May 2009

Vote for Bengie. Now. Go on. Ill Wait.

Let’s get Bengie on the All-Star Team. He is the heart and soul of this Giants team. Even when he’s struggling at the plate, Bengie contributes to every game – and every win — in ways that don’t show up in the box score. No one is more respected in the clubhouse than Bengie.

It’s time we do something for him – get out the vote. Tell all your friends. Vote as many times as you can.

Here’s a great column by Paul Gutierrez, a writer for the Sacramento Bee (and the great Amy Gutierrez’s husband). He captures perfectly why we should vote for Bengie.

 

SAN FRANCISCO – Walked into AT&T Park on Tuesday afternoon, was making my way to the press box through the bowels of the waterfront park when a stand filled with colorful paper caught my eye.

Major League Baseball’s 2009 official All-Star ballot.

So I opened it up, gave it a once, twice, three-times over and punched out one “chad,” the one pick I am most confident of seven weeks before the Midsummer Classic.

NATIONAL LEAGUE. CATCHER. B. MOLINA. GIANTS.

Say what? Atlanta’s Brian McCann has better statistics, and Bengie’s not even the best catcher in the N.L. West (paging the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Russell Martin), let alone in his own family (St. Louis’ Yadier Molina is all the rage)? Maybe. But while the All-Star Game’s starters are rightly in the fans’ voting hands, those same fans have the opportunity to do the right thing. That is, to vote Bengie in as the senior circuit’s starting catcher.

“It would mean the world to me, amazing, a dream come true, the best,” he said. “But the way I’m playing right now … ” Molina’s voice trailed off, and that was before the first update on All-Star balloting was released and he was not in the top five. Instead, Yadier led with 451,368 votes, followed by Milwaukee’s Jason Kendall (383,773), Houston’s Iván Rodríguez (292,496), Martin (261,917) and McCann (227,564).

Molina has a vote in this corner, however, and more than a few in the Giants’ clubhouse. Brian Wilson, who last year said neither he nor Tim Lincecum would have been All-Stars without Molina, has some advice for Giants fans.

“They should talk to fans from other teams,” Wilson said. “They should get people from other states to start voting (for Bengie).

” ‘Deserving’ is a tough word. No one ever deserves to be an All-Star – you earn it … he’s done everything in his power to earn it.”

Sure, Molina’s in a bad stretch at the plate, 2 for his last 34. But he got off to such a hot start that the most unlikely of cleanup hitters is on pace to hit a career-high 29 home runs with 108 RBIs.

Plus, his 314 putouts lead all big-league catchers, and the 10 runners he has thrown out are tied for third-most in the game.

And he deftly handles and massages one of the most-feared rotations in the game, as well as the reigning N.L. Cy Young Award winner in Lincecum.

But beyond Molina’s numbers, there are the intangibles the two-time Gold Glover who has never been an All-Star brings.

“I hate to think, not that we’re anywhere, but we would not be close to .500 without him,” admitted manager Bruce Bochy. “He was carrying us for a while. Everybody goes through (a slump), and he’s going through it now. Bengie’s not taking it behind the plate with him, though.

“You can have a good game behind the plate without getting a hit.”

Spoken like the catcher Bochy was.

“He has a different point of view on how to get guys out,” said Giants pitcher Matt Cain. “I’ve had catchers that maybe want to make (hitters) look bad or do different things, but he just wants to get guys out. He doesn’t care how – he’s just like, ‘Let’s just get them out.’ “

A decent assassin behind the plate who is also more than deserving of the nod? Get out the vote.

Judging a Book by Its Cover

Justin Miller, the Giants’ right-handed relief pitcher, looks like a prison-yard thug out of central casting. His body is covered with tattoos. Every inch of his arms, from shoulders to wrists, is inked with images of clowns and angels. On his back are two huge block letters — “LA” — stretching from his neck to his waist and surrounded by swirling designs. “MILLER” is stamped across his lower back. The letters on his knuckles spell out “love” and “hate” in Spanish. On his inner lip are the numbers “5150,” police code for a mentally disturbed person.

And of course there’s the shaved head and soul patch.

No surprise, then, that Miller turns heads when he pulls his three-year-old son, Johnnie, in a little red wagon down the quiet roads of his suburban Florida neighborhood. Or when neighbors spy him cleaning out the garage with his 14-year-old son, Joey.

“When he’s home, he’s Mr. Mom,” says Jessica, Miller’s wife. “He’s absolutely a great dad. Completely hands-on. He is all about the family.”

