.) By the time I drive back to Walnut Creek, it’s 11:30. And I’m wired. There’s no way I can fall asleep.

So I watch TV. Mostly Nick at Nite. I love the late 90s sitcoms like Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I watch in bed with Haylee zonked out next to me. I’ll get to laughing so much that I’m sure I’ll wake her up, but apparently she can sleep through anything. (When Lily arrives, she’ll keep me company!)

I finally fall asleep around 1:30. I’ve discovered I need about nine hours of sleep, so even when we have guests, I don’t get up until 10:30 or 11 (when we have a night game).

Once I’m showered and dressed, we have lunch. We live close to downtown Walnut Creek, so we eat a lot at McCovey’s and Cheesecake Factory. After lunch, we’ll walk around the mall area, but we rarely buy anything. We’re not really shoppers. But it gets us out of the house. I leave for the park around 2:15 and am in the clubhouse before 3.

I’m finding out that once the summer starts, you get a lot more visitors. Especially if you play in San Francisco. Everyone wants to come to San Francisco. We have more friends from Texas arriving at the end of June.

Then we’ll see my parents in mid-July when we play in Atlanta. They’ll drive over from Texas. Then Haylee’s cousins are coming to town after that. It’s a pretty busy summer.

But everyone understands my first priority during the season is baseball. This is a game of such thin margins that you can’t afford any slack whatsoever. You have to stick to your routines. Now that I’m in my second year in the big leagues, I understand that more than ever. It’s a balancing act. I want to enjoy my family and friends while they’re here but at the same time, I can’t let anything get in the way of baseball.

Thanks for reading – and thanks for the great comments about my first memory of baseball. I’m glad it sparked your own memories!

-Brandon B.

Baseball, Family-Style – Brandon Crawford

My blog mate shared his first baseball memory yesterday so it’s my turn. I can’t believe Belt can remember back to when he was three! That’s crazy.

My first memory is pretty fuzzy. I’ve been told I started swinging a bat and throwing a ball as soon as I could walk. But I don’t remember anything before I was about five. I remember a plastic bat, the kind with the big fat barrel. My dad was pitching to me in the back yard of our house in Menlo Park, where we lived before moving to Pleasanton when I was seven.

Unlike Belt’s dad, mine loved baseball. He grew up playing the game, and I’m sure he couldn’t wait to have kids so he could coach them – which he did, all four of us, starting with me, the oldest. (He still coaches my youngest sister’s softball team.) He was a passionate enough fan to have Giants’ season tickets (third-base side) when they played at Candlestick. I remember watching J.T. Snow hit a home run in the playoff game against the Mets in 2000 and getting to walk on the field at the second-to-last game at the ‘Stick.

          But back to my early memories. I remember when I was seven, I regularly hit the wiffle ball over our fence and into the next-door-neighbor’s yard. My mom or dad would walk me over to their house and ask for permission to retrieve the ball. I remember setting up home plate by the work shed so I wouldn’t trample my parents’ flowerbeds and their plantings of tomatoes and green beans.

          We had a bigger yard in Pleasanton with an ivy-covered hill rising behind the back fence. If the ball landed in the ivy, you had a home run. Home plate was by the back patio. We set up a barricade of lawn chairs to prevent the pitches from hitting the house. First base was the corner of the steps that led up the ivy hill. Second was a bush and third was a pitch of dirt.

          I’d play with friends from school or one-on-one against my sister Amy, who’s two years younger than me and a great softball player.

          On the weekends, my dad took my sisters and me to a real field and with a real ball and bat. He taught us everything. As I said, he coached my teams up until I was 13 and started high school. But he was still my de facto coach, giving me critiques and advice after games.

          It really wasn’t until I signed with the Giants after UCLA that he let go of his coaching role in my life. He figured as a professional I was probably getting all the coaching I needed. But I still ask for his feedback. He has seen my swing more than anyone alive, so he’ll tell me I’m getting my foot down late or my hands are getting back too deep or I’m not being aggressive enough.

          I know baseball will always be a connection I have with my dad. It gave us a reason to spend a lot of time together. But when I think about my earliest memories of baseball, it’s more as a family experience than as a father-son one. My dad put in the same time with my three sisters as he did with me. He took their athletic goals just as seriously as he did mine. He had us all out there together.

One day soon I’ll be out there playing catch with my own son or daughter. I’ll be putting a fat-barreled plastic bat into little hands. I’ll be tossing wiffle balls softly over the plate, cheering at even the wildest misses. And new memories will be made. 

 

-Brandon C.

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