On a drizzly, dreary night little more than three years ago, the
Giants announced they were severing ties with Barry Bonds. They
were among the dregs of the National League, 20 games out first
place, a team trapped between its past and its future.
A future you couldn’t have seen from that night arrived Sunday
By Gary Peterson
On a drizzly, dreary night little more than three years ago, the Giants announced they were severing ties with Barry Bonds. They were among the dregs of the National League, 20 games out first place, a team trapped between its past and its future.
A future you couldn’t have seen from that night arrived Sunday afternoon. Closer Brian Wilson blew a fastball past San Diego’s Will Venable. Rookie catcher Buster Posey tossed his mask aside and charged the mound. A sellout crowd of 42,822 created a wall of white noise.
And the Giants won their first division championship in seven years.
Though it may not have seemed that way in real time, the rebuild was quick by baseball standards. And as far as Wilson is concerned, it was an inevitability.
“I was in Triple-A (in 2007),” said Wilson, who spent part of 2006 with the Giants and returned to the majors for good in August of ’07. “Playing with all the guys who are here right now who were on that Triple-A team, we knew what we had. We had a bunch of talent. If we could get a couple key guys in the lineup, get a couple key guys in the bullpen, we were pretty much going to be a powerhouse here.”
That part of the future is to be determined. But there is no denying the Giants are a fully functional team, with a certain amount of power, a modicum of speed and a bullpen bursting at the seams with live arms.
“And our starting pitching,” Wilson said. “We’re the team to beat right now.”
Wilson spoke from inside a frat room of a clubhouse, the ceiling dripping with two parts champagne, one part light beer. It was crammed with players, coaches, team officials, media, wives, girlfriends, children, guys wearing Mardi Gras hats, tourists looking for the Cliff House. Put it this way: If you weren’t in the inner sanctum, you weren’t trying.
It wasn’t a haven for personal space, and it smelled as if one stray spark would ignite the room like a tureen of Cherries Jubilee. But it also reeked of a community vibe, a shared experience.
“They wanted to do it for the fans and the community,” Giants managing partner Bill Neukom said of the players, “and they did it. They did it.”
Neukom took over for Peter Magowan shortly after Bonds was cut loose. He spoke of developing a “Giants way” of doing things. That “way” was already under way.
Under the direction of general manager Brian Sabean, the man discussion board hystericals love to barbecue, the Giants already had drafted Wilson, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner and Sergio Romo, and signed Pablo Sandoval as an amateur free agent. Posey soon would follow.
Over the past couple years the Giants have augmented that homegrown talent with discriminating acquisitions, both offseason (Aubrey Huff, Jeremy Affeldt, Juan Uribe) and in-season (Freddy Sanchez, Ramon Ramirez, Javier Lopez, Pat Burrell).
It’s an interesting combination of character and characters. They seem accessible. They look like they’re having fun.
“We have a ridiculous amount of personalities,” Wilson said. “Everybody has their own intricate part in what we call our team.”
So different from 2007. Necessarily so.
“In the past we lived and died with one superstar player,” Sabean said. “There aren’t any superstars on this team. There might be a couple rising stars, but our organization is built on pitching.
“I can’t say enough for our scouts and player development people, especially Dick Tidrow. And quite frankly I’ve got to thank Peter Magowan and even Bill Neukom for keeping me around for two tours of duty. A lot of organizations wouldn’t have allowed us to soldier on and have some continuity; they allowed us to soldier on, and they were proven right.”
Wilson wasn’t the only one who sensed it coming from three years away. Manager Bruce Bochy had a feeling as well.
“I felt like we had a good foundation, some good young players coming up,” he said. “I felt like we were close. I thought last year was big. We had a good year, we were kind of in it. It was good experience for them to get a taste. We didn’t get the meal, but this year we got it.”
They gorged themselves in the minutes after Wilson’s final pitch. They hugged, slipped into commemorative T-shirts, even took a celebratory lap around the field. As they did, the voices of the Black Eyed Peas poured out of the stadium speakers:
“Tonight’s gonna be a good night. Tonight’s gonna be a good, good night.”