Results tagged ‘ Brian Sabean ’

From the Horses’ Mouths

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It sure looks weird to see the clubhouse in the off-season. Even filled as it was last night with fans in folding chairs, it was like walking into an abandoned building. There’s a kind of ghostly loneliness about it without players slapping domino tiles on table tops and answering fan mail in front of their lockers and yanking down the bills of their caps as they rush out to take early BP. Is April really still three-and-a-half months away?

The next best thing to the actual baseball season, though, is talking about it.

Up on a temporary stage, erected on the far right of the room near the starting pitchers’ lockers, Giants manager Bruce Bochy was sitting next to general manager Brian Sabean and taking questions from moderator Greg Papa.

“He’s the best all-around player that I’ve ever seen because he can play everywhere,” Bochy was saying. “He has a very similar body type to Tony Gwynn.”

He was talking about Pablo Sandoval, who embarked on a rigorous conditioning and weight-loss program during the off-season, a one-man camp the Giants dubbed “Operation Panda.”

“Obviously,” Sabean cracked, nodding at Bochy and himself, “we haven’t been in the same camp.”

Packed into the room, in rows of chairs bordered by four walls of lockers, were season-ticket holders who had been invited to talk baseball with Bochy, Sabean, managing general partner Bill Neukom and relief pitcher Sergio Romo.

Asked by Papa if two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum’s stuff matches up with the all-time greats, Bochy didn’t hesitate.

“Sure it does. He’s by far the best pitcher I’ve ever seen. When you have four pitches, especially the best or close to the best changeup in baseball right now, he’s up there among the greats. He’s a thinker out there and knows what the opposing team is doing and that’s why he’s won two Cy Young Awards.”

What’s interesting about him,” Sabean said, “is in college he would throw 140 pitches on a Friday night and then be the closer for his team on Sunday. He’s proved to have a rubber arm and has an inner strength that other people don’t have. He’s fearless and he thinks that on any given day that he’s better than anyone else.”

Perhaps the highlight of the evening was Sergio Romo. He’s a player that fans don’t know very well yet, and last night they got a glimpse of his sense of humor and his boyish excitement for the game – starting with the fact he was texting his mother as he climbed onto the stage to tell he was going to be on television.

You’re from Brawley, California, near Los Angeles,” Papa said, “so who was your favorite team growing up?”

No comment,” Romo said, smiling. “Let’s just say I started hating the Dodgers the second I put on a Giants uniform.”

After struggling with injuries last season, he said he’s “very excited for the season to start . . . I miss my number 54 on my back.”

When Papa opened the discussion to questions, one of the first was an update on the Giants’ up and coming players.

“Peguero is a young outfielder that we just placed on our 40-man roster,” Sabean said. “He’s a lot like Sandoval in that he has a lot of energy. Thomas Neal came into his own last year and developed an all-around game. Brandon Crawford is going to be our shortstop of the future. We have a flow of talent that people will be proud of.”

As for the readiness of pitcher Madison Bumgarner and catcher Buster Posey, Bochy said, “I really think that they can start for us next year. Posey is gonna be a front line catcher and he’s on the fast track. Bumgarner did a heck of a job last year when Timmy went down. Here are two tremendous kids that stood out and both held their own. I’m curious to see how Buster looks this spring.”

One fan wanted to know about keeping Lincecum and fellow pitcher Matt Cain as Giants for the long haul.

“Cain has two more years before free agency,” Sabean said, “and Lincecum has four more and is going through arbitration right now. We are in a good situation because they both want to be Giants for a long time.”

Sabean also addressed the decision not to resign veteran pitcher Brad Penny.

“We had a short window and in our estimation we thought we had home court in our situation. We couldn’t bring ourselves to overpay when we have Madison Bumgarner in the wings.”

Still want more? Tune in to a full broadcast of the event on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area on January 15 at 6:30 p.m.

