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Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Franchise Episode 2 Recap: Hey Now, You're an All-Star

Posted By on Thu, Jul 21, 2011 at 8:19 AM

I've written before that The Franchise is not really a show for Giants fans. In theory, it's a way for Major League Baseball to introduce some of the game's personalities to a broader audience at a time when it's finding it difficult to market most of its players. In its basic conception, this series is going to cover a number of topics with which Giants fans are well acquainted.

That was the case during last week's official premiere, and it's likely to be an issue for the entire show. We'd better get used to it.

Still, there's a difference between covering familiar territory and rehashing the same storylines within the series itself. Unfortunately, last night's half-hour episode -- focusing almost entirely on the team's All-Stars -- tackled a few topics that were discussed in-depth in the previous week's offering.

Chief among those storylines was the heartwarming tale of Ryan Vogelsong, the starting pitcher who was released by the Phillies organization a few days after last season's All-Star Break and found himself in the Midsummer Classic itself last Tuesday. Last week, we heard from Vogelsong and his wife, Nicole, on their struggle traveling across the world while he followed his baseball dream. This week, we heard much of the same, albeit with some more details, including a look inside his home in San Francisco and the tough story of his father-in-law's heart attack and subsequent death over this offseason.

Vogelsong's story is unique, so spending more time with him never feels like a waste, nor does it sacrifice his likability. But digging deeper into his life doesn't necessarily make us feel we're learning more about the Giants. Throughout the Vogelsong parts of this episode, I just wondered why they hadn't covered this material last week when his story was first discussed.

The same goes for Pablo Sandoval, an always-ebullient presence who nevertheless gets a few minutes of screen time filled with little more than highlights and some quotes from others about how hot he's been at the plate over the past few weeks. As with Vogelsong, it's impossible to dislike the Panda, but talking about his greatness feels like something better fit for a Comcast Sports Net roundtable than for a national show with access that local producers would kill for. Why spend time looking at Sandoval's offseason workout routines for the third time in three episodes when we could see what a few other players do during the All-Star Break?

Showtime hangs out with Barry Zito during his few days off in L.A., but this again feels like a rehash of what we learned last week about the enigmatic pitcher's Zen mindset. Why not ask Madison Bumgarner about his love of cows or follow Pat Burrell as he exposes himself to college girls in the Marina? Surely there are interesting players beyond the core group we've followed so far.

Somewhat surprisingly, one of those untouched players was Brian Wilson, who gets a plurality of this episode's screen time after being a rare presence in the premiere. In a little more than a year, Wilson has become one of the country's most engaging and bizarre athletes, to the point where he's potentially the most recognizable baseball player after Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Ichiro Suzuki. Giants fans are obviously very familiar with his antics at this point, but that doesn't mean he's gotten boring. Wilson opens the episode with Stuart Smalley's old mirror incantation of "You're good enough, you're smart enough, and doggone it, people like you." Things only get weirder after that. Later on, he tells a teenager that he's "absolutely correct" to call him "the coolest guy in baseball," asks his fellow All-Stars if they have any smelling salts in the bullpen, and claims that the wears suits "made of yeti." It's all very entertaining. More importantly, though, Wilson also gives some explanation for his weirdness, claiming that because he plays a position that requires him to succeed wonderfully or fail terribly every time he comes into the game, he views all other social pressures as "mice nuts," i.e., insignificant. As he says, "I'm a pro baseball player in my 20s. I'm not going to walk around monotone like a robot." And, later, "Why shouldn't I enjoy myself the way I see fit?"

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Eric Freeman


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