On paper, Justin and Jessica should not have made it as a couple, much less as an intact family. Theirs is an unlikely love story.

They met when Jessica was in eighth grade and Justin in 10th in their Southern California town of Torrance. Jessica became pregnant at 14, just before high school, and had Joey at 15. Justin was 17. Jessica’s parents took legal guardianship, and Justin stopped by to visit with the baby on his way home from his high school baseball practices. He finished high school and went on to play baseball at Los Angeles Harbor Junior College. Jessica also finished high school, earning straight A’s, and went on to LA Harbor, too.

Becoming a father made Justin take baseball more seriously. He had to grow up quickly and become responsible, and that meant putting in the work necessary to reach the pros.

“I don’t know where I would have been if I didn’t have (Joey),” Justin says.

When Justin was drafted in the fifth round by the Rockies in 1997, he asked Jessica to marry him. She was still in college and working two jobs. They had a courthouse wedding in September of that year, then a proper church wedding and reception the following February with Joey, then three years old, as the ring-bearer.

“She deserved the wedding of her dreams,” Justin says.

He was 20 and she was 18.

They have been married 11 years. They had a second child three years ago.

“With Joey, we kind of all grew up together,” Jessica says. “Joey’s like our little buddy. He’s always been so mature for his age. He’s the greatest kid ever. Our decision to have Johnnie was kind of about having a re-do. We were older and could enjoy it more this time around.”

Justin got his first tattoo at the age of 15, just a year older than his teenaged son is now. Justin’s father took him to the tattoo parlor himself to make sure he had it done safely. But that won’t be happening with Joey, Jessica says.

“Justin chooses to do the tattoos, that’s his thing,” she says. “But I’m not going to allow my kids to have tattoos until they’re of legal age to get one. When Justin talks about getting a tattoo on his neck or his head, I tell him ‘If that’s what you want to do, then be prepared to not have a job. Be prepared for the stereotype that comes with it.’ ”

Even in baseball, where many players sport tattoos, Justin stands out – so much so that his tattooed arms prompted what some call “The Justin Miller Rule.” It states that “no pitcher shall have markings on his body that are potentially distracting to the umpire or batter.” Miller has to wear long sleeves when he pitches.

Among the weird clown faces and skulls inked forever on his body, there are the names of his children – “Johnnie” and “Joseph” – on his chest and, alongside the giant “LA” on his back, drawings of the two boys. On the back of his neck is “Jessica.”

“People have such a misconception about Justin because of all the tattoos,” Jessica says. “The tattoos are on the outside, but that’s not who he is on the inside.”

Murph and Mac

Listening to the Giants on KNBR. I’m trying to get some writing done, but I have the radio on in the background. It’s the radio we had in the kitchen in our house in New Jersey when I was growing up in the 1960s. Still works and still carrying baseball games through its weird little speakers.

I listen to KNBR a lot, especially in the morning. I am a huge fan of Murph and Mac. Who isn’t? They’re smart and funny, and Murph does the best interviews. Even if the topic of an interview isn’t of general interest to me, I listen anyway because I know Murph and Mac (and my old friend Dan Dibley) will find a way to make it interesting.

And they love the Giants.

So it’s been fun listening to their spirited discussions about the Giants’ choosing a seventh-inning song. Like any true fan, they take the choice personally. The song reflects not only on the team they love so much but it reflects on them – on all of us. The song can’t be a cliché, or over-exposed, or bubble-gummy, or a rip-off of some other team’s song.

The real challenge, I think, is that the song in some way ought to capture the vibrancy and quirkiness of San Francisco, the beauty and history of the city and the game of baseball, the deep roots of rock n’ roll and the iconic artists who came of age here.

Murph and Mac have been pushing “Lights” by Journey. I like “Lights.” It might be the right song.

But there are so many great choices – and you’ve been suggesting a ton of them. Keep them coming. Let’s keep our minds open. This is a decision we have to live with for 81 games a season. We want to feel connected to the team and the Bay Area every time we hear it burst through the speakers.

Yes, there are more pressing decisions in the world to be made, bigger problems in life that deserve our energy. But, frankly, with the economy going in the tank and Pakistan exploding and Lindsay Lohan enduring a personal crisis, I welcome a distraction. This is when we need baseball the most, and when we need to take very seriously the important work of choosing the perfect seventh-inning song.

I am enjoying all the comments that detail the criteria that ought to go into choosing this perfect song. They help frame the discussion.

Maybe when we gather all of your suggestions, Murph and Mac will help the Giants narrow the list to a dozen or so. And then we’ll vote.

