Results tagged ‘ Travis Ishikawa ’

Back in the Swing

When I arrived at the indoor batting cage earlier today, new Giants hitting coach Bam-Bam Meulens was feeding baseballs into a pitching machine, one after another, sending fastballs and curveballs hurtling toward John Bowker. Nate Schierholtz, one of Meulens’ other pupils, watched from a folding chair behind the plate, protected by netting that enclosed the space like a soft box.

“Good separation and balance,” Meulens said when Bowker crushed a pitch. “Nice.”

The two players were in shorts and T-shirts and drenched in sweat as they took turns at the plate. Bowker was working, at the moment, on letting the ball get deeper through the strike zone and hitting it to the opposite field. I knew they had arrived at 9 and assumed they had been hacking at balls most of the morning.

“Actually, we haven’t been in the cage all that long,” Schierholtz said.

Instead, it turns out, Meulens’ weeklong hitting clinic began this morning with one-on-one conversations with each player – Bowker and Schierholtz, plus Travis Ishikawa and minor-leaguer Brett Pill, who had already left by the time I arrived around 11:30.

Meulens is a big believer in understanding his players’ minds as well as their mechanics. He asked them how they felt their season went, where they thought they needed to improve, how they approach the game. He spent 45 minutes just with Ishikawa, trying to learn how he thinks and what he knows.

“All of that helps me to be a better teacher to them,” Meulens said later.

He wants to shift the attitude of players who blame their poor performance on not playing regularly. “The guy who writes out the lineup card doesn’t care if you need 300 at-bats to get comfortable,” he said. “Don’t complain about not playing enough. I want to eliminate that totally.”

And he wants to fine-tune their mental approach so they are prepared for every pitch in every at-bat. “That’s critical – you’ve got to have a plan to attack every pitcher. You have to know how he got you out before, or if you’ve had success, how he’s going to try to do different stuff.”

He’d like to see more of what the Giants did against Ubaldo Jimenez and the Rockies on September 15. Giants batters were instructed not to swing until they had a strike. Jimenez needed 38 pitches to get through the first inning and had thrown close to 90 pitches before he was pulled in the third inning.

“When you take pitches early in the game, you get to see what pitches are working for (the opposing pitcher) and which ones aren’t. And you let the guys behind you see more pitches,” he said.

Schierholtz leaves Tuesday for winter ball in Puerto Rico. On Saturday, Meulens will fly down to Venezuela with Bowker and Pill and get them settled onto their winter teams there. He’ll stop in Puerto Rico on the way home to check in on Schierholtz.

More soon.

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.

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 . . .

From the railroads to the farms to the baseball fields

An early highlight in Scottsdale is the bat of first-baseman Travis Ishikawa. He is only 25 and has just 65 days of major-league service under his belt, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more serious and mature player in the clubhouse. While others are texting and playing games on their hand-helds, Ishikawa is working a crossword puzzle. He’s quiet and methodical, a family man whose wife gave birth to their second child in September.

Maybe that’s why he fits in so well at the over-55 mobile home community where he’s living during spring training. His parents bought the place as a retirement residence, but both are still working in Seattle, where Ishikawa grew up.

“I like getting away from everything and having some quiet,” he says, sitting in the living room of the mobile home the other day. Outside, a golf cart putters past the white-pebble front lawns and cacti and the occasional gnome.

Ishikawa has come a long way in a year. Last spring, he was working out with the Double A-ers and now he’s the front runner for the starting job at first base.

“Until they tell me otherwise, that’s my spot,” he says. “If something happens and I’m on the bench, I’ll be the best left-handed hitter off the bench.”

Ishikawa is half Japanese on his father’s side. His great-grandparents came over from Japan to work on the railroads and settled in Chicago. During World War II, his grandparents were imprisoned in an internment camp in Colorado. They now are in their 90s and living in Southern California – where decades ago they owned and worked farmland before the freeways came through. Travis has never asked his grandparents about the internment camp.

“They never give you an opening to talk about it,” he says. “My father has never talked about it. I think it’s a cultural thing. There are some things you just don’t talk about.”

Travis never even knew his father had played much baseball until he was going through some old boxes in the attic. In one dusty box were newspaper clippings of Alan Ishikawa throwing a no-hitter and a one-hitter in high school.

Alan Ishikawa, a controller for a chain of Washington supermarkets, is 5 feet 8. His son is 6-3. Obviously, Travis didn’t get his size from his dad. But his paternal bloodlines seem to have passed down strength and resilience from the railroads and farms, and more than a little bit of baseball talent.

TravisIshikawa.jpg

Travis Ishikawa and his mom.jpg

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