April 2009

Giants Signature Song

The Giants are looking for a signature song to play after “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the seventh inning. The Red Sox have “Sweet Caroline.” The Dodgers have “Don’t Stop Believing,” much to the annoyance of Steve Perry of Journey. He’s a huge Giants fan and would like nothing better than for the Giants to appropriate the song for themselves.

The team wants the fans to vote.

Here are the candidates so far:

Lights – Journey

Don’t Stop Believing – Journey

Living on a Prayer – Bon Jovi

Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison

Good Vibrations – Beach Boys

Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On – Jerry Lee Lewis

I Feel Good – James Brown

I asked some of the Giants players for their suggestions.

Manny Burriss tossed out “Luck Be a Lady” by Sinatra, figuring it went well with the post-game’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” by Tony Bennett.

Joe Martinez suggested “Hanging Around” by Counting Crows and “Hitchin’ a Ride” by Green Day. Tim Lincecum, who said he needed to think about it some more, offered up as a first thought “Hey Baby” by Bruce Channel from the soundtrack of “Dirty Dancing.”

Your suggestions? And your criteria for the perfect seventh-inning song?

Before the game, the Consulate General of Colombia in San Francisco visited with countryman Edgar Renteria by the Giants dugout. Jose Miguel Castiblanco Munoz has been in San Francisco two years but had never attended a game at AT&T Park. But Renteria is one of the biggest sports stars in Colombia, he said. “I really wanted to meet him,” Munoz said.

Busmans Holiday

The Giants were off on Monday, so Alex Hinshaw decided to head down to San Jose and take in a Giants game. His roommate, Joe Martinez, thought that sounded like a good idea, so he went, too.

When they arrived, who do they see but Pablo Sandoval, who took in the game with a cousin and a friend from Venezuela.

“Pablo is loved down there,” Hinshaw said in the clubhouse before today’s game against the Padres. “You should have seen it. He’s walking down the aisle and everybody’s cheering for me.

“And everybody was asking how Joe was doing. I thought I flew completely under the radar when I was playing there, so I didn’t think I had made much of an impression, but the fans who did remember me were nice enough to say how much they had enjoyed watching me play.

“The fans down there just treat you like gold, whether you’re the best guy or the worst guy on the team.”

They saw Buster Posey hit two balls that almost cleared the right-centerfield wall – an impressive showing. Conor Gillaspie hit his first home run of the season and Clayton Tanner pitched 5 2/3 innings to lead the Giants to a 6-3 victory over the Lake Elsinore Storm. Every Giants starter had at least one hit in their 13-hit game. San Jose has won five out of their last six games with a 9-3 overall record.

After the game, Sandoval bought dinner for whole clubhouse, arranging for a local Italian restaurant to have the food delivered. Omar Vizquel had done the same thing when he was down in San Jose rehabbing an injury, and Sandoval, a player on the San Jose Giants at the time, never forgot it. Emmanuel Burriss did it once last season, too.

“Classy thing to do, for those guys to go down there,” Giants exec Bobby Evans said when I ran into him yesterday. “It says something about the San Jose Giants that these guys will go down there on their day off to watch them.”

Sandoval, actually, hadn’t planned on attending the game. He drove down to San Jose to visit with the family who had hosted him during his playing days there. “Seeing them made me want to go to the stadium and watch the game,” Sandoval said.

Hinshaw and Martinez also visited with their host families. Hinshaw lived with a family named the Hoos, and when Tim Lincecum was drafted in 2006 and sent to San Jose, he ended up also living with the Hoos.

“We’ve kept in touch and it was great to be down there and see everybody again,” Hinshaw said.

As an added bonus, Hinshaw and Martinez got to see Sandoval play Smash for Cash, a contest in which fans throw baseballs and try to smash the headlights on a truck that has been driven onto the field.

“He went down there with his man-purse – we give him a hard time about his man-purse,” Hinshaw said. “He hit the lights but didn’t break anything.”

Joe Martinez, Pablo Sandoval, and Alex Hinshaw at the San Jose Giants game, Monday, April 20, 2009:

Joe Martinez, Pablo Sandoval and Alex Hinshaw at Municipal Stadium 4.20.09.JPG

Quick Study

Andres Torres was waiting by the batting cage behind the Giants dugout this morning, his bat resting on his shoulder. He had already taken his swings but was back for another session before today’s game against the Diamondbacks.

