Results tagged ‘ Randy Johnson ’

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.)

What We Saw in Johnsons 300th

When I watched Randy Johnson win his 300th on Thursday, I wished my 18-year-old son had watched with me. He’s not a baseball fan, so he never watches (although he makes the occasional trip to AT&T Park with me, mostly for the garlic fries and churros).

But I wished he had watched Randy Johnson yesterday because he would have seen a 6-foot-10-inch example of the quality that I believe will determine his success in life: Perseverance.

We tell our kids all the time to work hard and keep trying. We know, because we’ve learned the hard way, that the only thing in life you really have control over is your effort. You can’t control the results. You can only control how much work and energy you put into something.
 
Randy Johnson is 45 years old, an age when almost every other baseball player is buying longer belts and telling stories about the old days to the local Rotary Club. Johnson no longer has the fastball that made him the most ferocious pitcher of his generation. Yet he won his 300th game this week because he put in the work necessary to overhaul his pitching style.

It couldn’t have been easy. You do something a certain way your whole life, then your body — or your financial circumstances, or your divorce or your downsized job — no longer allows it. You either give up or go through the uncomfortable process of learning a different way. I wanted to show that to my son.
 
Instead, I watched it without him. And I saw something about perseverance I had never fully understood. Even though Johnson shared credit with all his teammates over the years, he alone had to decide each winter to get out of bed every morning and put his middle-aged body through grueling workouts instead of hitting the golf course. He alone had to be willing to risk failure by trotting out to the mound for one more season, then another, when the safe move would have been to wave his cap and accept the applause and start writing his speech for the Hall of Fame.

Perseverance is an individual decision. My son, like each of us, has to choose it on his own. But I wonder if perseverance sometimes seems like an old-fashioned concept because we so rarely get to see what it looks like. Thursday, with Randy Johnson on the mound, we did. 
 

Old Roomies Reunited

When Randy Johnson shows up in the Giants clubhouse this spring, he’ll be reunited with his roommate from 21 years ago – bullpen coach Mark Gardner.

Mark and his late wife Lori moved into the spare bedroom in Johnson’s apartment when Gardner was called up to Montreal’s Triple A club in Indianapolis halfway through the 1988 season. They already knew each other from college – Johnson pitched for USC, Gardner for Fresno State – and from playing in the summer league in Anchorage and then both signed with the Expos in 1985.

“If I had to bet on him in 1985 winning the Cy Young, I wouldn’t have put a nickel on him,” Gardner said by phone from his home near Fresno.

He threw hard but didn’t know how to pitch, Gardner said. He was easily rattled.

“To his credit, he did what he had to do,” Gardner said. “He worked on his weaknesses, developing all the skills a pitcher needs beyond just throwing hard.”

Johnson was a hard rocker type, Gardner preferred country music. But the two hit it off. They would barbecue and hang out at the pool. Johnson sometimes would go shopping at the mall with Lori if Mark was pitching that day.

Johnson was called up to the majors late in the season then was traded to Seattle the following spring.

“We really were never together again,” Gardner said.

He said he hasn’t talked with Johnson since he signed with the Giants but looks forward to catching up next month when pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

“From when I first saw him, he’s come a long way,” Gardner said. “He’ll be great for our young guys, someone they can look up to. They can watch how he gets batters out even when he doesn’t have his best stuff. Someone like Lincecum can learn a lot about how to pitch, how to control and work his fastball. He can see that if he stays healthy he might pitch until he’s 45.”

Lincecum will be among the Giants players, coaches, broadcasters and alumni at the KNBR 680/Giants Winter FanFest at AT&T Park on Saturday, February 7, from 10:00 to 3:00 p.m.

If you’re down in San Jose, you can catch the Giants on Thursday

February 5, from 4:30 to 7:00 p.m. for a meet and greet at the Britannia Arms before the Sharks vs. Hurricanes game at HP Pavilion at 7:30 p.m. This sounds like fun. Sharks fans will “face off” with some of their favorite Giants at The Downtown Brit, which is located at 173 W. Santa Clara Street in the San Pedro Square district of downtown San Jose. 

Giants players and coaches, including Lincecum, new comers Jeremy Affeldt and Bob Howry, Brian Wilson, Barry Zito, Fred Lewis, Emmanuel Burriss, Kevin Frandsen and others will be on hand to sign autographs, pose for photos and meet their South Bay fans. Giants media partners NBC Bay Area and CSN Bay Area will cover the event, and the team’s Single-A affiliate, the San Jose Giants will also be on hand.

Giants players and coaches will attend the Sharks vs. Hurricanes game at 7:30 p.m., where Lincecum will drop the “first puck” immediately prior to the start of the game.
   
Hope to see you there.

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