The San Francisco Giants had their home opener of the 2016 season today. The team came through Sacramento last week and was making the transition from spring training to a 162-game season.
Hunter Pence couldn't wait. He says spring training's "weird."
"I like this saying. I don't know who said it," Pence says. "It was like Wade Boggs maybe who talked of the cocoon of baseball when you get in rhythm of the season and you get settled in and with the travel and everything. So, right now, it's like that awkward stage where we gotta do all sorts of luncheons and tons of stuff outside of the baseball game that you gotta really work hard to keep your concentration and your focus ready."
Pence has been oft-injured as have several other Giants over the last couple of years. He says health is obviously a key to a successful season, but he downplayed the significance of his health to the team.
"We need our guys healthy, we need (catcher) Buster (Posey) healthy, we need Craw (second baseman Brandon Crawford), we need (first baseman Brandon) Belt — we need these guys in," Pence says. "If we can keep everyone healthy, you feel really good about your chances with the talent that we have, all the pitchers -(Madison) Bumgarner, all these guys. So, that's why I think this has been a tremendously successful spring training. I think getting everyone ready to rock and I think people are swinging the bats good. The pitching staff is ready to get going."
Pitcher Matt Cain is trying to make a return from an injury or two and is very appreciative of being back in the Bay Area and the cooler weather compared to Arizona where balls have a tendency to fly out of the ballpark.
"Come up here and get out of the Arizona desert and get into some more realistic playing situations with, where the ball isn't just flying out everywhere," Cain says. "A little bit cooler weather is always good to get into."
Every club hopes they can go on long winning streaks and keep losing streaks to a minimum. Cain says he thinks this team might be one of those.
"You're gonna go through patches where the season is rough and I think that's where the group of guys that we have will be a benefit for us because we aren't worried about that, we're not panicked about that; guys will get through it and grind through 'em and make them — the low spots — as short as possible," Cain says.
One of the guys maybe helping the Giants with some long winning streaks is Buster Posey. The All-Star catcher talked a little bit about transitioning from rookie to vet.
"I don't know. It doesn't seem like it was that long ago," Posey says. "So, I guess I don't look at it that way necessarily. Just trying to get ready for the season and be available if somebody needs me."
I asked about transitioning from catcher to first baseman.
Q:"Any idea what your percentage is going to be playing catcher and first this year? About the same as last year or do you know?
A: "I'm not sure."
Q:What would you like?
A:"Whatever the skipper wants."
One of the guys Posey will be catching is Hunter Strickland. He talked a little bit about becoming more familiar and more comfortable in the big leagues.
"Yeah, I'm definitely more comfortable. But, I try to look at it the same way is I'm go out there to win a job and to compete and that's all I can really control. So, to go out there have fun, try to fine-tune my pitches and just get better."
And, finally, we talked with bullpen coach Mark Gardner and talked a little bit about ... everything.
Q: "So, how do they look?"
A: "I think we're rounding into shape. We got a little bit of a slow start by some of the guys. But, I think most everybody is caught up and looking forward to the start of the season.
Q: "Some has been made of stats for this guy or that guy. How much do stats in spring training have to do with anything? Do they really give an indication of how a guy's doing?"
A:"No, I don't think so. These guys have been around long enough to know what it takes to get ready. And that's all we really look into is arm strength and the pitchers have come into shape and being able to throw strikes and stamina and being able to throw 100 pitches when they leave camp and pretty much, everybody's there.
Q: "And what are you focused on?"
A: "I'm just focusing on our guys being ready when the bell rings. You know, we're very cautious the first week with guys. We don't want to put a big load on them. But we definitely are pleased with what's going on."
Q: "Chance to just out of the corner of your eye to check out the teams at least in the division? The landscape's changed significantly just in the last couple of weeks."
A: "Well, it's definitely going to be a tough race, probably going to come down to the last week again and a lot of the teams have improved themselves and so have we. So, it's gonna be a tough fight and probably the team that stays the healthiest the longer is gonna end up the winner of the division."
Q: "There's a lot made of the Giants winning the World Series every two years. Does that actually help in an even year? Does anybody take any kind of "Hey this is our year" feel from that sort of talk even though it may not be based in any kind of reality whatsoever?"
A: "I think it can. I think it can help motivating the club and especially the fans. They get into it. You know, we try to win it every year. It's just worked out that way. Last year, when we broke camp, we thought we had a good chance of winning the World Series last year. Every year, we set up the team and the guys — we have a good core of guys who are well-motivated to win the World Series every year."
Q: "Who are the guys that really stir the drink, who really make this team go."
A: "I think the Giants have done a great job keeping the core together, you know, the Crawfords, the Poseys. It's consistency and it's guys being able to follow the lead. So when we have new guys come on board, there's a pattern. There's something to follow and I think the Giants have done a great job keeping a lot of those guys around for the last few years. Hunter Pence, guys like that really lead the way and not always by saying something, but just by example."
The Giants' home opener was as follows: Posey had three hits. Pence had a grand-slam home run. Hunter Strickland pitched a scoreless ninth inning. They won 12-6 over the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers.