watch: We Got Barry.' Now the overriding message is, 'Come watch:
Needless to say, it hasn't worked out that way -- despite the team's effort to, in effect, ride Barry as far as he would take them and then, when he grew to be a liability, derive what energy it could by burning his corpse. Not that no one is watching the games -- the team is on pace to draw nearly 2.8 million fans this year and that's not chump change. But they ain' t there to watch plucky kids like Kevin Frandsen or Eugenio Velez, as likable as those two may be. Fans have been heading to the park to watch transcendent pitching from Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum -- and to take in at-bats from the man-child they call "Little Panda," Pablo Sandoval.
Sandoval, a roly-poly 5-foot-11, 246 pound (he says) infielder embodies almost everything we love about baseball -- both tangibly and intangibly. You can review all of his many skills and crunch all the numbers, but, when it comes down to it, there are some players who are exciting and some who aren't. Some players make you stop what you're doing and watch the game. Some players make you call anyone within earshot -- even Europeans who don't know a damn thing about baseball and are rather pleased with that setup -- to come watch this man hit. There are some players that truly allow fans to vicariously feel joy. Sandoval is just such a man -- and that's what the Giants need.
Perhaps the underlying reason Sandoval is such a fan favorite -- apart from his prodigious talent and boyish enthusiasm (he's just 22) -- is that he's the epitome of baseball's idiosyncratic nature. Here we have a man whose physique is more befitting that of a piano mover or beer deliveryman than what many would consider an "athlete." And yet, put him in a baggy jersey, give him a wooden club, and fire a spherical projectile his way at 97 miles per hour and it's apparent he was to the diamond born.
Sandoval's numbers -- he's got his average up around .330 and, if he keeps up this pace, would drive in around 90 runs and pop 20 homers -- belie the drama of his at-bats. There may be a more flowery way of putting it, but he just hits the ball so goddamned hard. Like any ballplayer, he fails far more often than he succeeds -- but it almost feels like a surprise. His amazing natural skill in the batter's box -- even by professional standards -- has perhaps reinforced bad habits when it comes to pitch selection; he's only on pace to walk around 30 times this year. But, again, the man is 22. These are the kinds of things that could be gleaned with age and wisdom. Giants fans know well what a patient slugger can do.
In any event, it's hard to think of another Giants hitter who makes you think, "I want to go to the park and wach him play" or "Ssssh! Look who's up!" Sorry ad wizards -- folks don't flock to the ballpark to watch nice guys. You know where nice guys finish. Folks fork over money to be amazed. Sandoval has the makings of both a great player -- and an amazing one. Let's hope things turn out that way. You know the team does.