Dozer, the Bulldog

Dozer, the Bulldog
Feeling the "Bern"

Ellie Mae

Ellie Mae
No time for gates...

Ollie Mac

Ollie Mac
My cooking assistant

Ollie and Annie

Ollie and Annie
Azorean grandmother


38 years on this mountain, come May 31st...



Papa and Ollie Mac

Papa and Ollie Mac
Priorities, Baby


Annie, my Sweetest of Apple Blossoms

My first portrait

My first portrait
"Mr. Farmer"

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Friday, February 28, 2014

Just Being Neighborly

Just Being Neighborly

Larry Baer raised a few eyebrows Wednesday, by hinting that the Giants may be willing to be downright neighborly to the Oakland A’s, by sharing AT&T Park for a spell, should the A’s get a new stadium project off the ground.  Just think of it as two good neighbors, chatting over the back fence.  Considering that the Giants protested loudly when the A’s tried recently to encroach on the Giants’ territorial rights, by relocating to San Jose, this comes as a surprise to me.

I like the idea even if it would be a logistical nightmare to implement.  I see no reason why the Giants and the A’s can’t be friends, at least officially.  I know why it’s easy to remain distant; I am, after all, I Giants fan.  And it’s not just 1989, though it could be.  No, losing to the A’s in the Big Show is just one of the reasons I do not like the A’s.  Hey, I hate green and yellow, I hate the fact that they seem to go postal winning meaningless spring games, and well, there’s that Series.

That being said, I do like the rivalry, I do think the A’s play a mean brand of baseball, and a lot of my personal friends are A’s fans, though I forgive them one and all.  They can’t help the way their moms dress them in the morning.  So therefore, I want the A’s to get a new stadium so that we can go head-to-head again on the greatest playing field of them all.

So, if the Giants and the A’s want to share a yard for a season or so, as the Mets and Yankees did back in 1974-75, then that’s all right with me.  Maybe if the two clubs had been getting along in 1989, the baseball gods would have done us all a favor and let us have a couple measly weeks in October, without having to get in the act by causing a gall-darn earthquake, and knocking us right off our game.  After all, who can be expected to play ball when the ground won’t stop shaking?

Another Day at the Office-A recap of the Giants/Brewers game, 2-28-14

Another Day at the Office

A San Francisco Giants split-squad defeated the Milwaukee Brewers today, 4-3, in Scottsdale, in a game that featured several bright spots for the Giants, and few telling negatives.  Both Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong pitched two scoreless innings apiece, each facing one batter over the minimum, while Ehire Adrianza continued his bid to snare an infield spot on the opening day roster, by hitting a triple in the third and going on to score on Angel Pagan’s sacrifice fly. 

Going into the bottom of the seventh, it was an uncharacteristically tight contest for a spring training game.  With only one walk surrendered by each side, it was a veritable pitching duel, with the Brewers sending four pitchers through their outings, while the Giants paraded five through their paces.  However, when Jose De La Torre started out the seventh, he walked Chris Dominguez, hit Mac Williamson with a pitch, and walked Mark Minicozzi, who got on base all three times he was up, including a solo home run to start the Giants’ scoring.  With the bases now loaded, Adrianza reached first on a fielding error by second baseman Eugenio Velez, with Dominguez scoring.  Gregor Blanco then flied out to center field, while Williamson scored the final Giants run.  

The Brewers made it interesting in the ninth, when they scored two off of George Kontos, the big hit, a run-scoring triple off the bat of Hector Gomez, with Matt Pagnozzi adding an RBI single.  Kevin Mattison popped out to end the threat, so ultimately, Kontos was able to dig himself out of his own predicament.

One of the highlights was the entry of Brett Bochy into the game in the fifth.  I find the theatrics of having a father/son tandem in the yard to be one of the most interesting subplots to this spring training.  Of course this is not Brett’s first big league camp, and that makes it even juicier.  How will this dynamic play out over the next couple of seasons?  How would Bochy Sr. handle his own kid?  Brett did provide one electric moment, but it was only a delivery of his that Caleb Gindl launched over the wall, hitting the screen which prevented it from leaving the building and landing in the next time zone practice field.

Another stellar point for me was hearing Jon Miller describe Madison Bumgarner’s pitches.  Unlike Sergio Romo on Wednesday, who stuck to fastballs and change-ups, avoiding his signature slider, Bumgarner was throwing cut fast balls, off-speed stuff, and breaking pitches, which tells me that he is ahead of his game.  Along the same lines, Ryan Vogelsong gave up an opening triple to Jeff Bianchi, and then proceeded to get out of the inning without further damage.

