July 2009

The Art of Chemisty

Before the All-Star break, I was talking to Aaron Rowand about Juan Uribe. Uribe is such a popular guy in the clubhouse, and I knew almost nothing about him. Rowand and Uribe had played together in Chicago.

“He’s always laughing,” Rowand said. “He likes messing with everybody.”

Rowand was standing in the dugout before batting practice. Pablo Sandoval bounded up the steps past us and onto the field. Then Jeremy Affeldt. And Tim Lincecum. 

“When you look at this team, we have guys who like to have fun,” Rowand said. “They’re there to play baseball, but they know how to fun, too.”

I asked him how important that is. Some people dismiss chemistry as a factor in a team’s success. If you have talent, you win, no matter how well or poorly the players got along. Did Rowand think chemistry matters?

“Absolutely,” he said.

And on this Giants team, he said, the chemistry has been evolving since the start of spring training.

“When you’re putting a team together, it’s not just about quality players. It’s about quality people, too,” he said. “There’s the personality factor. If you don’t get along, it’s tough to play together on the field. I think unless you’ve played sports at a high level it might be hard to understand how much (good chemistry) means to playing well on the field. If everyone’s going their separate ways, that can’t help you play together as a team on the field.

“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to Brian Sabean for putting the rights guys together. We have guys here who are just coming into their own – Matty, Timmy, Brian Wilson. Then you add in guys who bring intensity, like Randy Johnson.

“He’s been wonderful for the guys in here. He’s intense but he’ll laugh, joke around. He’s not what we expected. We’re very pleasantly surprised how personable he is with his teammates. We all feel really lucky to part of one of the biggest games of his career.

“There’s no measurement for chemistry,” Rowand said, “but it’s big. It’s bigger than I think people realize.”

(If you haven’t already seen it, look at the story on the front page of USA Today today (July 16) by Jorge Ortiz. It’s all about chemistry, in particular how much fun the Giants are having this season.)

Ryan Sadowski

The more I find out about Ryan Sadowski, the more unlikely his story becomes.

This is a guy who, at the University of Florida, pitched 6.2 innings in seven appearances in 2002 (accumulating a 8.10 ERA) and a third of an inning in 2003 (he faced two batters and walked both).

So a grand total of seven innings in two years.

Yet the Giants made him their 12th-round pick in 2003.

Why?

I called VP of baseball operations Bobby Evans to find out.

He said Dick Tidrow, the Giants’ VP of player personnel, saw Sadowski at a scouting workout before the draft.

“He saw something he liked,” Evans said, “something he could work with.”

But he got off to an inauspicious start. At Salem-Keiser that summer, Sadowski began suffering from headaches and was so sick by season’s end that he couldn’t pitch in a playoff game. It wasn’t until he went home to South Florida that doctors diagnosed a subdural hematoma. He had emergency brain surgery to remove the accumulation of blood and spent two days in intensive care. Sadowski’s best guess is that he suffered the injury when he fell in the shower early in the season.

“You’ve got to give him credit,” Evans said. “He’s worked hard at every level of the minor leagues. He’s not a guy that people have talked about. He just worked hard and learned how to pitch. He’s got a great cutter that’s tough on right-handed hitters. He has a solid slider, change-up, breaking ball. He throws down in the zone a lot, so when he makes a mistake, it’s down rather than up over the plate.”

Sadowski’s emergence after six years in the minor leagues is a testament, Evans says, not just to Sadowski’s work ethic but also to the coaching that young Giants players receive in the farm system.

“I think maybe the Giants do a better job than most organizations in developing players,” Evans said. “It doesn’t matter how high or low you get drafted. You’re going to get the coaching and you’re going to get a chance to earn your way onto the major-league roster.”

So maybe Sadowski’s story isn’t so much an unlikely one as it is simply an old-fashioned baseball tale, in which a fairly unremarkable guy with a bit of raw talent works really hard, listens to his coaches, rides the minor-league buses for six years, learns how to pitch and, without the slightest bit of name recognition, arrives one summer day to play in his first big league game.

And he pitches six scoreless innings to get the win. And the team lets him hang around for a second start. And he earns a second win in another shutout.

As Evans said, you have to give a lot of credit to Tidrow. Of all the pitchers on that 2002 University of Florida team – the top two had 3.24 and 3.88 ERAs — Sadowski is the only one to make the major leagues. If Sadowski keeps winning, I’ll track down Tidrow to find out exactly what he saw, and how many more like him Tidrow has tucked away in Norwich or Fresno or San Jose.

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