Some shots from the taping:

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Sabean’s Strategy

Giants general manager Brian Sabean is honing a skill not innate to a baseball man who cut his teeth at the New York Yankees.

Patience.

“The market right now is as slow or slower than last year in developing,” he said during a break today from internal strategy meetings in preparation for next week’s winter meetings in Indianapolis.

“Whether teams are still getting their budgets together or what, the free agent market has yet to develop. Players and agents are slow to do anything. It’s a sign of the times.”

Sabean said the Giants last week offered a one-year deal to pitcher Brad Penny, and yesterday offered one year and an option to infielder Juan Uribe. Both offers were declined. “At this time I’m not sure there will be further discussion,” Sabean said. (He said veteran catcher Bengie Molina probably has been offered a multi-year deal by another team, essentially guaranteeing he would not return to the Giants.)

Sabean’s strategy in building the 2010 team boils down to three basic – but difficult — questions:

How can the Giants maximize the talent they already have?

What can be accomplished on the free-agent market?

Are there smart trades to be made – and what homegrown talent is the team willing to give up in order to secure valuable immediate help (such as a bigger bat in the lineup)?

“What we’re doing right now – to get a bat, to figure out the catching situation, everything – is due diligence,” Sabean said.

In other words, there is no magic formula. No shortcuts. No blockbuster, bold-headline quick fixes. Just hours and days and weeks of poring over scouting reports and statistics, working the phones and updating the huge erasable boards with lists of free agents and players likely the trading block, plus evaluating in every possible way the Giants’ own prospects. (Who among them will blossom into big-impact major-leaguers, and when?)

“In a perfect world, you’d love to have (Madison) Bumgarner and (Buster) Posey burst on the scene,” Sabean said. “But you don’t want to rush them. So you keep at it, at the grindstone, and be ready when the best opportunities pop.”

There might be interesting “secondary free agents,” Sabean said, “but maybe that doesn’t make as much sense as giving our own kids a chance. We have to continue to identify what we really have internally and not count on the outside world.”

Sabean mentioned two “burning questions” for the Giants:

If the Giants don’t get Penny and instead bring up Bumgarner, their top pitching prospect, they will have a particularly young starting rotation. So what do you do about the bullpen? Do you counterbalance that with a more veteran bullpen and, say, bring Bob Howry back?

What position does Pablo Sandoval play? If he stays at third, what options are available to upgrade the situation at first base outside the organization?

“In the past, we’ve been more aggressive,” Sabean said. “But we’re willing to go at the pace of the marketplace and show more patience. Trades don’t have to be made at the winter meetings. So people shouldn’t read anything into it if nothing happens in Indianapolis. It’s just not a very sexy market at this time.

“But we’ll come home with more information. It’s a fact-finding mission to figure out who matches up with us in terms of free-agent interest. We’ll have a clearer picture of trade scenarios. We’ll find who our partners might be and how we can do business.”

Chat with Giants’ GM Sabean:

Brian Sabean will participate in a live Web chat from the Major League Baseball winter meetings in Indianapolis on Wednesday, December 9 at 1 p.m. PT. Fans are invited to chat with the GM about his goals for the club during the week’s Winter Meetings. To participate in the chat, please register at: 

http://mlb.mlb.com/fan_forum/chat.jsp

Off-Season – But Not Time Off

Giants batting coach Hensley “Bam-Bam” Meulens is wasting no time diving into his new job. He has gathered John Bowker, Travis Ishikawa, Nate Schierholtz and minor-league first baseman Brett Pill for a six-day hitting clinic at AT&T starting on Monday. Then he’ll fly down to Venezuela with Bowker, who will play winter ball in that country’s extremely competitive league. Schierholtz is going to Puerto Rico. (I’m not sure yet what the other two are doing.)

I’ll try to grab some time with Meulens during a break in the action on Monday and share what I learn.

I’m going down to Arizona on Tuesday with some of the video guys from the Giants. We’ll be checking in with Pablo Sandoval, who is in the midst of his own personal conditioning camp with team trainers.