In terms of position battles, Tony Abreu went 0 for 3, hitting into a double play, while Ehire Adranza went 1 for 3, with a triple and a run-producing grounder.  Neither Tyler Colven, Gregor Blanco, nor Roger Kieschnick garnered a base hit among them.

It was actually an entertaining game with even a little tension at the end, especially when you consider it was a split-squad affair.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Pablo: Cause and Effect

Pablo: Cause and Effect
Pablo Sandoval flitted into camp this spring, a mere shadow of his former self, and got Giants fans flapping their jaws about the possibility of a contract extension, particularly if the grand event could take place before the season began.  After all, if the Giants management could take care of this piece of business in a timely manner, it would avoid the feeding frenzy at the trough, when Pablo actually tries his luck with the open market after season’s end.  If you do not think there are other teams out there that would love to sport the marketing angle of The Panda, then you have never watched a game, televised from AT&T Park.  Those aren’t Teddy Bear masks those fans are wearing.

Pablo has steadfastly refused to divulge the magic number, insisting that the media will be privy to this information when he officially weighs in at the end of spring training.  Judging from the smiling face of Bruce Bochy, though, I’d say the boss doesn’t really care.  Pablo, always quick and sure-handed at third, has a snappier first step and seems bound and determined to keep up his conditioning regimen.

To this effect, he has brought his trainer up from Venezuela, and maintains that he will continue to stay in shape, anticipating that there are those who will have long memories.   After sitting the 2010 World Series, Sandoval went on a similar tear, and came into spring training equally motivated.  Unfortunately, when the wheels came off the training cart, Pablo was right there to help himself.  Now he insists that it’s not his contract that he cares about, but his team.

Bochy doesn’t care about the politics of a contract extension; he cares about fielding a third baseman who does not resemble a beached whale.  It’s Brian Sabean who does not want to get grounded by a weight issue.  He knows that Pablo’s offensive production soared after he came into camp so light in 2011, that he hit .315, with 23 home runs.  Like the rest of us, he then watched as Pablo ponied up for only 26 dingers in the next two season combined.  Additionally, of the 138 games he started in 2013, he was removed for defensive purposes in the late innings, forty times.  Ach tung, Chucko!

So what’s it all add up to?  Do we really want to give up on the guy who hit three home runs in the opening game of the 2012 World Series, to beat the “best pitcher on the planet?”  When Justin Verlander went down, he took the Tigers with him.  The ship lost its sail, the Big Cat lost its roar, whatever.  And it was the Panda that accomplished this.  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s as simple as attaching a weight clause to his contract.  If he exceeds the prescribed number of pounds, then he sits, just like in the Series.

However, I firmly believe that the Giants should take care of business, and do it quickly.  After all, we saw how frustrated Pablo was during the 2010 World Series. This is obviously a case of cause and effect.  If he sees the connection between lingering at the dinner table and sitting on the bench, then we’re in business. If not, then the weight clause kicks in and he’ll be following Kruk’s advice to “grab some pine, Meat.”  

And that’s a real shame because bats aren’t made out of pine.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Store-Bought Never Cuts It

Store-Bought Never Cuts It

A lot of palaver this spring centers around the $220 million payroll that the Los Angeles Dodgers are unabashedly sporting, but as far as I’m concerned, and I’m paraphrasing here, it’s a lot of hot air that doesn’t mean squat.   I don’t mean that the Dodgers will not stand a chance because their team is store-bought; I simply mean that our guys stack up well, and the Giants did it the old-fashioned way by drafting and developing their future stars.

In his address to reporters this morning, Larry Baer emphasized that the Giants intend to continue to develop players within the organization, while selectively adding specific players, and that the disparity in payroll between the Dodgers and the Giants, is historically not that odd.  Only a short time ago the Giants were $30 million-$40 million ahead of the Dodgers in terms of payroll, and that was OK too; there is more than one way to craft a championship team.

The Dodgers have created a certain amount of Giants’ fan concern through their high-profile trades, stockpiling well-known brand names with imposing stats, and signing ace Klayton Kershaw for a boatload of loot.  They are playing for all the marbles.  But is it enough?  Will the players have each other’s back?  

The Giants, on the other hand, acquired half of their starting position players and four-fifths of their starting rotation, not to mention their closer, from within the organization and are also clearly going all-out for the title.  Brian Sabean has demonstrated a consistency during his tenure, of shoring up weak areas prior to the trade deadline.  Larry Baer indicated this morning that there was still wriggle-room for this to happen this season.

