Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Giant sigh of relief

The signs of Spring are harder to miss this year. Maybe that's only because we just survived of our very first Washington state winter.

Who cares? It's here. And this time of year means one thing,

San Francisco Giants' position players today join the pitchers and catchers already working off the rust in Scottsdale.

Yep. "Next year" is almost here. Again. Though for the Giants, something feels different this time around... No Barry Bonds.

But what's really remarkable is how happy players and fans alike seem without him there. Not the media circus that surrounded him last year... Barry Bonds. And I say that as a guy who owns and faithfully wore the man's numbers on my back at every game.

I'd have to concur with one of the many longtime fans who have been calling in to KNBR lately to come clean:

"I don't even care how this team does," the man said. "For the first time in a long time, I can feel good about being a Giants fan."

"Yep. You won't feel like a trip to the men's room to wash your hands after that big round of applause, will ya?" agreed the show's host.

Just listen to those former teammates, who evidently feel like they've just been let out of prison:
"[Pitcher Barry] Zito told San Francisco reporters that a lot of players weren't 'comfortable in their own skin' around Bonds, including himself.

'I'm excited,' Zito said. 'People will be allowed to be who they want to be, not who they think they have to be because there is such a heavy presence in the clubhouse, such a superstar.'

Reliever Tyler Walker agreed that players often walked on eggshells around Bonds. He could break up a conversation or chill a room with a turn of his head.
Did any of us realize it was that bad? I didn't. But it explains a lot.

Thankfully, the younger, freer Giants are coalescing already around skipper Bruce Bochy's old school, dig-it-out, yes, military mindset.

"Like many of his teammates, [pitcherMatt] Cain began the day Thursday by slipping into a black-and-white-and-gray camouflage T-shirt with a saying on the back, in bold orange lettering, that reads, Warrior Spirit, Find the Swagger."

(Have I mentioned how much I like Bruce Bochy? This team draws an equal number of fans from the liberal Bay Area and conservative No Cal inlands. But Boch has more in common with the latter. Therefore, I dig.)

"It was a sartorial — and symbolic — departure from the T-shirts that were unveiled, to much fanfare, at Giants spring training last year. They were worn by pitcher Barry Zito, the team’s prized free-agent acquisition, and Bonds, its most popular — and polarizing — figure and read, 'Don’t ask me, ask Barry.' "

Or as the "good Barry" put it, in reference to the crazy-stringent drug testing now in effect:
“I think it’s good that everything’s getting cleansed right now in baseball,” he said. “You want to show kids that this game has integrity, that we have morals and rules that we abide by, and it’s not just about hitting home runs at whatever cost.”
Zito -- who has given time and raised a ton of money for the troops -- is another Red Stater you can't help but love. Seated at Bonds' old locker, he went on:

“I just want the team to feel cohesive and I felt like so much focus on the [Bonds home run] record last year took away from that,” Zito said.

“This year instead of it being us on Barry’s team, it’s just going to be our team.”

Hey, best of luck to Barry Bonds. Sincerely. I'm not throwing that jersey away anytime soon. But, Giants fans, this is how it's supposed to feel.

Now bring on the Dodgers.

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