“I didn’t really learn anything about hitting until I was 18,” he said. That’s when he left Puerto Rico for Miami-Dade Community College to play baseball. “I think if you don’t learn it when you’re a kid, it’s a lot tougher. I’m still learning.”

For years, Torres managed to survive in professional baseball on his speed. In 12 years, he played 89 games in the major leagues – compiling a .210 average. Until he made the Giants roster out of spring camp this year, he hadn’t worn a major-league uniform in more than three years.

“I was just fast,” Torres said. “But I didn’t know how to hit. It just took me a lot of time to learn. It took me awhile just to learn that you can’t just be fast. You’ve got to be able to swing the bat.”

He studies other batters. He takes video of himself in the batting cage and consults with hitting coach Carney Lansford. He talks to other players. In other words, he is applying to batting the kind of studiousness he has once reserved solely for running.

And perhaps no baseball player knows more about running fast than Torres. He has made the cultivation of speed his life’s work.

He studies human kinetics and physiology to understand how the body generates speed. He is a student of the books of Tudor Bompa, who writes about a training method called “periodization.” He studies videos and training regimens of Olympic sprinters like Asafa Powell of Jamaica. He scours the internet for the latest techniques.

Even at 31, he’s the fastest guy on the Giants – and Eugenio Velez is no slouch.

“Age doesn’t matter if you work at it,” Torres said.

Friday night, his two passions came together.

He hit a pinch-hit solo home run in the eighth inning Friday night in a 2-0 win against the Diamondbacks. It was only the second homer of his ML career.

Almost by instinct, he flew around the bases so fast that he reached home plate before the relief pitchers — watching the game in a room behind the dugout – had reached the field.

More on Torres in a later blog . . .

Saw Joe Martinez today in the clubhouse. He looks amazingly good. He said the only symptom of the hit to his head is fatigue. He’s tired a lot, he says, but he thinks it might just be from lying around. “You get tired when you’re not doing anything,” Martinez said. “So I don’t really think it has anything to do with the injury.”



I’m leaving the press box to watch the game from my seats in Section 109 . . .


Jeremy Affeldt was walking to the ballpark this afternoon when I caught up with him on his cell. During the winter, and on some off days during the season, Affeldt goes into high schools to talk with kids about what it means to be a leader, how to articulate a vision for their lives, how to make choices that lead to success.

So he seemed like the perfect guy to put the Giants’ winless road trip in perspective. In a text after the game last night, he had joked he would talk to me tomorrow “if we don’t hang ourselves first.”

He sounded more upbeat this afternoon.

“Last night it was like, ‘How fast can we get on this plane and get home?’ ” Affeldt said. “You try to figure out what’s going on – what are the things you can control? What can you fix? You have to focus on what you have to do to get better.

“I faced four lefties and gave up three hits. I’ve got to get lefties out. And I’ve got to get the first guy out I face. I’ll talk to Rags and Gardy (Righetti and Gardner) to figure out why I’m not getting my two-seamer in on lefties. Something’s wrong with my mechanics.

“Each of us has to be honest with ourselves. You can’t lie to yourself. You’ve got to work hard and get better at whatever’s not working for you.

“At the same time, you have to see the big picture and not panic. You’ve got to know that every team goes through tough times, and hopefully for us, we’re just facing it in the beginning of the season. Boston and Cleveland are starting slow, too.

“Baseball’s weird, man. Look at the Marlins. They were 20 games out at the half and won the World Series. The vets need to make the rounds and remind the young guys to keep their heads up, to keep pumped up because it’s a long season and we’ve got a long way to go.

“Fans need to know that we need them to get behind us, man. Really behind us. This is when we need a ton of support. It puts pressure on the opposing team when the home fans are cheering, and it makes it a lot easier for the opposing team when our own fans are booing us.

“This has not been fun. It’s been really frustrating. But we’re not panicking. There’s nobody on this team that’s just out there collecting a paycheck. We’re out there trying to pitch. We’re trying to hit. We’re working hard. It’s going to happen.”

He arrived at the park and headed into the clubhouse and we said good-bye. Maybe Affeldt will get a chance tonight to face a lefty, and he will have figured out whatever wasn’t working for him.