Pablo ended his spectacular season with the second-best batting average in the National League (.330), 3rd in doubles (44), 4th in hits (189), 6th in total bases (318) and slugging percentage (.556), 7th in extra base hits (74). But he wants to get better, so he has committed himself not only to developing a new regimen of physical exercise but also to learning how to eat healthy. He also wants to work on improving his English pronunciations and educate himself about Facebook and blogging – all for the purpose of communicating and connecting more with the fans.

Got a text-message from Tim Lincecum earlier this week. He’s in Seattle right now visiting family but will be back in SF next week and will stay through the winter. He, too, is developing a workout regimen to get even stronger. He seems to be all-muscle already – his percentage of body fat has got to be almost zero. So I’m not sure what exactly he wants to improve. I hope to chat with him when he’s back in town and will let you know.

The Giants held a three-hour meeting Wednesday of the entire staff. They went over highlights of the 2009 season and laid out plans and goals for 2010. (Orange Fridays are coming back!) There was particular focus, as you might imagine, on improving offensive production, including a better on-base percentage and a more consistent one-through-five batting lineup. Brian Sabean’s staff talked of identifying possible trades or free-agent signings. Any trade, managing general partner Bill Neukom explained, would have to meeting the following criteria:

· Does this player significantly improve the team’s win-loss record?

· How much money will he cost?

· How much talent do the Giants give up for him?

· Does this player’s arrival thwart the progress of a top homegrown prospect?

· Does this player fit in with the team chemistry?

What struck me most, though, in the meeting was how much was accomplished in 2009 – and what a great foundation it provides for next season and beyond.

Some 2009 facts that stand out:

· Best home record in the NL and improved overall record by 16 wins over 2008.

· Best starting rotation in baseball (fewest runs allowed, most shutouts and most strikeouts). Lincecum led the league in strikeouts for the second consecutive year, was the 2009 All-Star Game starting pitcher and again was named NL Sporting News Pitcher of the Year.

· Bullpen strength: Jeremy Affeldt led the NL in holds (33) and Brian Wilson tied for third in the NL in saves (38).

· Great team chemistry: This team – in particular, the relatively unknown group of young players — won the hearts of the fans. And they did so by working hard day in and day out and playing with excitement and energy. As a result, Giants’ attendance stayed nearly the same this year from last year – even in a down economy — and the team set record television ratings (up 37 percent on Comcast over 2008). The veterans were fantastic with the young guys – everyone from Randy Johnson to Edgar Renteria to Juan Uribe stepped up as unofficial mentors and teachers.

· The deepening pool of emergent talent: Five of the Giants’ seven minor-league teams reached the championship game in their respective leagues (three teams won championships). The Giants’ affiliates combined for the best record among all major-league organizations. Catcher Buster Posey was named Topps/Minor League Player of the Year. Others, such as Madison Bumgarner, Roger Kieschnick and Brandon Crawford, established themselves as exceptional prospects. This is a great sign that the Giants’ investment in the farm system is paying off.

· Valuable late-season experience: Playing meaningful baseball in September gave younger players a foundation on which they can build in the seasons to come.

Here’s something else from the meeting that I loved, though it has nothing to do with baseball. The Giants made a real commitment to making AT&T the greenest ballpark in the country. In 2008, it managed to recycle 40 percent of all the garbage and other waste. In 2009, it recycled 67 percent. Pretty amazing.

More next week.

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.)

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.

Best Seat in the House – the Dugout Rail

Here’s the scene.

Gorgeous day. Blue sky. High sixties, low seventies maybe. Sunny, but just enough leftover winter to need a jacket in the shade.

Scottsdale Stadium at 10 a.m.

The field is scattered with players and ball machines and screens.

Brian Sabean and Felipe Alou are on the top step of the dugout, leaning on the railing, silent, their eyes taking in the smallest details about this player or that one, bits and pieces of information to be filed away in their baseball brains for later analysis. Bobby Evans joins them. Then Larry Baer. A couple of equipment guys. A few reporters.

