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Catch It: Back in SF After Spring Training

BALL, GLOVEWelcome to CATCH IT! — Joe Castellano’s personal observations about what’s going on in the world of sports.

Spring Training 2016 for me was brief and hot, but special nonetheless.

The Giants players were relaxed and confident and why wouldn’t they be? High priced acquisitions Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija (Listen Here to Podcast with Samardzija) should pump life into a rotation that outside of Madison Bumgarner was subpar in 2015. Denard Span is the perfect lead-off man. Can he stay healthy IMG_HUNTER PENCE 2 FROM NOR CAL PHOTOthough? Can Hunter Pence have a healthy season? It didn’t start out well for Pence with achilles tendinitis right off the bat. It also was a bummer for Matt Cain to have minor surgery to remove a cyst before he could even throw in a spring game. How is Joe Panik’s back? Andrew Susac’s wrist? I saw Susac hit a bullet to left field for a homer. (Listen Here to Podcast with Cain and Susac). That’s a good sign.

As I was leaving Scottsdale Stadium on a 90-degree day last week I got to the centerfield bleacher area on my way to the parking lot. Suddenly I heard the PA announcer, “…now batting for the Giants, WILLIAMSONMac Williamson!” Ok, I’ve seen the kid in San Jose and briefly with San Francisco. Gotta watch this AB before I head to the airport. Well, Mac, I was getting nervous about making that flight. You had quite an AB. I couldn’t just watch one or two pitches. Had to see the whole drama play out. Nasty slider, he lays off, ball one. Blazing fastball, fouled straight back, one and one. Curve, taken outside ball two. Fastball in, and Mac lines a bullet to left field driving in a run. Nice job.

I made the flight fine despite the car rental being in a different zip code than the Phoenix Airport and long lines at security.

This time of year fans and media are making predictions and wondering who THE key player or players are on a team. “If Cain can bounce back that will be the difference,” I heard someone say. “The lineup is solid, this team is going to the World Series,” said another fan.

The talk of the spring were the great arms in the Giants pen. No more Jeremy Affeldt. Can the young fireballers like Josh Osich and Hunter Strickland handle the late game stress if Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla fade? What about this kid Ray Black who throws over 100 mph? Jake Smith anyone? He throws in the high 90’s. I saw them pitch in San Jose and it is highly entertaining. Even Javier Lopez told me he is fascinated by hearing the pop of the mitt when these guys warm up (Hear entire interview with Lopez on March 30).

I was walking out of the dentist office today in San Francisco and chatted briefly on an elevator with an elderly woman who was wearing a spring training 2012 shirt. Her kid used to go every year and got her a shirt every year. I told her I just got back from Scottsdale and it was great. As we opened our umbrellas to walk out into the rainy weather she said, “I knew in 2012 we were going to win every even year. This is the year again!” I said, “Yeah, no pressure.”

Crawford jerseyThis city has been awash in Warriors fever all winter and with good reason, but now it’s time for baseball too. After my encounter with the even year prognosticator I walked into Stonestown Galleria in San Francisco and there were Warriors and Giants shirts everywhere. They have a Giants Dugout store in the mall filled with Posey, Bumgarner and Crawford jerseys. Even a single Joe Panik jersey hung in the middle of the store. What, no Matt Duffy? (Listen Here to Podcast with Duffy and Posey) Don’t these people know that he’s going to be a regular guest on my Inside China Basin podcast? Soon enough they will be clicking on the new Duffman’s corner tab and hear him all season.

Later in the day, I stopped at a Starbucks in Union Square. Grande, black, iced tea. Unsweetened. I am such a creature of habit. Can’t wait to read my SF Chronicle to see what John Shea and Henry Shulman are writing today. I look around and everyone is on their phone. They must also be reading John and Henry online. This city isjohn shea hey podcasts obsessed with the Giants. Soon enough, the Shea Hey podcasts as part of Inside China Basin will begin again (Listen Here to 2015 Podcast with John Shea). In the meantime, if you aren’t enjoying the Sporting Green newspaper, I encourage you check out John’s columns: John Shea on SF Gate

One topic I’m looking forward to chatting with Shea about is the new rule regarding slides into second base. You already heard Posey talk about it being a good move to eliminate the unnecessary rolling block slides like we saw from Chase Utley of the Dodgers in the NL Division Series last season against the Mets.

I like the rule, but the additional elimination of the neighborhood play actually worries me. That was another way to protect these middle infielders and I think it was ok as long as they didn’t miss the bag by more than a couple of inches. Former Giants SS Rich Aurilia will give his views on the subject on Inside China Basin on Friday so don’t miss that podcast.

There goes a person on Sutter Street wearing a Giants cap. Opening Day can’t come soon enough for a lot of people.

But, as I’m about to leave Starbucks, another San Francisco native puts it all in perspective in a city that has so much going on. “I don’t follow the Giants,” she said. “How are they doing?”

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Artwork courtesy of: Suzie Armagost.