Results tagged ‘ Brian Wilson ’

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.)

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 . . .

Working Hard and Believing

Steve Holm is one heroic moment away from becoming a Hollywood movie. A simple game-saving tag at the plate or game-winning hit in the World Series is the only scene missing from turning Holm’s baseball career into the feel-good movie of the year.

He’s part, Rocky, part Rudy, part Crash Davis.

The script would begin when Holm was five years old and was asked for the first time what he wanted to be when he grew up.

“A baseball player,” he said without hesitation. As the years passed and other boys shifted to more pragmatic ambitions, Holm never changed his answer. He nagged his parents to make the drive from Sacramento to watch Giants and A’s games. He collected baseball cards. To this day, he keeps a Nolan Ryan rookie card in his gun safe.

He played shortstop through Little League, high school and college, choosing schools based solely on their baseball programs. He switched from Sacramento City College to Cosumnes River College to American River College in search of the best coaching and most playing time. When he received invitations from Oral Roberts, Western Kentucky, UNLV and Sacramento State, he chose Oral Roberts, which fielded the best team at the time.

When a pro scout told him he’d have a better shot at making the majors if he switched to catching, he didn’t hesitate. The Giants drafted him in the 17th round in 2001 and turned him over to Kirt Manwaring, the former Giant who is now a catching instructor.

“He taught me to get something out of every bullpen session,” Holm says.

And that’s what he did for most of the next two seasons at Salem-Keizer – catch the bullpen. “If there was a bullpen I caught it,” Holm says. He’d get into a game only if it was a blowout.

Accustomed, as most pro ballplayers are to being one of the best players on their teams, Holm had to swallow his frustration at being one of the worst as he was learning his new position.

“To be a good catcher, you have to do it enough to develop instincts,” Holm says. “You almost have to see it before it happens. And that comes only with repetition.”

Sometime in 2003, he says, after nearly three seasons of pro ball, he became comfortable enough to trust his instincts.

“That allowed me to hit better because I wasn’t so worried all the time about catching,” he says. In 2004, he hit nine home runs in Single A San Jose after hitting just one the previous three seasons.

He was still learning the strategy of calling a game and of adapting to the different personalities of the pitchers. And learn to get better at calling a game. “I didn’t understand early on how to get the most out of every pitcher,” he says.

Still, for as much as he was developing as a catcher, he was stuck at Single A.

Season after season after season.

For six years he played in Single A, with only an 11-game stint in 2005 marking a higher showing.

He didn’t make it to Double A for a full season until he was 27 years old.

“He never even hinted at giving up,” said a childhood friend who played baseball with Holm. “He figured as long as he kept fighting, he’d make it. He is an extremely hard worker. He perseveres. And he has very, very, very high baseball intelligence. He knows the game within the game, and he knew it at an early age. He loves the game. He won’t give it up until someone takes the glove off his hand.”

Holm believed that one day he would be the right place at the right time. That’s how it worked.

Last spring, he was in the right place at the right time.

At the age of 28, on the last day of training camp, only two catchers were left on the Giants roster: Bengie Molina and him.

“Even so, I didn’t count on making the team,” Holm says. “I knew things can happen on the waiver wire, a trade, something. It didn’t sink in until Opening Day against the Dodgers.”

After six years in Single A and one in Double A, suddenly Holm was playing at AT&T Park in front of a ton of friends and family who drove down from Sacramento for most home games.

He peppered Molina with questions, sitting with him between innings to talk strategy. He had one thing going for him from all those years in the minors: He had caught almost all of the homegrown Giants pitchers. He caught Brian Wilson in 2005 in Low A Augusta and in Double A; Tim Lincecum in 2006 in San Jose; Matt Cain in Low A and A; Merkin Valdez in Low A, High A and Double A in 2005; Jonathan Sanchez in Augusta in 2005; and Kevin Correia in Salem in 2002.

As valuable as he was behind the plate as Molina’s backup, he struggled at the plate and was sent back and forth to Triple A through July and August and became the third catcher behind Pablo Sandoval and Molina through September. By season’s end, he had raised his batting average to .262.

With Sandoval playing third, Holm is likely to make the opening day roster again – a long way from those six long years in Single A. But Holm kept working – putting in hours upon hours in the off-season improving his throw to second, for instance – and the most amazing thing happened.

He grew up to be exactly what he dreamed.

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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.

A Set-Up Guy Who Does Stand-up

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Look for new Giants LH reliever Jeremy Affeldt to become “The Player Most Likely to Deliver the Most Quotable Quote on Any Topic at Any Moment.”

At the final “Inside the Clubhouse” chalk talk for season-ticket holders last night, Affeldt bantered with host Jon Miller and bullpen mates Bob Howry and Brian Wilson as if he were Denis Leary on Letterman.

If you haven’t seen him, he’s a good-looking, 6-foot-5-inch 29-year-old with a perpetual half-smile that brings to mind those boyish soldiers in old war movies who were always ready with a wisecrack. It turns out Affeldt’s father was, in fact, a bombardier in the Air Force in the final years of the Cold War, who, Affeldt says, would fly off suddenly in a B-52 from the base in Guam and then just as suddenly reappear, never saying where he had been.

When asked during the Q&A about the toughest hitter he faced, he said Garret Anderson of the Angels (though at the moment unsigned).

“He’s like 12 for 10 against me,” Affeldt joked. “He hit a ball so hard off me they gave him two hits.”

He said he has been known to be a little wild. He told of firing two fastballs against the backstop – and not with any intention of intimidating the hitter. “They were accidents. But it made the curve ball way more effective.”

Howry, who is 35, is quieter and more introverted than Affeldt and Wilson, but his two teammates and Jon Miller had him laughing so hard that he began telling tales on himself, too. During a high school game, after he had hit his fourth batter, the opposing coach stomped out to the umpire and demanded to know why he hadn’t tossed Howry out of the game.

“He’s having a good game,” Howry said the umpire replied. “I’ve seen him hit a lot more than that.”

When someone asked under what circumstances he shook off a catcher’s signs, Howry laughed. “Sometimes the catcher will signal for me to shake him off,” Howry said, “to make the batter think I have more than one pitch.”

While he was in town for the day, Howry checked out a condo across the street from the ballpark as a possible residence during the season. His wife and two children – ages 9 and 6 – will stay in Glendale, Arizona, and visit during long weekends and the summer.

Affeldt had a tougher time finding a place for his wife and 17-month-old son to live in the city. The challenge: their three-year-old, 90-pound mastiff, Kylie. They finally found a three-bedroom loft on Beale Street.

Affeldt is no stranger to SF. After living in Guam, the family moved to Merced, where Affeldt spent fifth through eighth grades. The family occasionally drove up to San Francisco to watch a Giants or A’s game or visit Fisherman’s Wharf. Affeldt spent his high school years in Spokane, where he married his high school sweetheart, Larisa, and recently built a home.

In other news:

Tim Lincecum was out at the ballpark on Monday and Tuesday. On Monday, he spent about two hours in an interview with writer Tim Keown for an upcoming story in ESPN Magazine. Tuesday he was photographed on the field by 2K Sports. He flew out to New York on Thursday for Sunday’s Cy Young dinner.

Before last night’s taping of Inside the Clubhouse-

Jeremy Affeldt:

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Bob Howry:

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Brian Wilson:

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Screenshots from MLB 2K9 courtesy of 2K Sports:

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