Saturday, February 19, 2011

Spring's Hopes Eternal

Well, it's 60 degrees in February here in the Shenandoah Valley, and that's good enough for us. The temperature hasn't dropped below 40, even at night, for nearly a week, we washed the cars yesterday, the football season is safely in the rear-view mirror... and the San Francisco-- ahem, pardon me-- WORLD CHAMPION San Francisco Giants have a ballgame, a real honest-to-goodness ballgame, you know, the kind with bats and gloves and grass and uniforms and umpires and stuff-- yes, a baseball game scheduled for next Friday, six short days from now, in Arizona, against Arizona, not that that matters much.

Spring fever, anyone?

At first glance, a good number of the players arriving in Scottsdale look like pretty much the same bunch that celebrated on the field in north Texas last year. The Missing Man Formation will be flown in memory of Juan Uribe, gone to greener pastures. His putative replacement, in the lineup and in the field, is Miguel Tejada, who certainly ranks as one of the Proven Major League Veterans (PMLV) so especially beloved by our general manager (that's World Champion General Manager, to you) Brian Sabean.  But Tejada seems to be one of those PMLVs who arrive with a chip on his shoulder and Something To Prove, reminiscent of a couple fellows named Huff and Burrell from last year.

Over there is Cody Ross, last year's unlikeliest of heroes, who turned 30 in December and signed a one-year contract (that's ONE year, you Sabean-bashers) in January. The Invisible Man, Mark DeRosa, is back, says he's healthy, and will try to find a place to play. The newcomer we're most excited about is Conor Gillaspie, 12 years DeRosa's junior, who may also agitate the starting-lineup mix this season. And news reports say Pablo Sandoval has reported to camp in something less than an institutional-sized package, though we've yet to see pictures or attend the obligatory weigh-in.

Working stiffs have long tabbed Wednesday as "Hump Day". Well, over here in Zitoland, 2010 was "Hump Year," the fourth year of Barry Z's overly-indulgent seven-year deal. This year will be his fifth in the orange and black, and we retain our guarded optimism that the era of accumulating returns may continue. He was pretty darn good last year, which everyone forgets because he ended the season so poorly and Madison Bumgarner passed him like a greyhound on a molasses track. But let's keep a little perspective here; the Giants, remember, could've passed on Barry and given the same contract to Jason Schmidt!

Anyone else notice that Nick Noonan, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Ryan Vogelsong are all among the non-roster invitees to camp? Belt is the big name here; everyone seems to be excited about his chances to be the Giants' latest First Baseman of the Future (tm). Last year he hit at San Jose, hit some more at Double-A Richmond, and he hit at Fresno, too. He's 22 and, well, we all hope he's not the next John Bowker.  As for Noonan, back in 2007 or so we were hearing a lot about him; not so much lately after a .237 campaign in Double-A last year.  He's a year younger than Belt, so there's still time for him to grow. The other half of the "Brandon" tag team, Crawford, is already 24, though he's been in pro ball fewer years than Noonan. On the downside, he was hurt last year which contributed to his lousy numbers; on the up, he came out of the same draft as Gillaspie and Buster Posey, which leaves room for hope. But the name that caught our attention first and actually prompted this portion of the screed was Vogelsong's. Here's a dude who was a Giant prospect back in 1998, and three years later was the key to the Jason Schmidt trade. He never made it in the majors, winning a total of ten games in about seven years, and the story went that Sabean had unloaded him as damaged goods on the unsuspecting Pirates. Now 33, he's been out of the big show since 2006. While we hope all 22 of these NRIs do well and land a job somewhere, it'd be a treat if Vogelsong has enough left to catch on with the Giants and maybe contribute out of the bullpen down the stretch.

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