Here is a link to my Thursday column about Pablo Sandoval. The full text appears below:
Pablo Sandoval was listening to Marco Scutaro from a distance. It was the first day of full-team workouts for the Giants and it was 8:30 Wednesday morning and Marco Scutaro was presiding. Master of ceremonies.
He was telling a story in Spanish to 12 — count them — Latin players and they all would burst out laughing at his punch lines. Sandoval was not involved. His locker is off by itself in the middle of the room and he was texting. But he was observing. Listening. In it, but not in it.
Sometimes, Sandoval would laugh and fire something back at Scutaro in Spanish and then he’d lapse into his own world. Sandoval lives in a world of his own making. He is an irreplaceable Giant, but he carries a lonely burden and the burden is about doing his duty.
His duty was to get in shape, is to stay in shape. When he walked around last year with a gut and could not field his position or get around on certain pitchers, he was derelict in his duty even though he is a nice man and jokes with his teammates. The Giants do not need him to joke and laugh. They need him to dominate games.
After a while, I walked over to Sandoval who sat in a chair at his locker. I was with Erwin Higueros from the Giants public relations department because my Spanish is weak and Erwin would facilitate the conversation between Sandoval and me.
“Are you a different hitter now than when you first started?” I asked.
“I do it the same way,” Sandoval said in English, without waiting for Erwin to translate. “I no change anything that I was doing before. I’ve been the same hitter.”
“Do you have a certain style of hitting?”
He stared at me and I wasn’t sure he understood. “Do you like to hit low,” I said. “Do you like to hit high?”
A big grin took hold of his face. “I love to hit anything anywhere,” he said. He understood me and he was answering in English. He came down on the word “love” with love. He laughed a full body laugh, what you call a hearty laugh. Love was in the air.
We continued in English, his English better than my Spanish.
“You enjoy hitting,” I said.
“I do. It’s my favorite part of the game.”
“Do you like hitting more lefty or righty?”
“What do you like about hitting?”
For the first time, Erwin had to translate my question into Spanish. Sandoval answered right away in English. “It is the best time of the game when you grab a bat and you swing the bat. It’s the most important thing in baseball.”
Lots of assumptions in that sentence. That grabbing a bat is the best time of baseball — it clearly is for Sandoval. That batting is the most important part of baseball.
I thought about all that but I didn’t say anything. What I said was, “When you hit a home run, do you smile?”
“I always smile.” He smiled.
We kept going in English.
“It makes you happy?”
“Yeah. For sure.”
“Do you talk to yourself in the batter’s box?”
“Yes, I always talk to myself.”
“What do you say?”
“Try to get a good pitch that I can drive the ball.”
“You say it out loud?”
“I say it to me.”
“If you swing at a pitch and miss, do you say anything to yourself?”
“Yeah, I get mad.”
“What do you say?”
“I say bad things.” And he laughed the Sandoval laugh.
“When you speak to yourself at the plate, do you speak in English or Spanish?”
“Do you like to be a third baseman? Do you like catching a ball?”
“Yeah, I do. I love to play third base.”
“You have very soft hands.”
I looked at Erwin. “How do you say soft?
“Manos suaves,” Erwin and Sandoval said at the same time. Soft hands.
“You agree?” I asked Sandoval.
“Yeah, I agree.”
“Is it fun to catch a ball?”
“Not too fun.”
We had been speaking English, but I thought I heard wrong. “What did he say?” I asked Erwin.
“It’s not too fun,” Sandoval repeated in English as Erwin said it.
“Is fielding ‘más dificil’?” I said.
“Yeah, it is.”
“You also have a rocket arm. Do you like to throw the ball?”
He eyeballed me. He had been nice and now his look said something like, ‘Let’s not screw around here. I just love to hit.’”
After I recovered myself, I said, “You look muy guapo (very handsome, smart, bold, dashing).”
“Gracias,” he said.
“You’ve lost a lot of weight.” He nodded his head. “Am I allowed to ask how much weight you’ve lost?” He understood me. He shook his head. “No,” he said.
“Mucho?” I said.
“I want to feel good.”
“Do you feel good?”
“Yeah, I do.”
I wanted to ask if he feels better about himself now that he’s lost weight. I didn’t know how to ask that psychological question in Spanish. Erwin spoke to Sandoval in Spanish. Sandoval listened. “I do,” he said in English.
“Do you feel proud?” And then I said proud in Spanish. “Orgulloso.”
“Yes, I am orgulloso because I get to my goal.”
Later, he looked like an athlete fielding groundballs, made fine backhand grabs on screaming grounders. And he ripped the ball in batting practice. When he was done, he changed at his locker, took off his sweaty T-shirt. He had no gut, the stomach flat, strong, trained.
Every reason to feel muy orgulloso.
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