And maybe that will be a start. There are, after all, 153 games left to play . . .

Emptying the notebook

Miscellaneous notes collected during the home stand:

?    From the PlayBall Luncheon April 3 at the Hilton: During the autograph signing period before lunch, reliever Jeremy Affeldt was stationed at a table next to Tim Lincecum. The line for Tim snaked through the ballroom. Affeldt attracted the occasional straggler. “See? I’m able to drink my entire Diet Coke,” Affeldt joked. “He hasn’t even taken a sip of his Sprite. No one even knows I’m a player.”
?    Lincecum, notoriously introverted in public, has blossomed this season. At the Hilton, one man thrust his three-year-old son onto Lincecum’s lap for a picture. Then the man’s wife stepped up and handed Lincecum their four-month-old. With the deft of a politician, Lincecum shifted the three-year-old to his right arm and held the baby with his left. Cracked Affeldt, laughing at the spectacle, “He is sweating profusely right now.” Before the mother retrieved her baby, she had Lincecum sign the baby’s tiny T-shirt. “OK,” Lincecum said, “that’s a first.”
?    I spent some time with Fred Lewis recently for a Giants Magazine story (for Issue No. 3). He’s still working on advice he received from Willie Mays during spring training. Mays told him that to get most of his arm he needed to grip the ball across the seams. Mays showed him how in the blink of an eye he could grab the ball from his glove and manipulate it in his hand so his fingers were across the seam by the time he cocked his hand back to throw. “His hands are like twice the size of mine,” Lewis said, suggesting that perhaps this is the reason he can’t master the move yet. “It’s hard!” he said. He keeps practicing, though, because Mays told him, “If you grip the ball right, you don’t have to worry about how strong your arm is.”
?    Lewis also related the story of his first encounter with Mays last season. “Lewis? That you?” Mays asked when he came across him in the clubhouse. “What’re you doing diving for the ball?” Mays apparently had gone apoplectic when he saw Lewis make a diving catch. Lewis respectfully reminded Mays that he had, after all, made the catch and wasn’t that all that mattered? “You’re gonna get hurt! ” Mays said. “When I was playing I ain’t never had to dive! You’re fast – get to the ball. Stay on your feet. You never need to dive – you’re gonna miss games.”
?    Great news about Joey Martinez. Small hairline fractures and a concussion. Head injuries have a way of sneaking up on you, though. He’ll have to take it really easy, I would think, to make sure there’s no swelling.
?    Interesting story in the New York Times science section on Tuesday. It looked at a computer program that can simulate baseball games using different criteria. It simulates not just one season’s worth of games, but 100 seasons’ worth to eliminate random fluctuations. One finding: Aggressiveness on the base paths is generally counterproductive. A researcher looked at a recent team that stole a lot of bases, the 2008 Rays, and another, the 2005 A’s, that barely stole at all. He switched their strategies to see what happened. The A’s scored 20 fewer runs per season by running more. And the Rays, by running less, scored 47 more runs per season.
?    On my schedule are several trips down to San Jose to watch the Single A Giants. I’m hoping to get down there this Sunday. They play at Municipal Stadium at 2 p.m. against Stockton.

Joey Martinez

stomach dropped when I saw, and heard, the ball hit Joey Martinez.

Martinez is one of the great guys. I talked to his mother, Toni, last
week, and her son had failed to tell her about the award he had just
gotten from his teammates, coaches and staff at spring training.
“He’s a man of few words,” his mother said. Before today’s
game, I spent a few minutes with Martinez to get more background

two, I know more than a little about head injuries.

My son,
16 at the time, sustained a traumatic brain injury in August 2006
when he fell off his skateboard without a helmet. He was in the
hospital for three months. He missed nearly a year of school. He’s
pretty much OK now, though he has to take medication for seizures for
the rest of his life, but it’s been a long road. (I’ve written a
book about the experience. It will be published in September.)

sure Martinez will be OK. He was conscious. According to doctors at
the ballpark, he showed no signs of a brain injury. He was heading to
St. Francis Hospital for a CT scan and will be kept overnight. My
thoughts go out to his parents and three siblings in New Jersey.

season, Martinez has been sharing an apartment near the ballpark with
Alex Hinshaw. Hinshaw and Martinez were drafted by the Giants in
2005. “He’s the easiest guy to get along with,” Hinshaw
piped up in the clubhouse today when he saw me interviewing Martinez.

little bit more background on Martinez:

Martinez earned his degree from Boston College in finance and worked
during one minor-league off-season at an insurance company in Boston.

two off-seasons, including this past winter, he worked as a
substitute teacher at Columbia High in Maplewood, N.J., near the
South Orange town where Martinez grew up. “It was mostly
babysitting,” Martinez said earlier today. “I only had to send
one kid to the principal’s office.”