We look like railbirds at the racetrack.

On the field, coach Fred Stanley is hitting grounders to third base. Sandoval, Guzman, Gillaspie, Rohlinger, Uribe, Aurilia – they take turns scooping and throwing to first. Scoop and throw. Scoop and throw.

Each throw seems barely to miss coach Ron Wotus, who is standing a few feet behind the pitcher’s mound, tossing soft grounders to three players taking turns at shortstop. They field the ball and throw to second. Another group of players, lined up at second, take turns catching the throw, pivoting and firing to first.

Except it’s not really first base. That has already been claimed by the guys participating in the third-base drill. The second basemen throw to coach Roberto Kelly, who stands in the baseline between first and second. There is a screen behind him to keep errant throws from beaning the coach playing first.

In the outfield, a ball machine shoots fly balls from the right-field line to players spread out in center field. They practice calling for the ball.

“Gottit! Gottit! Gottit!” each one yells as he settles under the ball.

Scoop, throw, pivot, fire, gottit, gottit.

Over and over at all three stations.

They’re the same drills you see in Little League. The same drills, probably, players have done for a hundred years, minus the ball machines.

“Doesn’t even look like he’s moving,” one of the equipment guys says of Fred Lewis, chasing down a ball by the far fence. “He just glides across the field.”

I ask Bobby Evans what he looks for this early in the spring.

“You look at the crispness,” he says. “This early on, that stands out. If you can make the play over and over. If you have the range and footwork.”

He’s not paying much attention to hitting yet. The players just started with live pitching yesterday. But he watches the pitchers, who have been in camp almost a week. “You look to see how well they’re able to repeat their delivery. Finding that arm slot.”

Only a smattering of people watch from the stands. I’m not sure why more people don’t come down to this portion of spring training, before the games. You get to see all the players on the field simultaneously. No one’s in the dugout. You see non-stop action. And it’s free. And you can spread out across three seats, like the old days.

Larry Baer recognizes the pleasure of just watching the players practice. So this year, the Giants plan to open the doors to spring training games about 30 minutes earlier than usual so fans can watch more batting practice and fielding drills.

I was laid up yesterday with a bad cold and couldn’t make it to the ballpark. Something’s going around because today the team sent seven players home from practice for the same reason. Happens every spring.

Fred Lewis is still waiting for his special spikes from Nike. After his bunion problems last season, he flew up to Nike in Oregon in December and his feet were measured by some special computerized system. He needs his spikes to be a little wider than usual to reduce the risk of further bunions. Until the new custom shoes arrive, Lewis wears his old spikes to take fielding, then switches to tennis shoes for hitting and conditioning.

More tomorrow.

Baseball Luncheon on Treasure Island

Comcast SportsNet Bay Area held its annual baseball luncheon on Treasure Island Wednesday. Over chicken and tiramisu, players and staff from the Giants and A’s fielded questions from MC Greg Papa.

My personal highlight: Brian Wilson in a sport coat. My second personal highlight: Wilson and Jason Giambi showing up with the same haircut, the upswept soft-peaked Mohawk that only professional athletes and Grammy winners can pull off.

Some notes:

* Wilson on the increased pressure on Tim Lincecum: “I don’t think he has any pressure on him. He’s very competitive but he’s very loose. (When he was in the hunt for the Cy Young), he didn’t change anything about his game plan. He was always loose and joking in the clubhouse.”

* Wilson on nightlife with Barry Zito in the off-season: “We did nothing that would void a contract.”

* Randy Winn on his success on the bases last season: “I’m trying to get a little smarter as I get older. I’m talking a lot to Dave Roberts.”

* Brian Sabean on Jonathan Sanchez pitching in the World Baseball Classic: “He’ll be one of the top pitchers for Puerto Rico, which will be great for his confidence and his maturation.”

