August 2012

Turning Points – Brandon Crawford

Sometimes there’s a stretch of time in a season when you know something has changed. Momentum shifts. The Dodger series is an obvious example. Sweeping the Dodgers at their own park was like planting our flag at the top of the division: We don’t own it yet, but we’re going to be really tough to knock off.

​Sometimes it’s not a stretch of time but one play that tells you something has changed.

​When Hunter Pence laid down that push bunt Thursday night, I think everyone in the park – including all of us in the dugout – went “What?’’ There were two runners on base, and here was our clean-up batter, our power guy, and he’s bunting. He completely took the Braves by surprise. He drove in the runner from third and managed to get himself safely to first with a legitimate single.

​That not only was the turning point in the game, but it sent the message that we’re a team that will do whatever it takes to win.

​Hunter explained later that Dan Uggla, the Braves’ second baseman, always plays him behind second base. And Hunter kept hitting line drives or ground balls right at him. So last year, Hunter decided to counteract Uggla’s strategy with a strategy of his own. He executed it perfectly.

​We’re all playing together as a team more now than we had been earlier. Subconsciously, I think we would wait around for Melky and Buster to make something happen. But now it seems like anybody can come through at any time. Pagan is on fire. Joaquin is having an unbelievable month. I’ve been feeling good at the plate. Having Pablo back is huge. Marco, if he’s not getting on base himself, he’s getting somebody into scoring position.

​Our timing couldn’t be better. This is the time of year when you have to make your push. We’re watching the Dodger scores, and we know they’re watching ours.

​You have to feel pretty good as a Giants fan to see the big trade the Dodgers made yesterday. It means they’re at least a little worried.

​There’s a lot of baseball left to play. But the way we’re going now, I like our chances that the flag at the top of the division isn’t going anywhere.

-Brandon C.

Belty Bob, Jethro and Pretty Handsome Awkward – Brandon Belt

Just finished batting practice and I have a little time before the game to get a new post up.

In the comments sections, channelclemente asked why my college coach sometimes called me “Bob.’’ It goes back to high school. When I was a freshman, I hit a long home run and people started calling me Bomb. That morphed into Bob. And that morphed into Belty Bob. It stuck through high school. In college, my coach called me Bob sometimes but mostly he called me Jethro. He thought I was one of the Beverly Hillbillies. So Jethro became my nickname in college.

So now when I hear someone call out Bob or Jethro, I know it’s someone I know from home.

Channelclemente also asked: Brisket or ribs? Brisket without a doubt. Every time I go home, the dad of one of my buddies – my parents and his parents are really good friends – cooks a brisket on the barbecue for us. It’s the best thing.

I love Rob. R’s suggestion that I consider the song “Pretty Handsome Awkward’’ by The Used for my walk-up song. I don’t know it, but as soon as I get this posted, I’m going to listen to it on iTunes and let you know.

Joanna wants to know the significance of my jersey number, 9. The significance is I walked into the locker room at spring training and it was hanging in my locker. That’s pretty much it. My favorite number is 12, which was my number in high school and junior college. At Texas, somebody already had 12 so I chose 13. If I had been given a choice, I would have chosen 12 as my Giants’ number. But now I like Number 9 because it’s my first big-league number.

Sierra asks what positions I’ve played other than first base. Until I was 14, I played shortstop. That was my primary position. It was kind of weird to have a left-handed shortstop, but I made it work. I loved shortstop. Maybe one day when Bochy runs out of players, I’ll get back out there.

In high school, I was a pitcher and played some right field. So maybe if Boch can’t put me in at short, he’ll let me pitch. That would be really cool.

I’m told that during the Dodgers series, Kruke commented on how I can time my catches at first so that I’m pulling my foot off the bag when the ball hits my glove. He suggested it helps the umpire make close calls in my favor. He’s right. It’s something I learned in the minors.

One of my coaches started talking to me about it and it made a lot of sense to me. I’m not the most flexible person in the world as far as stretching. And you don’t want to be stretching all the time anyway. You’ll get hurt. Look what happened to Pablo.

So if it’s going to be a close play – on a double-play or a slow dribbler – I keep my left foot on the bag, wait until the last possible second and basically just jump out at the ball, pushing off with my foot. It allows me to catch the ball as far out from the bag as possible without worrying about my foot remaining on the bag. My foot just comes off the bag naturally in a smooth, effortless motion.

