Giants' Belt arrives in Fresno with 'clear head'


Giants' Belt arrives in Fresno with 'clear head'

April 25, 2011

When a player is sent down from the big leagues, he has 72 hours to report to his new minor-league team.High-profile prospect Brandon Belt, bounced from the bigs before the Giants took on the host Rockies on Wednesday in Colorado, took full advantage of the rule and is glad that he did."I think it helped taking a few days off so I could clear my head," Belt told Monday morning from Fresno via cell phone.Told by San Francisco skipper Bruce Bochy on his 23rd birthday that his .192 batting average through 17 games had earned him a trip to Triple-A Fresno, Belt decided slow down the whirlwind that has been his life.
Since tearing through the Giants' system last season, he was sent to the prestigious Arizona Fall League and helped the Scottsdale Scorpion win the AFL championship, got married during the offseason, reported to big-league camp as the Next Best Thing, and displaced incumbent first baseman Aubrey Huff as the starter for Opening Day against the Dodgers.Just as quickly, he fell into a slump that prompted the demotion. It was time to take a step back and breathe.So instead of rushing to Tucson, Ariz., where the Fresno Grizzlies were wrapping up a road trip with games Thursday and Friday, Belt took a pass and took his time. After spending Thursday getting settled in for what he hopes is a short-term stay in the San Joaquin Valley, he made his way over to the Grizzlies' Chukchansi Park for a low-key round of batting practice as Fresno Pacific infield coach Matt Souza and Central High skipper Brad Fontes took turns firing away at the phenom.Belt's goals? "Start from the basics and getting my swing right," he said. So far, so good. In his 2011 debut for Fresno, Belt on Saturday started in left field, batted in the cleanup spot and crushed a two-out, two-run homer in his first at-bat.The pitch he hit? Pretty much the same one that sent him to Fresno in the first place. It was an inside fastball thrown by Micah Owings, who has more than 60 big-league starts on his resume."You don't make it to the big leagues as fast as he did if you can't hit the inside fastball," Grizzlies manager Steve Decker told the Fresno Bee. "He can hit it. He's just got to know when to look for it."Belt, already known for his tremendous plate discipline, had worked the count full before his home run off Owings, and he walked later in the game.
On Sunday, he was moved up to the No. 3 spot in the order and dropped an RBI double just inside the right-field line in the first inning. He added an RBI single later and entered Monday's home game against the Reno Aces having gone 3-for-7 with four RBIs since that birthday bummer with Bochy."I'm doing all right," Belt said.In addition to the adjustments that Belt is trying to make at the plate, he's adjusting back to life in the outfield. Decker said that Belt, who saw all of his playing time with the Giants at first base while Huff endured some early struggles in the outfield, said Belt will play only a game or two a week at first base while fellow prospect Brett Pill, who was batting .385 through Sunday, and Travis Ishikawa, who hit a grand slam Sunday to help boost his average to .236, share the rest of the time at the position.That's fine with Belt, who mostly played first base and pitched at the University of Texas but spent plenty of time in the outfield before matriculating to Austin, Tex. Once he gets used to reading balls off the bat again, he figures, it'll be like riding a bike."I don't feel too bad out there," Belt said. "Obviously there's a few kinks I need to sort out, but so far it's going pretty well. The last time I played out there regularly was in high school."

Report: Shanahan 'almost certain' to accept 49ers' offer

Report: Shanahan 'almost certain' to accept 49ers' offer

Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is reportedly “almost certain” to accept the 49ers’ offer to become head coach.

Shanahan is the lone remaining candidate among the six individuals who interviewed with 49ers executives Jed York and Paraag Marathe. The 49ers plan for a second interview with Shanahan and a job offer, a source told Shanahan is expected to accept the 49ers’ offer, reports Michael Silver of the NFL Network, citing sources familiar with both parties.

The 49ers continued to work Tuesday evening on the process of narrowing down the general manager choices, a source said. Shanahan is expected to play a role in the select the team’s next GM, sources said.

On Tuesday, Seattle offensive line coach Tom Cable and Seahawks co-director of player personnel Trent Kirchner removed their names from consideration for the vacant coach and general manager positions. The 49ers fired Chip Kelly and Trent Baalke after the 49ers' 2-14 season.

