Results tagged ‘ Matt Cain ’
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:
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 . . .
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.