Two different outfits and two different methods of gittin’ er done, but one way would seem to make much better sense than the other, not only in terms of quality play but also in terms of bang-for-your-buck.  Producing home-grown products makes better sense because all teams are going to emphasize organizational-wide traits that mesh with their circumstances.  The Giants emphasize speed and defense, primarily because they play in a park which is spacious and unique.  Home run production is not as critical to the Orange and Black, because AT&T is just too big; better to seek hitters who can spray the ball around and let it find the gaps, than to hold your breath waiting for one to go over the wall.  That could be hazardous to your health.

Filling a roster through trades and free agent signings, works well on paper, but often only until the paper starts to shred.  Players arbitrarily brought together bring diverse personalities and mindsets to the field, and sometimes those players find it harder to get on the same page than management and fans would like.  Unhappiness abounds, fingers begin to point and it takes too long to fix.  Maybe a team gets it together and maybe it doesn’t.

No, when it comes to store-bought versus home-grown, I have to suggest that I am not the first to believe that home-grown’s always going to be better than store-bought.

The Same-Only Different

The Same-Only Different

Suppose MLB and the Players’ Union made a really cool new rule that would end horrific collisions at home plate.  Suppose that both sides agreed that this was the only correct thing to do and made sure the new rule went into effect just before Spring Training games began, so that all clubs could try it on for size before the new season opened up.  But suppose the new rule was really nothing more than window-dressing, and that when push comes to shove (literally), the new rule would get broken faster than Buster Posey’s ankle broke when Scott Cousins tried to score a run on May 25th, 2011, effectively ending the Giants’ hopes for a repeat title.

That’s my take on Rule 7.13, the just-enacted regulation designed to increase player safety, by more tightly governing specific players’ actions in plays at the plate.  Simplified, the new rule states that the runner may not run out of a direct line to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher or any other player protecting the plate, nor may the catcher or any other player in that role, block the runner before he has possession of the ball.  On paper it all sounds so jolly, I’m sure it’s going to work out grand.  Runners will waltz nimbly past home plate while catchers set the table for tea and crumpets.

The reality is nothing much has changed: The catcher may still block the plate if he has the ball, and the runner may still initiate contact with the catcher, in an effort to dislodge the ball and score a run, if the catcher blocks the plate.  In other words, it’s the same only different.  Collisions-both planned and unplanned-will still take place, and when you have two highly trained athletes colliding at any speed, you are going to encounter the possibility of injury.  So when all the song and dance has petered out, what we have left is a weak-sauce effort to placate those who would continue to water down baseball to the point where it is politically polished and everyone leaves with a smile.

Please do not mistake my cynicism for disagreement with the idea of trying to prevent serious injury.  I was as devastated as any Giants fan (and any true baseball fan) the day Buster went down.  However, enacting a rule such as 7.13 is not going to prevent that from happening again; the only thing it guarantees is that MLB and the players’ union are dead set against players getting hurt, and well, sure that’s a good thing.  But If baseball wants to avoid collisions at the plate, then it should outlaw collisions at the plate, by making the ball dead, in the event such a collision should take place, and sending the runner back to third.  Or better still, eject the party deemed guilty and move on.

But the reality is that spilt milk happens and collisions will result.  When the late innings arrive in a taut duel between top-notch competitive pitchers, and the runner has a chance to score the game-winning run by adjusting his angle at the plate, while the catcher has to make a split-second decision on whether the ball will actually arrive before the runner, and the whole thing is left up to the discretion of the umpire, then I think Rule 7.13 is going to have about as much effect as the vendor in the stands hollering, “Beer, Here!” except maybe the fans in the stands get to quench their thirst.  Because the runner is still going to go all out, and hope that something happens along the line that will give his side the lead, and the catcher is going to do everything he can to stop it, even if it results in a collision, Rule 7.13 or not.

And when that prevailing sentiment ceases to dominate baseball, we’ll all put away our bats and gloves and take up tiddlywinks, and try not to hurt one another by winking too hard. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Orange and Black Angle

The Orange and Black Angle

A few weeks back I wrote and posted a piece called “Free SixPack, Anyone?” which briefly detailed a plan to launch a publishing effort on cyberspace, because I had more than a hundred “short stories.”  It was a start, I figured.  Part of the process required that I seek feedback and I put out an appeal for friends to read six of my pieces and tell me what they thought.