One source said Cable and Kirchner believed the 49ers were using them as leverage to hire Shanahan. Cable interviewed with 49ers co-chair Denise DeBartolo York over the phone on Tuesday, NFL Network reported.

The 49ers are allowed to interview Shanahan for a second time after the Falcons’ NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. The 49ers are prohibited from hiring or making a formal contract offer to Shanahan until the Falcons' season has concluded.

The top remaining candidates for the general manager job are believed to be Green Bay executives Brian Gutekunst and Eliot Wolf, Arizona's Terry McDonough and Minnesota's George Paton.

Wilcox embracing challenge, will change the way Cal looks on field


Wilcox embracing challenge, will change the way Cal looks on field

BERKELEY — With more than a half-century without a Rose Bowl berth, tougher academic standards than most Pac-12 schools and lackluster fan support in a pro-sports focused market, there are plenty of hurdles for a football coach at California.

Coach Justin Wilcox took the job for the Golden Bears because he embraces those obstacles and he wants players who feel the same way as he seeks to rebuild a program that has one winning record in the past five years and no conference championships since 1958.

"When you come here, there are challenges," Wilcox said at his introductory news conference Tuesday. "You don't come here and go through school and just go through the motions. You'll be challenged in the classroom, challenged on the football field and learn to interact in a dynamic society. I believe in that and that helps guys grow."

Wilcox faces many hurdles in his new job replacing the recently fired Sonny Dykes less than three weeks before national signing day. He has to put together a coaching staff, evaluate the players already on campus and try to keep together, and even add to, a recruiting class that committed to a different staff.

Athletic director Mike Williams fired Dykes after four seasons on Jan. 8 because he wanted a coach committed to Cal instead of flirting with other jobs and needed someone who could excite a fan base that often stayed away from Memorial Stadium in recent years as the Bears teamed porous defenses with sometimes exciting offenses while posting a 19-30 record.

Williams had five finalists for the job but chose a former Cal assistant with a defensive background and familiarity with the Pac-12 as an assistant for seven years at three schools in the conference.

"He truly gets this place, he truly gets coaching in the West," Williams said. "He came in and was very organized and thoughtful. He knew what he wanted to do and who he wanted to hire. ... It's a special place and I think he'll treat it as a special place."

While Dykes flirted with job openings at Houston and Baylor this past offseason in part because of his concern about increased academic standards for recruits, the Bears hope Wilcox is someone who wants to stick around after more than a decade of being on a self-described "windy" path as a top defensive coach.

The former Oregon defensive back began his coaching career in 2001 as a graduate assistant at Boise State. He spent three years as linebackers coach under Jeff Tedford at Cal from 2003-05 when the Bears nearly ended their Rose Bowl drought during a 10-win season with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback in 2004.

Wilcox has spent the past 11 years as a defensive coordinator with stops at Boise State, Tennessee, Washington, Southern California and finally Wisconsin, where he helped the Badgers field a top 10 defense and win the Cotton Bowl.

Wilcox has worked and played for many successful coaches, including Tedford, Chris Petersen, Dan Hawkins, Mike Bellotti, and Paul Chryst.

"I've been extremely fortunate to work for and with people I learned so much from," he said. "Each step along the way, I've seen it done a lot of different ways. I'm not trying to be any of those people. I always try to take pieces and make it my own."

Wilcox has begun putting together his staff, having hired former Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin as offensive coordinator and longtime Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood to fill that role on the Bears.

The Bears will look very different under Wilcox than Dykes. Wilcox said he will recruit tight ends as Cal moves from the spread "Bear Raid" offense that relied on four receivers almost exclusively to a more balanced offense with tight ends and more power concepts.

While he will delegate most of the offensive responsibilities to Baldwin, Wilcox said he will be more involved on defense where he wants to find players who can fit into his base 3-4 system.

Cal ranked 125th in total defense, 127th in scoring defense and 122nd in yards per play out of 128 FBS teams last season on the way to a 5-7 record.

"Every second is critical right now," Wilcox said. "I will not sacrifice the long-term good of the program for what everyone wants which is certainty. Things will happen quickly. I understand the recruits have some anxiety about the situation and there's emotions involved. That's totally understandable. I'd feel the same way."