I now pretty much have the timing down perfectly.

Sometimes, when I know I’m not going to get the runner, I might pull my foot a split-second before the ball actually reaches my glove, hoping to fool the umpire into thinking the ball beat the runner. It usually doesn’t work, but I figure I might as well try.

OK, so wasn’t that Dodger series awesome?

We knew going in, of course, that we needed to win these games, and it was amazing to watch the people who stepped up. It was someone new every game. Arias just took over that last game. Christian made the unbelievable catch. Our pitchers were lights-out.

When we lost Melky, I think we all knew that we had to step up and fill the gap. And that’s what happened. That’s the way this team is. It’s not about one person. It’s all of us. As soon as one person cools off, another gets hot.

And speaking of hot . . . there was some buzz on the bench last night about Mila Kunis being at the game. I heard someone mention her and I looked around and she was directly behind our dugout in the first row with Ashton Kutcher. They are two good-looking people.

Every time we go to Dodger Stadium you know you’re going to see celebrities. Jason Bateman was in Mila Kunis’s seat the previous night. I think he’s hilarious. We see George Lopez there all the time. Pat Riley was there. And it’s fun to see Magic over by the Dodgers’ dugout.

Theriot, who’s been around the league, says he’s seen more celebrities at Cubs games.

Having said all that, give me Giants fans any day. There is nothing like the crowd at AT&T. We’re all excited to be back in the Bay and see who’s going to be the hero tonight.

Thanks for reading and keep your questions coming.

-Brandon B.AT&T

Signs of Things to Come – Brandon Crawford

Great game last night. Bumgarner was awesome going toe-to-toe with Kershaw. It was like watching a great suspense movie: You’re hanging on every pitch.

We had not forgotten that the Dodgers swept us at home last time they were there. So we built some momentum in San Diego and carried it into LA for last night’s big win against their ace. Tonight is bound to be another battle. I’m already itching to get to the park. The energy and confidence in the clubhouse is awesome.

It’s been said a thousand times and it’s true: There are 25 guys on a roster for a reason. No single player wins by himself. Even Matt Cain’s perfect game required guys to play great defense and score runs. When a hole opens in the lineup, you step up as a team and fill it. And that’s what has been happening on this road trip.

I thought I’d share one small inside baseball thing that might or might not be interesting to you. During a game last week, we had just made the third out and I was walking off the base paths to fetch my hat and glove from one of my teammates. Reliever George Kontos was walking onto the field to the pitching mound. You might have seen me stop him and talk for a minute.

What would a shortstop need to talk to a relief pitcher about?

I was asking him about the catcher’s signs. When there’s a runner on second base, the catcher can’t simply put down one finger for a fastball, two for a curve and so on. The runner can see the sign and relay it to the batter.

So when there’s a runner on second, the catcher puts down multiple signs. As fielders we need to know which is the real one. But different pitchers have different systems. For some pitchers, the real sign might be the third one. For some, the second.

Some pitchers make it a little more complicated. For example, the system might be “strikes plus one.’’ If there are no strikes, the real sign is the first one. If there is one strike, the real sign is the second one. If two strikes, the third.

Kontos told me his system, which of course I will not reveal here.

So whenever you see an infielder suddenly dash to the pitcher’s mound in the middle of the game, cover his mouth with his glove and talk to the pitcher, odds are he’s asking about signs.

Jalynne drove down from San Francisco to join me in San Diego and is now here in LA, where we have lots of friends from our days at UCLA. Some are Dodger fans, of course, but we try to overlook that.

See you at the park Thursday against Atlanta.

 

-Brandon C.

When 25 = 1 by Brandon Belt

Something’s happening on this team and in this clubhouse. You can probably see it yourself.

Despite last night’s 14-2 debacle – which was just bizarre – we’re a different team than we were at the start of the season. It’s not just that we’ve added new players, though that’s part of it.  I don’t know exactly the right words, but it’s this sense of meshing together as a single unit. Really battling for each other. Really believing that if one guys is scrapping, someone else will pick him up.

I guess it’s what some people call chemistry. How it comes about, I have no idea. But I’ve never felt it more than I do now.

And there is nothing more fun in this game than playing on a team with that kind of camaraderie. It’s awesome. And the thing is, the more you let go of your own individual performance, the better you seem to play. I don’t know how that works, but it does.