Almost universally, everyone said the stories were too short.  I needed to fill in more details, possibly give more background, and flesh out some personalities, all of which would be a mere formality.  I would get a lot of enjoyment out of that process, because the hard work of providing a situation, with a conflict, is already done.  But it requires time, and time is at a premium right now.  Sure it would be easy to do one or two, and then keep on plugging away, but it would be far easier to sit down and do a bunch in a short period of time.  And I can’t do that now.

I spend most of my time gainfully employed, albeit I get to decide how much time I work and what those hours are.  It’s all rather delicious to be able to call a few shots like that in my old age.  The fact that my employment requires that I sit, means that I can curb a little of that wear and tear on my body that carpentry creates, provided that I walk each day the way I have for so many years.

So I tabled the SIxPack plan and continued to write the occasional piece, working and biding my time.  A week ago, my third son asked me if I had seen the post on FaceBook from Around the Horn, looking for writers to submit articles about the Giants.  Around the Horn, like Nation Orange, is a cyber publication about everything Giants.  I like it because it links the reader immediately to other sites with both breaking news and ongoing analysis of Spring Training.

I applied for the slot and submitted past pieces of writing, and got the non-paying “job.”  When I got that piece of information, I also received a set of instructions that would prepare me to post my work online.  When I went to check this most recent component out, I found the tech elements to be beyond my ken.  I informed Danny of this fact.  Danny was the first link between me and fansided, the name of the outfit which coordinates all of the 252 different sports cyber-space publications.  Fansided covers all sports, in all cities, from all angles.  My angle is colored orange and black.

My first [and only] thought concerning the tech stuff, was to contact Jackie, the tech guru who has been guiding me in the cyber-space effort from the start last December.  But I knew the earliest I could hook up with Jackie was a couple of weeks down the line.  So that would not help at the moment.

Danny passed my name and application onto one of the editors at Around the Foghorn, a woman named Melissa, who welcomed me and gave me some pertinent background.  When I repeated to her the part about my tech shortcomings, she pushed my misgivings aside, and said not to worry about it for the moment: She would handle the tech.  And she did.  

Less than an hour after I attached my inaugural piece off to Melissa, it was up and running, and she had sent me an email to that effect.  I was so dazzled!  I was further amazed the following morning to be scrolling down FaceBook, when I saw a post from Nation Orange, touting an article that “was bound to get you excited about Spring Training.”  When I went to Nation Orange, there was my article.  It had been linked from Around the Horn to Nation Orange.  And I did not have anything to do with it.  I was very stoked.

It had all happened so quickly that I was having a hard time taking it all in.  Of all the ways to get a foot in the door of the publishing world, writing about the Giants would have been the last on my list.  That’s not because I don’t like it-I am passionate about it.  It’s not that I don’t know the subject-I absorb Giants’ information the way Brandon Crawford’s glove absorbs batted balls.  It’s not that I am horrible at it-I’m good at it.  Not profound, but entertaining, at least.  The crux of the matter is that I have always simply believed there were so many men and women who are already doing this, or waiting in line, that I would never stand a chance.

And it wouldn’t have occurred to me to try, if it weren’t for that post on FaceBook, that Lito pointed my way.  It’s no big deal, you know.  Ferris Wheel and all that stuff.  But it’s fun and it’s lightweight, and I enjoy doing it.  So we’ll see where this will go.  From short-short stories, to Giant(s) stories, it’s all good with me.  I just like to write. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Make it a Twofer

Make it a Twofer

Good pitching beats good hitting” goes the time-worn axiom and the San Francisco Giants are the proof.  They go into Spring Training with the same Big Three that have accompanied them into the postseason, two of the last four World Series, and we all know how that worked out.  But do you remember that of the eight Series victories, four were shutouts?  Pure Dominance.

Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner are the Big Three, with Ryan Vogelsong and newcomer [to the Giants] Tim Hudson rounding out the starting five, averaging 32 years of age.  Each member of this staff has demonstrated his superior pitching ability for extended periods, and as do all great competitors, they feed off of each other.  This allows the Giants to accomplish feats such as not only sweeping the LA Dodgers June 25-27, 2012, but shutting them out in the process.  Pure Dominance.

Amongst these five reside the following credentials: 

*  twelve All-Star appearances (Lincecum: 4, Cain: 3, Hudson: 3, and Bumgarner and Vogelsong: one each) 
  • seven World Series rings (2 each: Cain, Lincecum and Bumgarner; Vogelsong) 
*  three consecutive shutouts from June 26-28th, 2012 (Vogelsong, Lincecum, and Bumgarner; four in a row if you include Zito’s gem)
*  three World Series shutouts (Cain, Vogelsong, and Bumgarner)
*  two Cy Young Awards (Lincecum) 
*  one twenty-game winner (Hudson)  
*  one no-hitter (Lincecum) 
*  one postseason pitching performance which includes a 2-0 record and 21.1 innings with a 0.00 ERA (Cain)    
  • one career that includes more than 200 MLB victories (Hudson)  
  • one Perfect Game (Cain) 
  • one staff capable of delivering Pure Dominance.