Let’s hope our voters aren’t the same ones who voted Allison off of American Idol last night. I mean, really. Chris and Danny over Allison? What are people thinking?

Reaching Out

Last Thursday, when many players were resting up on their day off, Aaron Rowand was in Visitacion Valley, one of San Francisco’s poorest and most troubled neighborhoods.

Rowand wanted to learn about the Boys & Girls Club there, so he showed up at 3 p.m., in time to greet the children arriving from school. When the kids had settled at tables, Rowand served as the rock-paper-scissors judge to determine the order each table lined up for snacks. While he helped the club’s staff hand out snacks, he talked to the kids – who were 7 to 14 years old – about the many afternoons he spent at the neighborhood rec center when he was their age.

“My mom raised all three of us by herself and she worked full time,” Rowand told them. “If it wasn’t for the rec center, I would have gotten into a lot more trouble than I did. They had all kinds of games and activities, like they do here, so I was able to direct my energy into that instead of getting into trouble.”

After snack time, the kids launched into their homework, and for an hour Rowand moved from table to table, stopping to help the kids who needed it. Math and science were his favorite subjects, so he was happy when a fifth-grader asked for help with a math problem.

Rowand studied it and scribbled, trying to arrive at the answer by the process the girl had learned in school. He knew the answer – by figuring it out old-school — but was as stumped as the fifth-grader by “new math.” (Given Rowand’s doggedness, he was probably up half the night with a No. 2 pencil and a ream of notepaper working out the solution.)

At the end of the afternoon, Rowand invited all the kids out to a game as his guests. He signed autographs for everyone and talked to every kid who wanted to spend time with him. He promised to return and plans to visit other Boys & Girls Clubs around San Francisco.

“He was awesome,” said Shana Daum, the Giants’ director of public affairs and community relations, who accompanied Rowand to the club and watched him move among the children like a natural-born teacher.

“When I got to the major leagues, I decided I’d use my position to help others,” Rowand says. “I know how lucky I am that I got to realize my dream, and that others are not so lucky. Whether it’s right or wrong, people – especially kids – look up to us, so as long as I’m playing ball, I feel I have a great opportunity to have an impact.”

Photos courtesy of the SF Boys & Girls Club:

RowandBGC.jpg

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Songs, Part II

So here’s where we are with the song suggestions.

Two Journey songs are the most popular so far: “Lights” and “Don’t Stop Believing.” Dissenters think “Lights” is too mellow, and that “trying to steal (‘Don’t Stop Believing’) from the Dodgers is a bad idea, and just makes us look unoriginal, which completely misrepresents SF.”

Two other Journey songs were also suggested by more than one person: “To Be Alive Again” and “Anyway You Want It.”

The next most popular artist after Journey is Bon Jovi with “Living on a Prayer.” The song, says one fan, is “upbeat and the crowd can really get into it.” On the other hand, “‘Living On a Prayer’ is NOT a good idea because the theme of the song doesn’t fit. The Giants want to be/will be a winning ball club without the help of desperate prayers.”

The rest of the suggestions:

Highway to the Dangerzone — Kenny Loggins (from “Top Gun.”)

Right Now — Van Halen

You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet — Bachman Turner Overdrive

Don’t Look Back – Boston

Welcome to the Jungle — Gun’s N’ Roses

Life is a Highway — Tom Cochran

Centerfield — John Fogerty

Sympathy for the Devil – Rolling Stones

Time of Your Life – Green Day.

Tubthumping — Chumbawamba

Brown-eyed Girl – Van Morrison

Back in Black — AC/DC

We Built This City on Rock and Roll — Jefferson Starship

Dancin’ in the Streets — Grateful Dead

Raise Your Hands –Bon Jovi.

San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair) — Scott McKenzie.

For America — Jackson Browne.

Let It Rock — Kevin Rudolf.

Sly & the Family Stone- “Hot Fun in the Summertime”.

Get This Party Started — Pink

Keep the suggestions coming. Include your rationale for the choice. Is it important that the song be from a Bay Area artist? Should it be music that pulls us out of our seats and makes us sing along? Should the lyrics reflect something about hope or winning or San Francisco?

Looking forward to the debate . . .

On a related note, a blog poster named msltek suggested a new song for Brian Wilson — Closing Time by Eve 6.

Anyone else have ideas for other players? I was wondering recently why players chose certain songs – and why they changed them. I asked Manny Burriss last week why he changed his coming-to-bat song from My Life by The Game to Who Run It by Three 6 Mafia (maybe it was the other way around?).

He laughed.

“Because I was hitting .180.”

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