* Sabean says Sanchez is “bigger and stronger” and that the fifth spot in the rotation is his to lose. “(Noah) Lowry’s going to have to unseat him,” Sabean said. As for trading Sanchez: “I have a very hard time thinking he could be traded for his full value.”

* Asked whom the fans should be watching for on the horizon, Sabean said Bumgarner. “He’s on a very fast track. When this kid gets here, he’s not going back.”

* The folks at Comcast SportsNet Bay Area say the Bay Area has “the most passionate and underserved sports fans in the country and are hungry for more coverage.” So Comcast is dedicating one channel to the Giants and one to the A’s. The network will carry 134 regular-season games, including 75 games in HD. It also will broadcast 3 hours of live shows every day – “SportsCenter”-type programs plus a local “Sports Reporters”-like show with Chronicle reporters — from its new HD studio in San Francisco.

Inside the Giants Clubhouse

Easiest way to trigger a lively conversation in the Bay Area this week: Mention Manny Ramirez and the Giants.

The Giants would be out of their minds even to consider signing a guy who could disrupt the clubhouse the way this one can.

Or:

The Giants would be out of their minds even to consider not signing a guy who could electrify their lineup the way this one can.

This is a perfect debate topic because there is no wrong opinion. You can make a compelling argument for either side – and heaven knows, we’ve been hearing a thousand versions of each on radio shows, blogs, newspapers, TV.

In the center of this swirl sits Brian Sabean.

He sees both sides, too, of course. And he knows there is no mathematical formula that ultimately will yield the one, definitive correct answer. Piecing together a major-league roster – factoring in money, lengths of contracts, immediate vs. future needs, personalities – is an inexact science. It’s about research and analysis, absolutely, but also instinct, experience, opportunism.

In his office at AT&T Park, with the walls covered almost floor to ceiling with the ever-changing rosters of every ML team, Sabean weighs the pros and cons of a player like Ramirez. He says he still hasn’t had anything more than “general conversations” with Scott Boras, Ramirez’s agent, trying to get a sense of their “parameters” as far as money and years, and whether those parameters are worth the Giants’ consideration.

“We have to look at it in a baseball sense, and in a present and future sense,” Sabean said this morning. “It’s a nice idea, but if you’re not any farther along as an organization two years from now, than it doesn’t make sense.

“He’s not in a position we need, but we’re doing our due diligence because he’s a middle-of-the-order hitter and he’s on the free agent market. But you have to consider whether you’re getting a player who allows you to win the division but takes you off course for the long run.”

In other news:

On Jan. 21, Sabean is flying to the Dominican Republic with Larry Baer, John Barr and Bill Neukom to evaluate the organization’s set-up there. The Giants have a field and a dormitory-like building on a U.S. Air Force base in Santa Domingo. The team brings in players they’re looking at, players who perhaps have gone through the Dominican instructional league or summer league. Baer and Neukom have never seen the facility, so it’s something of a goodwill visit. But they also want to gauge if the facility needs upgrading or expansion to strengthen the team’s ability to identify and cultivate Dominican players.

Thanks for reading. Send me questions about the Giants and I’ll do my best to track down the answers.

 

Prospects Classroom

The young men sit behind tables in three neat rows, black three-ring binders open, pens in hand. The room is in the bowels of AT&T Park, down the hall from the Giants clubhouse. It is usually used for press conferences. But during this week in November, it has been transformed into one of the most exclusive schools in the world.

“There’s going to be somebody in this room who’s going to play for us next year in the big leagues,” Giants general manager Brian Sabean tells them. He sits on a raised dais next to Giants manager Bruce Bochy.

Several students shift in their chairs. Some nod. Most try hard to show no reaction, assuming as best they can the unflappable posture of a star. But you can see it in their eyes: The anticipation of what might come. Some might someday land on the cover of Sports Illustrated someday. Some might become so famous they have streets named after them.