These starting five combine to form an elite unit, whose skills complement the unique configuration of AT&T Park.  Pitchers salivate over the thought of pitching in a spacious yard, where the opposition swings freely.  There are a lot of fly-ball outs at AT&T Park, many of them being collared in Triples Alley by either Angel Pagan or Hunter Pence.  Players find it discouraging to hit a ball nearly 420 feet and come up empty.  Kind of like, well, being mugged in an alley.

Known as The Horse, Matt Cain went on the disabled list this past season for the first time, not because he hurt himself pitching, but because he got struck by a batted ball on his pitching arm.  Cain has that taciturn Southern demeanor, along with the work ethic of a farmer and his actions make him a natural leader.  Yes, he would like to forget that game early last season, on April 7th, when he gave up nine runs in the third inning to the Cardinals, but it also helps to explain why his ERA was higher than 4 for the first time since 2006.  He leads the team on and off the field, a man of integrity and strength, whose face has represented his team well.  He’s the longest tenured Giant for a reason.

Madison Bumgarner is the pitcher I would most like to see get the Opening Day nod from Bruce Bochy because that would mean we would likely see him go head-to-head with the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw all season long.  That would transport me right back to watching Sandy Koufax pitch against Juan Marichal, from the newly constructed Chavez Ravine, in the sixties, regardless of which team I was rooting for back in those SoCal days of long ago.  

Like Cain, MadBum is a Southerner and has that ice water-in-his-veins quality, which has allowed him to assume the role as the team ace.  He was the most consistent Giants pitcher last season, establishing career-best marks for ERA (2.77); strikeouts (199); and WHIP (1.03), while compiling a 13-9 record in 201.1 innings.  His WHIP (walks/hits per inning pitched) of 1.03 was the lowest recorded by a Giant since Carl Hubbell in 1933, and Bumgarner is still learning the game.  During the 2012 season Madison allowed 27 successful stolen base attempts.  In 2013?  Eight.

Tim Lincecum would do well to install a similar stolen base system that would sound the alarm; he’s one of the worst at holding on the runners.  This skill, along with an overall transition from power pitcher to pitch specialist, is what the Giants’ Brass hopes to see Tim Hudson provide for Timmy.  
Lincecum has that magical quality of being able to handle the pressure.  His ability to morph into a reliever for the 2012 World Series was mythical.  Brilliant pitchers do not fade away, not at age thirty.  I am intensely interested in how this California-like free spirit does this season.  I’ve never watched anyone like him.

Ryan Vogelsong rejoined the Giants in 2011, becoming the warm and fuzzy story of the year by making the All-Star Team.  He won 13 and 14 games his first two seasons back with the club.  Then came last year, in which he went 4-6, with a 5.73 ERA, during an injury-shortened season.  He is reported to have come into camp this year determined to not forget how frustrating last year was.  The Vogelsong that I think of has the best game face going since Will Clark’s Nuschler Look.  Vogelsong has always pitched as though he’s got a chip on his shoulder; it just seems as though the chip has turned into an ax, as in having one to grind.  Maybe Vogelsong can start with the Dodgers: they need to have their momentum dulled.

Finally, Tim Hudson, currently the winningest pitcher in the bigs with 205 victories, has joined the starting rotation, and will pitch provided his injured ankle responds the way he expects.  He is said to have reported no pain on the mound this spring so far and only marginal discomfort when moving from side to side.  It’s no secret that the Giants hope he and Timmy Lincecum bond.  Hudson won at least 12 games in the National League each season between 2004-07.  He had Tommy John surgery in 2009, but as recently as 2012,  went 16-7, with a 3.62 ERA.  Hudson has never had a season where he lost more games than he won and the Giants couldn’t be happier to have acquired him.  If it ends up that he can help Timmy out and get him to adapt away from being a power pitcher, then that would make it a twofer.

