A Hopeful First Week

Examining the Giants fledgling 2006 Season.

For the second year in a row, the San Francisco Giants find themselves with a 4-2 record.

Last season, the club took an Opening Day victory from the Dodgers before losing two, then swept the Rockies in three sloppy contests that culminated in game-winning home runs by Marquis Grissom and Michael Tucker—both of whom have recently been banished to less the less felictous realms of retirement and unconditional release.

But then, this 2006 team feels both familiar and drastically different. The lineup resembles what it should have been, last year, with J.T. Snow and Grissom simply swapped out. But the revamped pitching staff is a long way indeed from the Kirk Rueters and Jason Christiansens of the previous April.

And here we Giants fans are, amid the jetwash of 87 losses, watching our beloved hometown team leap off to the same 4-2 mark. And each and every one of us feels better about our chances this time around: this is a stronger squad, both up and down the lineup and along the starting rotation.

Although the bullpen has been shaky, giving up eight runs in one inning to the Atlanta Braves on Friday night, there are some nasty arms in there. Jeremy Accardo and Jack Taschner, like chilled Jagermeister, will only get better with age, their electric stuff accentuated by Major League experience. (By the way, does anyone else blink when Jack-T hits 95 on the gun? What other recent S.F. lefties, besides the cherished and recently departed Scott Eyre, actually threw that hard?…And no, Shawn Estes—even the ten-cent-head 1997 version—does not a hard-throwing lefty make.)

I want to believe that all of this adds up to more than the presence of number 25 in the lineup. He’s 2-for-12, for godsake. Shouldn’t this stat, more than anything else, hint at the fact that the team just might be built to win without him—that if Mark Sweeny had gone 4-14 with a few walks we’d be in the exact same place?

Of course not. Barry Bonds is a sun god. All wins harvested in the greater San Francisco region are predicated upon his powers of rejuvenation and intimidation.

Regardless of better pitching, a solidified bench, and young crazies in the pen, it is Big Poppa’s return that instills hope for the coming 156 games. His limping swagger, defensive limitations, change-up addled strikeouts, and even television show are all part of this superstar’s bewildering, continuous presence in the hearts of Bay Area baseball fans who love (love!) the Giants.

Don’t get me wrong, I am personally filled with dread each time he swings or sprints. And if it’s possible for him to tweak a bad knee on a taken inside pitch, then my worrying isn’t too far off—and this could indeed be a very long year.

But the 2006 season, more than any other (on account of its proximity to his retirement), is Big Poppa’s to make or break. The home runs are on the way—they always are—and all we ask is that he keeps hobbling his way back into the lineup so that we have the chance to watch him jog, ever so slowly, around the bases these final few times.

And now for the weekly awards:

Meathead of the Week:
Oh Tyler Walker. It is never a good thing when your earned run average balloons into the neighborhood of Matt Cain’s legal age. You made this choice easy, walking three batters in a row to start the seventh inning of Friday night’s game—just after Moises Alou had slammed a dramatic, pinch-hit bomb to give the Giants the lead.

But that’s not why you are the first-crowned Meathead of the Week. Despite the 50-degree weather, despite lingering precipitation that caused nearly all of the fans to flee, despite only throwing 19 pitches—despite all this, you somehow managed to metamorphose into one of my Italian uncles.

You know, the guy who eats too much at the family holiday dinner and ends up standing against the screen door, sweating uncontrollably and complaining that someone must have turned the heat up on purpose, simply to spite him.

That guy. That’s how you looked—the guy who, even though it’s raining, still somehow seems to be sweating crazily. The Braves are not the kind of team to allow such an effort to go unpunished—in the same way the Cardinals could sense your over-exertion last summer, during that unspeakable game in St. Louis when you blew a four-run ninth-inning lead.

But I like how Felipe tossed you back in the mix on Sunday afternoon, how you faced one hitter, throwing three strikes and getting the out.

Atta boy. Just make sure to throw the next one at the mascot.

Baller of the Week:
After going 9-for-21 with two doubles, five runs scored, and five RBI’s, Omar Vizquel can now turn to Randy Winn in the on-deck circle before each game and say: “Take the bass line out. Uh huh, uh huh. Bounce with me.”

Like mega rapper Jay-Z, he is a baller, and as a result, is perfectly welcome to brag to his friends what he bought them.

Hitting in front of Barry Bonds—even two spots in front—is filled with perks, but this is not the reason Omar is currently blowing up. He is simply hot, nearly putting a ball in the stands this week, a feat that seems to come around as often as a Giants pennant.

Here’s hoping his current average of .429 evens out, by the end of the season, around the .295 range.

Honorable Baller Mention: Todd “The General” Greene. He went 2-for-5 in his first start, and if I were invading Los Angeles with an army of orange-clad Giants fans, I would definitely want this guy at the helm. He’s crazy. And I like it.

I’m looking forward to seeing more of The General this year—along with the rest of this club that, unlike the team from last year, will hopefully continue to get better before it gets worse.

Tim Denevi is a die-hard Giants fan. Please e-mail him with your opinion on any issue at denevi@hawaii.edu

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