Toni is a teacher, as is Martinez’s older sister, Angela.

Martinez’s father, Javier, was born in Cuba and moved to the U.S.
when he was six years old. Javier’s mother has a doctorate in math
but earned her living in the United States as a high school Spanish
teacher. Javier’s father was an engineer. Javier Martinez graduated
from college as an optometrist but now, like most of his family, he
has also become a teacher.

Joey’s 23-year-old brother, Javier, was recently released by the
Mariners organization and now is concentrating on putting his Fordham
University business degree to good use. Andy, the youngest of the
Martinez brothers, is a sophomore at Seton Hall Prep, the Catholic
boys’ school which all three brothers attended. Andy plays

graduated from Seton Hall Prep with a 4.65 GPA. He was president of
the Student Council and a member of the National Honor Society. Two
of his closest friends were the valedictorian and salutorian. “We
were geeks,” Martinez said. Toni told me by phone from South
Orange: “I remember once driving Joey and his friends to the movies
when he was a sophomore in high school, and they were talking about
their summer reading.”

* But, she said, her son has been crazy about sports
since he was a baby. “Everything in his hand became a ball,”
she said. “He’d be playing with blocks and he’d be tossing them
up in the air and catching them.”

*In high school, Martinez played four years of football,
three of baseball and two of basketball. He still holds three school
records in football and five in baseball.


I’m sitting here in the press box an
hour after the almost-rained-out game — and it just started raining.
The skies cooperated long enough for the Giants to beat the Brewers.

And now there’s a rainbow rising
from the bay beyond the right-field wall.

Pretty good start to the 2009 season.

It’s one game, I know, but 10 runs?
Homers from Rowand, Molina and Winn? A three-run triple from

Lincecum gets knocked from the game
after three innings – matching the shortest outing of his career –
and the Giants win? With their much-criticized bats?

“This is what I saw all spring,”
Bengie Molina told the throng of reporters that pressed him for an
explanation. “I saw that these guys can hit. Together we can hit.”

Molina’s mother was in the stands
watching her son – her first time at AT&T for a regular-season
game. When Molina hit his homer, he pointed to her in the stands.

“I wanted to do good for her,”
he said. “She’s going through a hard time right now (after the
death of Molina’s father in the fall). I was signaling to her that
I love her and that I’m 100 percent behind her.”

Neither he nor Bochy expressed concern
about Lincecum’s poor outing.

“His fastball wasn’t where he
wanted it,” Molina said. “If you don’t have location on your
fastball, you’re not going to have a good game. But Timmy will be

Bochy shrugged off any worries. “You’re
going to have days like that,” he said. “He’s done so much
for us, it’s nice to pick him up.”

Lincecum was angry with himself and
frustrated that he couldn’t figure out why he was erratic. He said
has never relied on coaches to tell him if his mechanics are off. He
almost always solves the problem himself. But today he was just off.
His speed was still there. His change-up was good at times, he said.
But he couldn’t throw it where he wanted.

He stood in front of his locker for
about 30 minutes and answered every question until the final reporter
was satisfied. At one point he was asked if there was anything he
liked about his outing today, he said, “Not much.”

“You had that nice single,” one
reporter said.

Lincecum finally smiled. “Oh, I
forgot about that.”

Across the room, Brian Wilson was
gathering his belongings to leave.

“Look at this,” he said when the
clubhouse had mostly cleared. He showed me a baseball with a single
signature: “Sully”

Wilson got a ball autographed by
Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who saved the lives of 155
people when he safely landed on the Hudson River earlier this year.