Last year was a mystery to the Giants and they could not find the key.  So many of the players got thrown off their routine by participating in the World Baseball Classic, that it was hard not to blame the preseason tournament for the disappointing 2013 baseball season.  But that old locksmith, Brian Sabean, has been out searching for a couple of good keys and he just may have found one in Tim Hudson.  If so, look for the Giants to unlock the door to the playoffs and make another run at the prize.  It would be a shame to waste all of that Pure Dominance.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

I Hear Them Knocking

I Hear Them Knocking

The San Francisco Giants assembled in Arizona Tuesday, on the heels of the announcement that Brandon Belt had reached an agreement for a one-year deal, thus avoiding arbitration.  No muss-no fuss.  It’s the way the Giants like to do business and it promotes the image of team/management harmony, though nothing works quite as effectively as winning the World Series.

Are the Giants in a position to make another bid?  Would seeing MadBum pitch against Kershaw all season rock?  Of course the Giants are in line to make another run at the title.  That being said, having the talent and the drive are great and it’s nice to have perseverance and experience also, but the reality is, much will be determined by the level of play of division rivals LA and Arizona.  The Giants will have to rise to the highest level and cannot wait for the playoffs to do so.  

To accomplish this Brian Sabean has done well to assemble a close-knit starting eight.  This [extended] offseason has fostered much flux, with almost no player reporting unchanged, and that is always a good sign.  A team needs to recognize vulnerabilities and work to strengthen them, and the way to do that is to ask each player to do a self-examination and make necessary adjustments.  It starts at the top.

Gerald Dempsey “Buster” Posey III is the cornerstone of the Giants team.  Since his arrival in May of 2010, the Giants have won two titles and competed with the best, including taking the season series last year from the Dodgers, despite having a 76-86 record.  Buster struggled the second half of last season, possibly trying to do too much to keep the ship afloat.  During the offseason he has been hitting the weight room and has added ten pounds of bulk to his upper frame, in an effort to be able to better meet the rigors of a 162-plus game season.  Buster is too essential to have to bear the brunt by himself.

That’s why Brandon Belt is next on the list.  Belt represents the pure power/strength of the team.  Last summer, after coming under pressure from Giants hitting instructor Hensley Meulens to change his batting grip, Belt did two things: he adjusted his grip so as to align the knocking knuckles of his two hands, and he changed his grip on the bat so as to rely more on his fingers and less on his palms, giving him more flexibility.  

If you bend your fingers so that the tips touch your palm, the knocking knuckles are those which come to a point and are used to knock on a door.  Gripping the bat with the hands placed so that the knuckles of both hands are aligned, gives many hitters more clout, and Belt has proven it does just that for him.  Belt was also asked to change his location in the box, moving farther back, so as to have more time to see and react to the incoming pitch.  I think back to that game against the Dodgers last September 15th, when Brandon had five hits in six at-bats, with six RBI’s.  That’s what I’m saying/talking about.  Oh, the Giants won a squeaker that day, 19-3, at Dodger Stadium.

Marco Scutaro is the Pro from Dover.  He is 38 and being paid handsomely to provide the kind of veteran experience that he did during the last two months of the 2012 season, when the Giants cruised to the division lead, with Scutaro leading the charge and later being named NLCS MVP.  Because he had back issues all of the 2013 season, in addition to being hit in the pinkie by a pitched ball, Scutaro worked during the offseason to strengthen his core muscles, which he figured would help his back.  He has been frustrated by slow progress with his back but understands the need to go into Spring Training slowly, so as to have a better chance at being ready for the season opener.  We need Marco’s leadership.

Brandon Crawford, the defensive specialist, spent the offseason working out at the Giants’ training facility with Matt Cain, Sergio Romo and others.  They were able to work with their strength and conditioning coach along with the trainer.  Crawford is already in an elite class, defensively, and is only going to get better offensively.  Besides, no matter how many runs he scores-or doesn’t score-he will save many more with his glove.  Crawford anchors a defense known more for its spectacular feats, than for the more mundane, but equally important, day-to-day play, which is why God invented Spring Training.  

Much has been written about Pablo Sandoval and his weight-reduction program.  I am happy to see that the Panda recognizes the sense of coming into camp in top shape, on the eve of a contract year.  Cynicism aside, it bodes well for the Giants that Pablo should be hungry for some offensive success.  Like Crawford, Sandoval’s defensive prowess is not in question, especially in a slimmed-down form.  We need the Panda to lead on the field, as well as in the clubhouse.

In right field, we have Hunter “Preacher” Pence, he of the recently signed mega-contract.  There is no one who deserves that kind of recognition more than Pence, the one guy I always think back to as being the catalyst for that gritty comeback effort against the baseball universe, that led to the 2012 Crown.  With his well-documented heath-conscious diet and his effervescent demeanor, he’s the guy who keeps the rest of the team loose-and focused-at the same time.

