Results tagged ‘ Willie Mays ’

Kieschnick excels, execution lags, legends reunite

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It wasn’t a regular-season Giants-Dodgers game, but rookie right fielder Roger Kieschnick sensed that he probably made a lot of fans happy on Monday.

With the score tied 2-2 in the 10th inning, Kieschnick cleanly fielded Angel Berroa’s single and made a strong, one-hop throw home that retired Ronnie Belliard, who was trying to score from second base. In the bottom of the inning, Kieschnick drilled a leadoff single and was replaced by pinch-runner Francisco Peguero, who scored on Ryan Rohlinger’s long single to right field to give the Giants a 3-2 victory.

Kieschnick, who excelled for San Francisco’s Class A San Jose affiliate last year, caught a whiff of hostility when the younger Giants would confront the Dodgers’ California League representatives, the Inland Empire 66ers. “They hated us just as much as anything,” Kieschnick said. “You definitely got a sense of the rivalry.”

Kieschnick, who’ll probably begin the season at Double-A Richmond, said that he was fully prepared mentally to handle Berroa’s single and Belliard’s fruitless dash home. “That play goes over and over in your mind before it happens,” he said.

*****

The Giants went hitless in their first five at-bats with runners on third base and less than two out, which didn’t please manager Bruce Bochy. “Our execution wasn’t very good today,” he said.

Example: Eugenio Velez grounded out to first base on the first pitch with runners on second and third and one out in the second inning. “He was too aggressive,” Bochy said. Noting that Velez hacked at a breaking ball from Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley, Bochy added, “We have to do a little better job of pitch selection there.”

Velez atoned in the fourth inning by dumping a two-out RBI single to center field following John Bowker’s triple off Clayton Kershaw.

*****

Many “you-had-to-be-there” moments are often not worth retelling. But since this involved two Giants legends, I’ll give it a try.

Willie McCovey, who needs no introduction, arrived on the scene Monday for his annual Spring Training visit. McCovey was beginning to leave the training complex, walking slowly on his crutches. Then he suddenly made a U-turn and headed for the Giants’ clubhouse, where Willie Mays — who also needs no introduction — was seated at his usual perch.

McCovey entered the clubhouse and headed directly for Mays. “Hey, Buck!” McCovey called, addressing Mays by the nickname he went by in his playing days. “Where’s my book?” Mays, whose recently released biography is soaring on the best-seller lists, laughed as 1,181 home runs shook hands.

*****

The Giants’ shortage of first basemen worsened as Aubrey Huff remained home with an illness. Kevin Frandsen, who played 17 games at first base last season for Triple-A Fresno, started and played six innings capably. Buster Posey appeared in his second game in a row at first base, though he later switched to catcher.

Travis Ishikawa, recovering from torn ligaments in his left foot, took batting practice on the field for the first time. But Bochy wasn’t certain when Ishikawa, who had been expected to back up Huff, will be ready to play. Meanwhile, Frandsen, Posey, Matt Downs and Brett Pill will play first whenever Huff rests or is unavailable.

Mark DeRosa, who tested his surgically repaired left wrist by swinging off Minor League pitchers Sunday, felt fine and should play his first exhibition game Tuesday or Wednesday.

– Chris Haft

The Man (Willie Mays) arrives

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Willie Mays’ presence is just as powerful as it was when he stood in the batter’s box.

Baseball’s greatest living player made his first appearance of the spring at San Francisco’s camp Monday and immediately commanded awe upon entering the clubhouse. You simply have to appreciate being in the same room with a genuine legend — particularly one as lively as Mays, who loudly greeted visitors.

Veterans such as Todd Wellemeyer, Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa, who had never seen Mays in the flesh, simply stared at the man. Players who previously had met Mays, such as Aaron Rowand and Kevin Frandsen, gleefully shook hands with him. Now the spring can begin, right?

Two rookies were especially intrepid. Outfielders Darren Ford and Thomas Neal, who hope to achieve a fraction of what Mays did as a Giant from 1951-72, sat for more than an hour with the Hall of Famer, absorbing advice — as well as some good-natured abuse.

Ford is 24 years old and has never played above Class A. Mays unabashedly recited some of the accomplishments he had piled up at the Major League level by the time he reached that age. Ford, perhaps the fastest player in the Giants organization, mentioned that he had won a stolen-base title; Mays reminded everyone within earshot that he led the National League in thefts four years in a row from 1956-59. “Then I quit,” Mays said, meaning that he ceased concentrating on stolen bases and focused more on slugging.

This was a you-had-to-be-there scene. Any comparison between Mays and Ford is certainly unfair. But Mays made all of this sound playful, not mean and condescending. The smile never left Ford’s face. Toward the conclusion of his visit, Neal and Ford had their fielding gloves on, listening to Mays — a 12-time Gold Glove Award winner — share secrets of his defensive excellence.