Sunday night was a great example. We were down. Things weren’t going our way. But we never stopped battling. Every at-bat. Every pitch. Every inning. And we came back to win.

You’re battling for two reasons, I think: because you completely believe you can win, and you don’t want to let your teammates down. They’re doing everything they can to win, so you never stop thinking about what little thing you can do – in the field, on the base paths, at the plate – to contribute.

Sometimes as a new player in the major leagues, you feel like you’re carrying a dream for a whole bunch of people – your family, your friends back home, your high school and college coaches and teammates. Then you come to understand you’re playing for one thing only: The 24 other guys in the dugout with you.

Yes, you play for the fans and for the coaches and front office and all the people who make your job possible. But for those hours on the field, it’s all about each other.

I know these are supposed to be the dog days of the season. But we’re energized. We’re ready to earn our spot in the playoffs and beyond. Getting Pablo back in the lineup is a real boost. Of course Buster is in a category all his own. What he’s done since the All-Star break is amazing. I don’t know how else to describe it. He’s playing the toughest position on the field and he’s still hitting the crap out of the ball. I look at him every day and say to myself, “That’s the guy you want to emulate.’’ He’s the model of consistency, peak performance and balance.

But I can look toward every locker in the clubhouse and find something to emulate in every single guy. That’s what makes this team so fun. The personalities and experiences are so different, but everybody gels and feeds off each other. Everybody brings a crucial piece to making this team what it is.

I don’t want to sign off without thanking all of you who left comments on my last post. I read every one of them. I feel really blessed to have so much support from so many people.

I hope you’re as excited about our drive to the postseason as we are. We have stiff competition. The Dodgers aren’t going away. But one thing we can promise: No group of 25 guys, and no staff of coaches, will battle harder or smarter than we will.

 

See you at the park.

 

-Brandon B.

 

Double Plays and Double-Twisting Back Flips – Brandon Crawford

When I got home from AT&T after we beat the Mets last Tuesday, Jalynne and her sister Jamie were watching the U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team on TV. Watching Olympic gymnastics with them is a little like watching the Super Bowl with Eli and Peyton Manning. Jalynne competed in gymnastics at UCLA and Jamie was on the U.S. Olympic team that won the bronze in Sydney eight years ago.

​I’d be admiring some incredible performance and thinking the girl nailed it, and they’d say, “Oh no, she messed up right there.’’ It’s amazing to me that Jalynne and Jamie actually could do the things that these gymnasts were doing. If I trained all my life, I couldn’t do what they did every day in the gym.

But they’re nice enough to tell me they could never do what I do on the baseball field. I’d like to believe them.

​I’ve been watching as much of the Olympics as I can at home, in the clubhouse and on the plane. The long-distance runners, the sprinters, the swimmers – I love seeing the very best in the world pushing themselves beyond what you think is possible. I was sitting on the plane from Colorado to St. Louis the other day, and all the guys around me were watching the Olympics, too – Cain, Javy, Buster, Pill, Zito.  Gymnastics happened to be on and one of the girls on vault landed on her face, and you heard everybody all at once go “Oooohhhhhh!’’ There are not a lot of face-plants in baseball.

​On another topic, it was tough to see Manny Burriss pack up and leave. When we got Marco Scutaro, Manny figured he’d be the odd man out. It’s hard saying goodbye to any teammate, but this is the first time I’ve had to say goodbye to a teammate who was one of my closest friends on the team. It reminds you how special it is to be in the major leagues and how hard you have to keep working to stay as long as you can. Fortunately Manny’s still with the organization and I’ll see him again in spring training or if he’s called back up.

​Having said that, it’s good to have Scutaro and Hunter Pence join the club. They’re both real pros who go about their business in a professional way. Our clubhouse has a pretty unique group of guys, so the tone in here is not going to change. Marco and Hunter add experience and depth, which will help down the stretch and into the playoffs.

​Yesterday, one of our trainers was trying out Buster Bash, a mobile-app baseball game that has just come out. It’s animated along the lines of Angry Birds. A pitcher throws the ball and you hit it by flicking your finger. As you go up each level, you go through Posey’s career path from Wiffle Ball to high school, college and the pros. I tried it and did pretty well. Maybe I’ll challenge Buster to a game.

​Heading out to the ballpark now. Let’s hope we can get some more runs for Zito tonight than we did for Cain last night.

​I’ll see you when I get back to the Bay Area this weekend. Thanks for reading.​

-Brandon C.

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