In center field Angel Pagan is back after an offseason that included plenty of stretching exercises and agility drills to keep his legs limber, plus evidence he had spent time in the weight room.  When asked about his arms being noticeably thicker, he responded, “I was working on getting a little stronger without losing my game, which is speed, because you lose a lot of weight in Spring Training, so I wanted to add enough gas in the tank to get through the season.”  He went on to say, “I knew everybody was going to come in shape because we’re a winning team and we have to get back to that attitude...Last year happened, we learned from it, and we don’t want to go through it again...”  Because Pagan provides much of the spark, batting at the top of the order, this don’t-let-it-happen-again mentality is crucial and will help keep the team on track.

Finally, there is the newest starter, Michael Morse.  He came close to attaining a role in the World Series a couple of years while with the Nationals; now he is famished for a return trip.  He has good credentials in terms of power, and he fits in well with a lineup that is consistently balanced and just needs him to do his share.  My concern is more with his defensive skills, which are said to be adequate, but I have no reason to think he will not be able to do the job.  Spring Training will present a clearer picture.  He actually took infield with the other first basemen on the first full day of workouts, an indication that Bruce Bochy would like to be able to employ him in that position.  It’s just one more cog in that flexible machine that Bochy keeps tuned so well.  

From Buster through Morse, the Giants have a unique combination of ability, experience and hunger.  They don’t have to be number one in home runs, as we found out by their being last in 2012; they have to play heads-up ball, take advantage of their ballpark’s strengths and give their pitchers top-notch defense. With our pitching, our playoff experience and our fan support, the Giants will be the last team any other will want to face in the playoffs.  That works for me.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Five Easy Questions

Five Easy Questions

I read the five questions posed by the Chron on the morning spring training opened for San Francisco Giants pitchers and catchers, and compared them to my five.  The only one that I liked was the one inquiring as to Brandon Belt’s ascension into stardom.  I was not so much intrigued by Belt’s star capacity as I was about that new alignment of his hands on the bat, and the ramifications of an entire season of Belt, well, belting the ball consistently around-and out of-AT&T Park. 

So my question, after watching Belt display periods of greatness and then fidgeting while he flails at that inside pitch, is can he achieve the consistency necessary for success?  Realigning his hands proved instrumental in August and September; I’d like to see his stats after a full season.  This is critical for the Giants because they have been holding first base open for Brandon for quite some time now.  

My second question is, why are the Giants pitchers not given more respect than they are?  The general consensus seems to be that, except for Madison, the rest are on the down-side of their careers.  My experience has been that good pitchers get better and great pitchers adapt so that their game remains competitive.  Matt Cain has the character and work ethic to be a leader on any team, despite his ERA burgeoning to above 4 this past season.  We don’t call him the Horse for nothing.  Madison Bumgarner has been an ace since he joined the staff in 2010 and will not surprise me if he contends for the Cy Young Award.  I wish he were the Giants pitcher going head to head with Kershaw, but that will not happen unless MadBum nets the Opening Day nod from Bochy.  Hold that thought.

Tim Lincecum has been struggling during his transition from power pitcher to craft-specialist, so that’s where Tim Hudson comes in.  It would seem natural to see the two working together because they have opposed each other in the past and have reciprocal respect already in place.  Hudson has always been a force to be reckoned with, going back to his days on the A’s.  And with Ryan Vogelsong, I have to assume that the rigors of participating in the Baseball Classic before last season proved too much and that a full offseason will allow him to report rested to resume his slot in the rotation.  

Most importantly, the Giants staff has proven-twice-that it has the skill and the moxie to rise head and shoulders above the rest and win on baseball’s penultimate stage.  So much of playing at peak performance involves confidence and nothing breeds confidence like success.

The third question involves Mike Morse, the newly acquired left fielder, but unlike everyone else, who seems to be worried about offensive production, I am a little worried about his defense.  At the plate, I think Morse will do fine if he does not fixate on the home run.  Defensively, though, especially when compared and contrasted with Blanco, Morse may leave something to be desired.  On the other hand, Morse is joining a cohesive, talented group and he doesn’t have to do it all on his own.  All he has to do is contribute his share.

Fourth, will Sergio Romo be able to maintain his durability and therefore his success from last season?  Sergio was the only Giant to not land on the disabled list after playing in the Baseball Classic.  It may be that one of the youngsters, Heath Hembree, proves ready for action as the season progresses, and can provide support to help batten down the closer slot.

The fifth seems the easiest: Are the Giants good enough to win it all again?  The key word is “again”; our guys have done this before.  With the heart of the Giants back behind the plate, an experienced pitching staff, and the proven leadership of Bochy and Sabean, the answer is yes.  As in 2010, when the Padres provided fierce competition to help the Giants hone their skills, so this year will the Dodgers (and D-backs) provide the necessary competition to propel the Giants into the World Series again.  It being an even year and all, I like our chances.  I like them a lot.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Fellowship Street: Pot-Walloping

Fellowship Street:

I do a lot of pot-walloping and generally speaking do not mind.  This was one of Robert’s favorite expressions, as in, “Who are the pot-wallopers, tonight?” in preparation for addressing some concern of his in the kitchen.  “Front and center!” he’d bellow, while the lucky two scuttled forth and waited expectantly-and silently-for his imperial instructions.  Pointing at the skillets on the stove, he’d intone, “Make sure this grease does not go down the drain, because if it does, you’ll wish it hadn’t.  Bring me my tea,” and he would ascend the two steps into the short hallway, and on through to the dining room and into the front room, where he would sprawl on either the sofa or the recliner, depending on the era, while a kid, usually JT, took off his boots.

My era of pot-walloping interest follows a long and rich history of same in our household.  Prior to being drafted into the rotation, I remember the great pot-walloping elimination tournament, held by Robert over a now-forgotten period of time, the purpose of which was to pare down the number of available dish-washers from three to two.  So over a period of a month or two, Eric, Brian and Noel each competed with one another, so that Robert could evaluate which one did the best job.  The prize was that the person who did the best job no longer had to do the dishes.  To this day, I believe there must have been more to the story, especially amazing because Noel won the competition.  

By the time I came along, JT and I were paired up for a week at a time, and we worked two weeks out of three, getting a week off every third week.  As systems go, it wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t horrible either, as we did get one-third of the time off from the evening dishes.

Now JT and I were still fairly good buds, at this point in time, so we worked together companionably enough most of the time.  There were two roles: one of us washed and the other dried and put away, along with the accompanying tasks like clearing the table, and sweeping the floor.  So one of us was chained to the sink, while the other could, if appropriately motivated, flit back and forth from the kitchen to the living room for some TV action on the side.

If I were washing, it drove me nuts, simply because it meant JT was getting over.  If I had to be in the kitchen, then so should she.  We’d play this competitive thing called “I kept you supplied all the way through the dishes,” meaning that I could wash them fast enough to keep something in the dish rack at all times.  I do not think this contributed to the overall quality of the job, but it did get us out of there lickety-split, most of the time.

Still, washing dishes for eleven was not a light-weight operation.  Even if the counter were perfectly cleaned off before dinner was cooked, there was still a lot to clean up.  But if the lunch dishes were still there, or if there was just a lot of prep work, there could be a staggeringly huge mess to clean up.  I remember this one particular occasion vividly.

It was one of those never-ending sagas, when I had been slaving for what seemed hours, but was probably about ninety minutes or so.  Most of the dishes had been put away and I was slogging over the pots, pans and serving bowls.  What might take me five minutes to scrub would only take JT about two seconds to put away.

Pauline was sitting in Robert’s head-of-the-table seat, working on paperwork of some sort.  As always, she had the little portable radio right over her head, tuned in to KPOL, easy listening adult music, and the bane of my existence.  Try as I might, I could never get her to agree to KRLA.  The best I could ever get from her was an admission that just maybe, she might admit to liking the Beatles’ “Let’s All Get Up and Dance to a Tune That Was a Hit Before Your Mother Was Born, Though She Was Born a Long Time Ago...” off of the White Album.

This particular night I had been toiling for an eternity, whining about it even longer, and Pauline had been amazingly supportive, acknowledging that there had been quite a mess.  Agonizingly, the job dragged on, probably fueled by the fact that there was something on the tube that was especially appealing, like a Monday night of Rowan and Martin Laugh-In.  In desperation I attacked this serving bowl that had contained something that had subsequently turned into cement, like mashed potatoes, or something.  

Water was being splashed about, suds were flying and I was getting to the breaking point, when suddenly, as I was transferring the wet bowl to the rack, it slipped and fell to the tiled floor, breaking into a thousand shards, and leaving me on the brink of desperation.  But first, I had to face the music.  Turning to Mama, whom I expected to be furious, I was shocked to see her-if anything-amused.

“Am I in big trouble?” I asked.

“No, you’re not in trouble.  As a matter of fact, I was going to say that if you were going to drop the darn thing, you probably should have done it before you washed it.”

She shocked me to the core of my being.