Roger Angell, one of the finest baseball writers ever, once wrote of Mays, perhaps the best all-around player ever, “The leader is still leading.” That was in a 1971 article. Some 39 years later, it’s still true.

– Chris Haft
 

Randy Winn: An appreciation

Randy Winn wouldn’t care if he ever spoke to the media. That doesn’t mean he dislikes reporters. It’s just that he doesn’t crave attention.

But when anybody with a camera, microphone or notebook approached Winn during his four-and-a-half seasons with the Giants, he was cordial at the very least, thoughtful and engaging at his best and always — ALWAYS — accommodating. The phrase “no comment” didn’t exist in his vocabulary.

That’s part of the beauty of Randy Winn. While he surely appreciates the glory of being a Major Leaguer, he doesn’t coat himself in it. Beating his chest and declaring, “Look at me!” isn’t part of the job description for him. Rather, beating the other team is what it’s all about.

Unlike Bengie Molina, Winn wasn’t bound for a surprise return to San Francisco. Winn’s two home runs in 597 plate appearances during 2009 doomed him with the Giants, who were bent on upgrading their offense. His departure essentially became official Wednesday with the all-but-finalized news of his agreement on a one-year contract with the New York Yankees.

Yet Winn merits a final salute as he leaves San Francisco. The man was, and is, a complete professional. Winn delivered a consistent effort whether he was thriving or slumping, healthy or in pain. By driving himself to excel in all facets of the game — he’s an excellent baserunner and a polished, underrated outfielder — Winn separated himself from the sorry plethora of ballplayers who almost seem to refuse to improve themselves.

Body language says a lot about an athlete. That’s by definition, since they make their living with their bodies. Winn always carried himself like a U.S. Marine — focused, proud, intent on his impending tasks. It follows that a Marine veteran who’s one of my regular e-mail pen pals named Winn as his favorite all-time Giant. The earnest diligence Winn exuded impressed this man to no end.

Winn maintained that attitude behind closed doors. Some guys slouch or shuffle through the clubhouse; Winn held his head high, leveled his gaze, maintained an even stride and almost never limped, despite sustaining painful leg ailments (which was the only subject he refused to discuss). One exception occurred when Winn noticed a group of reporters and began hobbling, trying to trick us into seizing upon fake news.

Indeed, Winn had a healthy sense of humor. It showed in his feigned disdain for the “Good Guy Award,” given annually by reporters covering the team to the player whose cooperation is especially valued. This two-, three-year running gag between us and Winn ended last September when we voted him Good Guy for 2009. He clearly deserved it, and he seemed genuinely pleased.

Remember the familiar yet too-seldom-heard saying, “As good a ballplayer as he is, he’s an even better person”? Winn could be president of that club — along with Rich Aurilia and Dave Roberts, two other veterans who recently became ex-Giants. How fitting that they became known among the Giants as the “Rat Pack,” a nod to the famed entertainment troika of Frank Sinatra-Dean Martin-Sammy Davis Jr. How sobering, though San Francisco’s clubhouse remains filled with truly decent men, that they’re all gone.

One of Winn’s classiest acts occurred early this offseason. During a November conditioning camp held for Minor Leaguers at AT&T Park, the Giants supplemented the physical regimen by bringing in speakers to motivate and educate the prospects. Guests included J.T. Snow, general manager Brian Sabean and even Willie Mays.

Another speaker was Winn, who was about to plunge into free agency and thus wasn’t technically a Giant. Yet he felt compelled to share some of the wisdom he had accumulated through 12 big league seasons. His message focused on the importance of being a good teammate.

That’s the essence of Randy Winn.

The Yankees will quickly learn how lucky they are to have Winn in their midst. His professionalism will enhance the Yankees’ aura as reigning World Champions. They’ll cherish his ability to play all three outfield positions and his other diverse skills. On that club, any offense he provides will be a bonus.

Winn will be free to go about his business while the ravenous New York media descends on Derek Jeter, CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez and other Yankees stars.

But when reporters need to speak to Winn, he’ll answer any question they have.

Now we know it’s baseball season: Mays is here

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Giants were graced Monday by the arrival of Willie Howard Mays, who needs no introduction.

Mays appeared in camp to begin his annual visit. As is often the case, he avoided giving formal interviews, though he reversed roles by eagerly quizzing reporters about Giants players.

Mays, who continues to revel in the company of ballplayers, welcomed shortstop Edgar Renteria to the Giants and chatted animatedly with left fielder Fred Lewis and infielder Emmanuel Burriss.

– Chris Haft

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