But for now, at this moment, they are just guys with great curve balls, guys with wicked swings, with other guys with great curve balls and wicked swings, in a room full of hope.

These 20 young men are among the Giants’ top prospects, handpicked from the farm system to come to San Francisco for five days of Here’s What It’s Going to Take. One player graduated from high school just four months earlier. The others attended at least some college. Most have spent a little time in the minor-leagues, living four to an apartment, riding buses, budgeting their few-hundred-dollars-a-week salaries – all to earn their own three-foot-wide locker at 24 Willie Mays Plaza.

The curriculum for the week was The Giants’ Way – how to get in top shape, how to play with integrity and enthusiasm, how to behave professionally, how to engage with the media and fans. The young players spent their mornings with the Giants conditioning staff, pushing themselves through tough workouts. They spent their afternoons in this makeshift classroom with Giants front-office staff, learning that making it to the major leagues takes more than talent.

“Attitude is so big in this game,” Bochy tells them. “You have to be full of optimism. You have to have a gut-level belief that you will play at this level. We all know you have the ability. That’s not the question. The question you have to ask every day is: Do I have the attitude to leverage my capabilities to be a major-league player?”

Sabean leans toward the microphone to deliver the hard facts, the ones these players won’t hear on SportsCenter. They have to be willing to put baseball before everything in their lives, Sabean says, which means making sure their loved ones are willing to make the commitment with them. They have to play on rock-hard fields in Arizona’s midday sun in front of near-empty bleachers. They have to play in the Dominican and in Puerto Rico. They have to play and play and play and play. They have to figure out how to keep their sanity in the face of repeated, sometimes unrelenting, failure.

“I’m not sure what the wash-out rate is today, but it used to be that just 5 to 8 percent of players signed made it to the major-leagues,” Sabean says. “You have to be one tough SOB to play this game.”

He offers an example.

“Barry Bonds never put himself in a position to let his guard down,” Sabean says. “He never showed his frustration — threw a bat, kicked the dirt. If he hit a ball well and it was caught, he tipped his hat to the other guy knowing he did the best he could. He rarely showed any emotion to an umpire. He acted as if it never happened because he never wanted the pitcher to think he wasn’t in control.

“His complete control made his talent that much more to deal with.”

Earlier in the week, new managing general partner Bill Neukom told the 20 hopefuls that the Giants’ Way meant fundamentals, attention to detail, preparation. The Giants, he said, have made sure there are great teachers at every level of the organization.

“As Giants players, you will be better conditioned and better informed than your opponents,” Neukom said. “You will be more focused. You will have an approach to every at-bat, to every pitch at that at-bat. As good as you are, you will get better.

“We wouldn’t swap this group of young players for any other group,” Neukom says. “You not only are the best in the Giants organization, you are the best in baseball. You’re here because we think you’re warriors, because you love to compete. We want to help you express that. But you will be the ones to decide if you’re going to get here.”

In the makeshift classroom at AT&T, Sabean and Bochy are wrapping up. Sabean throws in another piece of advice: “Sign autographs. Connect with fans. It’s a relationship you need to have.”

The players close their binders and head down the hall to the clubhouse, where, for one more day, the lockers of Lincecum and Molina and Zito are theirs. They don’t know that Willie Mays is waiting there for them. It’s a surprise. A gift. Another lesson in what it means to be a Giant.

Soon the 20 young men will return to Michigan and Florida and New Jersey, wherever they call home, until another conditioning camp in Arizona in December and spring training in February. In the meantime, the Giants pass around a sign-up sheet for an optional tour of the ballpark on their final day. Nothing special. The same thing any fan or tourist gets.

Seventeen of the 20 sign up – a sweet reminder that even future baseball stars are, at heart, romantics like the rest of us. They know, or at least seem to know, that baseball is more than the dugout and the diamond, more than the players. The real classroom of baseball is the park itself, housing as it does our memories of past summer days and delivering each spring another dose of hope.

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