Here is a link to my Wednesday column about Brandon Belt, hitting terror. The full text runs below:
SAN FRANCISCO – “It doesn’t suck to start off the season pretty good,” Brandon Belt philosophized after the Giants beat the Diamondbacks 7-3 in their home opener.
Belt’s non-sucking verbal construction referred to Belt himself, although the Giants, now 6-2, are doing pretty well themselves at not sucking. “I think I’ve struggled enough that I’ve figured some things out,” Belt said at his locker after the game, his locker which is next to Brandon Hicks’ locker which is next to Brandon Crawford’s locker. Call it Brandon Alley.
Belt came to the plate against Arizona’s Trevor Cahill with Angel Pagan on first and nobody out in the bottom of the first. Cahill used to be a very good pitcher but now he sucks — that all-purpose word again. On a 2-1 count, he threw a low inside fastball to Belt, to the exact zone Belt craves.
Belt’s antennae must have started twitching like mad when he saw that lovely pitch because he dropped his bat on the ball, scooped the ball right out of the low zone and gave it a high long glamorous ride to deep right-center field where it rose over the scoreboard like a jetliner taking off from SFO and flew into the dark green benches poised above McCovey Cove. It was what you call a shot, going downtown, going yard.
That was Belt’s fifth home run in eight games, tying him with Arizona’s Mark Trumbo for the big-league lead. Belt is the first Giant to hit five home runs in San Francisco’s first eight games since Jose Cruz Jr. in 2003.
Which means it’s a big deal. The Giants are hitting better — and with more power — than anyone expected. Belt is a big reason. Until this season, he was a good player but not really an important player on the Giants, not Buster Posey or Pablo Sandoval or Madison Bumgarner.
If the Giants were a movie, he was a supporting actor, the hero’s sidekick. We’re talking a beach blanket movie here. The Belt character would carry the Posey character’s towel and boogie board and the Posey character would ace him out for the beautiful beach girl and the Belt character was reduced to cheering for the hero even though the Belt character secretly loved the hero’s girlfriend but she hardly ever acknowledged him.
This season, Belt is fast becoming one of the stars. A leading man type. How did that happen?
Cut to Bruce Bochy after the game: “He’s gotten off to a great start. He was behind the eight ball previous years. He’d come off a great spring training and get off to a bad start. And he’d start battling the numbers. He doesn’t have to do that this year. Hopefully, that will help him relax a little more, which it has. He was a different hitter the second half (last season) and he’s carried that into the season. But really before the season started, he wasn’t swinging the bat all that well. He’s doing a nice job of helping carry us.”
As Bochy astutely mentioned, the change in Belt began the second half of last season and gave him a long runway into his great start this season. I quote from the Giants’ media guide: “Hit .346 (66-for-191) with seven HRs and 28 RBI following Aug. 1 … his .346 clip during this span was the third-highest mark in the NL.”
Don’t you just love notes like that? The word “clip” alone is worth at least a nickel, and it was indeed a very good clip Belt had at the end of 2013. And he’s still clipping along, batting .343 right now.
That’s what you call clippage.
A couple of things helped Belt become a clipper. He improved his balance in the batter’s box. I know that’s hardly thrilling, but it’s a fact. He also changed his grip, moved the bat more to his fingertips and relaxed his hands. So, if you try this at home — and please don’t hit balls in the living room — move the bat to your fingertips and expect a happier life.
“That’s what you’re hoping to see from these fellows,” Bochy said, “is growth and, certainly, he’s grown into a smarter hitter and more dangerous hitter.”
He’s also just plain changed. Let me explain. Belt was always available. You wanted to talk to a player, Belt was there. Like a puppy. Happy to oblige. Eager to please. You almost expected him to wag a tail. It was not star behavior. It was supporting actor behavior.
After his big game in the opener — two hits, two RBIs, two runs scored, the whopper homer — he took his time before addressing the media who hung around his locker like people with nowhere to go. Think Tom Cruise. Belt made the media wait something like 30 minutes while he stayed in the off-limits room doing whatever million-dollar ballplayers do in the off-limits room. One time, I’d like my own off-limits room baseball players aren’t allowed to enter.
Belt finally came out, walking slow, stopping to chat with a Giants’ public-relations guy, finally making it all the way to Brandon Alley and answering questions politely but not fervently, trying to be cordial but not trying to please.
All this new behavior is good. It means Belt has a sense of himself. Big stars require a sense of themselves, need the big ego to do big things on the field.
“You hang onto it as long as you can,” Belt said of his amazing start. He knows what it takes to get the girl. Finally.
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