Wilson was heading home for dinner then
“American Idol.” No surprise who his favorite is: Adam, the
guy with the jet-black hair and black nail polish and tattoos. He
tried to convince me there might be something going on between Paula
and Simon, but I’m not buying it, are you?

Looking forward to Randy Johnson
tomorrow . . .

No rain delay!

Just a quick note about how the guys have been passing the time while they waited for the rain to stop – and see if they were going to get out on the field at all.

At one table, Brian Wilson (with a new hairdo that calls to mind Frisch’s Big Boy) and Matt Cain took on rookies Alex Hinshaw and Joe Martinez in a card game called Pluck. It’s similar to Spades, I’m told. Hinshaw was just learning the strategy, and Martinez surely didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot – so the youngsters lost.

“We got killed,” Martinez said.

Tim Lincecum fluttered around the table, eating a bagel, dancing a little bit, singing a little bit – then taking Cain’s spot in the game when Cain went off to eat. He and Wilson played a two-handed game called Montana that is based on poker hands. That’s all I understood.

Elsewhere, Travis Ishikawa was working a USA Today crossword puzzle. Bengie Molina was listening to music and trying to figure out how to send to his laptop a photo his daughter had just sent to his IPhone. Nate Schierholtz was comparing two different bats he had just received.

“They misspelled my name on this one,” he said, holding up the all-white ash bat, “so I I think I’ll go with this one.” He has a maple one that, by 2009 season regulations, has to be painted black on the barrel and have a black mark on the handle.

Eugenio Velez was bending and punching the pocket of his glove. Pablo Sandoval was, literally, skipping through the clubhouse and snapping his fingers to the blaring music.

“If there’s a rain delay, it’ll be a lot nicer in here than in the minor leagues,” Ishikawa said. “This is really comfortable and there’s a kitchen. In the minors, you’re just looking outside and talking on the phone.”

Ishikawa, who lives in Danville, had 13 people coming to the game to watch him in his first Opening Day.

More after the game . . .

The faces, and hands, of baseball

You can’t go to a minor-league park, even in the off-season, and not be reminded why you love baseball.

I drove down to San Jose Municipal yesterday morning to listen to the SF Giants and San Jose Giants announce a new partnership. (The major-league team has bought 25 percent of the minor-league team.) I figured I was in for a bunch-of-suits press conference, and certainly there was some of that.

But there’s something about a small park with outfield signs for Rotten Robbie and Sheet Metal Workers International Association that puts you in mind of hot dogs dripping with pickle relish and the smell of Sea & Ski on already-burnt shoulders and third outs coming too quickly.

“When you walk in here as a 5-year-old,” Giants pitching coach and San Jose native Dave Righetti told the audience of San Jose Giants season-ticket holders, sponsors and media, “and watch your dad play ball, and then to be back here . . .”

He choked up like every boy trying to talk about his dad and baseball.

The men on the dais yesterday were a snapshot of the game itself. On one end of the row of chairs sat the great Jim Davenport, man as Southern as pecan pie who, from seven decades in the game, has palms as rough as his old third-baseman’s glove. On the other end sat Pablo Sandoval, a Venezuelan kid with braces just starting in the majors.

There was Giants managing general partner Bill Neukom in his now-trademark black-and-orange striped bowtie, making such a forceful and eloquent case for his “Giants Way” that Sandoval and Buster Posey – the only players in attendance – lifted their eyes from the floor and watched their boss like jurors.

There was general manager Brian Sabean, in Darth Vader black, whose New York growl and knit brow have yet to be softened by 16 years in San Francisco.

And there was Posey, the poster boy, in his crew cut and crisp white button-down shirt tucked neatly into khaki pants. Later, signing autographs in the park’s “Beer Batter” patio with Sandoval, Posey smiled politely and chatted with fans like an usher at a wedding, slightly formal, regally reserved. Sandoval, on the other, seemed like the guy who, with some prodding, might take the mike from the wedding singer. He laughed and joked, easily draping his arm around fans for photos. He wore a black, long-sleeve T-shirt with metallic writing, his sparkly Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses clipped to his collar.

From outside the patio, Linda Pereira watched the two young men like a doting aunt. She has known Sandoval for several years, from his days with the San Jose team, and met Posey when he was with the team for a week last summer. She’s been working for the San Jose Giants for 43 years, starting when she was in sixth grade. Now she’s director of player relations and has been placing players with local families for 29 years.

“One lady had six players in a five-bedroom house,” she said, recalling some of her best host families. Shawn Estes lived with an older woman who, over 12 years, fed and housed 54 players. Estes, the former Giants pitcher, called her every Sunday until the day she died at the age of 88.

Pereira and the San Jose Giants will have Posey again, at least for a while. Then he’ll, too, leave Rotten Robbie and the Beer Batter patio and head out to Connecticut or Fresno or San Francisco and one day, if he’s extremely lucky, be the guy at the other end of the dais with palms as rough as his catcher’s mitt.

All-Around Good Guy

I was happy to see the Giants choose Joe Martinez for 2009 Harry S. Jordan Award winner this morning. He’s one of those guys everyone immediately likes. He’s quiet but not guarded, and he’s smart enough not to draw attention to himself while he’s a rookie. The quickest way to get the veterans grumbling is to swagger around the clubhouse and act like you own the place.

The Harry S. Jordan Award goes to the player in his first big league camp whose performance and dedication best exemplifies the San Francisco Giants spirit. The players, coaches and training staff vote.

“He’s a great kid,” catcher Bengie Molina told me by phone today from his new rental house in Lafayette. “That’s what I look at first. He’s very, very humble. He wants to learn. He loves pitching. He’s not afraid of throwing strikes – of throwing his sinker for strikes and making the batters hit the ball. I think he’s going to be great for us.”

Martinez is a right-handed pitcher who graduated from Boston College with a business degree four years ago. He is a candidate for the final slot in the bullpen for Opening Day.

I got a hold of one of his college teammates, Mike Wlodarczyk, who is a pitcher in Double A for the Tampa Bay Rays.

“The award doesn’t come as a surprise to me,” he said. “Beyond baseball, he was a great student, responsible, an all-around good guy. If baseball hadn’t worked out, he would have been successful in whatever he did.”

In the off-season last year, Martinez worked as a substitute teacher at Columbia High School in his hometown of South Orange, N.J. – the same school where his mother, Toni, works.

Martinez, who was the Giants’ 12th round selection in 2005, made six appearances this spring, going 0-2 with a 4.12 ERA (9er, 19.2ip) with 12 strikeouts and five walks. He has made starts in each of his last five outings and has pitched exceptionally well in his last three games, allowing just two earned runs in 12.0 innings (1.50 ERA). He had a great season last year in Double A, going 10-10 with a league-best 2.49 ERA (41er, 148.0ip) in 27 starts.

In other news:

In case you haven’t read about this, you’ll find some pretty cool improvements to the park when you return this season. The main one is no surprise to a city that led the country in recycling and banning plastic grocery bags: The ballpark is going green.

The Giants are saving energy in a lot of ways but the most interesting, I think, is the Gilroy Garlic Fries stand in Promenade Level, Section 119.

The stand was completely retrofitted during the off-season. It now uses special fryers that reduce gas consumption by 32 percent, cut utility cost by more than half and automatically reduce cooking oil consumption by 12 percent. There is the Coca-Cola “Energy Management System Cooler” that saves up to 35 percent more energy than traditional models. The new lights use 36.5 percent less electricity. The signs are made with 100 percent biodegradable and recyclable materials. The drink cups are recyclable, and the paper boats and carry trays can be composted. Even the green paint used to repaint the stand is environmentally friendly.

(By the way, here’s a scary statistic for someone like me on Weight Watchers: Approximately 800 pounds of garlic fries are prepared in this stand per game.)

Here’s another high-tech change that’s pretty amazing. To save water in maintaining the field, the Giants installed a new irrigation clock that receives weather conditions, including something called “evapotranspiration” information, from five different weather stations. This information helps establish “zone watering times” so the grass is watered only when necessary. The team figures it will use 33 to 50 percent less water during the season.

Another item I really like: The new “value meals.” You can get a hot dog, peanuts and a drink for $6.25 at the Doggie Diner stands, and a hamburger, fries and a drink for $8.75 at McGraw’s Grill. In these economic times, the responsible thing, I think, is to save money with the value meal instead of saving calories with the fancy salad and carrot sticks. But that’s the kind of person I am. Always sacrificing for the good of my family.

Joe Martinez at FanFest: