For my first blog post at Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, Im going to tell you about Derin McMains.If youve heard of him, congratulations. Hes a former minor league middle infielder in the Giants system who scrapped through an incredible amount of injuries before he retired in 2007. He only played 17 games at Triple-A. He never made the majors.During his playing career, McMains was a real-life version of Archie Graham: Baby faced, excitable, fast-talking, self-effacing, incredibly eager. Archie, you might remember, held out his thumb and stepped in Ray Kinsellas van on a dark Midwestern road in Field of Dreams. McMains probably didnt hitch his way from his hometown of Oskaloosa, Iowa, to play ball at Arkansas State. But I bet you he wouldve. When youre around the game long enough and meet someone like McMains, you instantly know theyll breathe baseball all their lives.
Sure enough, a few months after injuries forced McMains to retire, he became a 27-year-old third base coach in the Giants organization. This year, hell make his managerial debut for the Giants rookie-level affiliate in the Arizona League.Recently, I came across the Giants news release about their minor league coaching staff and saw McMains name. It conjured a spring training memory that Im sure he hasnt forgotten.It was 2006 and he was invited to big league camp a big deal for a fringe prospect who wasnt on the 40-man roster. It doesnt happen often, but club officials sometimes hand out one of these invites to a kid who impresses them, by his dedication in rehabbing an injury, or never-ending hustle. McMains qualified on both counts. He spent six days a week in Arizona all through the 115-degree summer, grunting his way back after surgeries to reconstruct his shoulder and repair a ruptured wrist tendon.Not everybody has the dedication to do that, said Stan Conte, the Giants trainer at the time. That's what makes him one of our favorites."Said Felipe Alou: "That kid is one tough cookie.In 2006, it was McMains good fortune that the inaugural World Baseball Classic was being held that spring. Four of the Giants starters were taking part. They were light on players, and so McMains got a locker amid the big leaguers.The spring of 2006 was an especially busy time in Scottsdale, but not for the WBC. Barry Bonds was marching on the all-time home run record and to say emotions were conflicted would be an understatement. It was the height of the steroids scandal. Baseballs most hallowed record was about to intersect with one of its most disgraceful periods. The media descended on Barry, and because he wasnt talking to anyone, his teammates took the brunt of it.This was the clubhouse into which unassuming young Derin McMains entered. And in one of the first exhibition games, he got an at-bat in the late innings. He got ahold of a fastball and sent it over the fence.A couple days later, he received another late-inning at-bat. This time, he faced Trevor Hoffman. The all-time saves leader. Future Hall of Famer.He took him deep. Three-run shot.It was the moment of Derin McMains baseball life, and of course, it was a good little notebook item for the beat writers myself among them. Our small contingent approached him in the clubhouse, a vision of dirt and eye black and grinning teeth.All of the sudden, the rest of the media moved in, a cocoon of cameras and microphones, and our small group all began to laugh at the absurdity of the scene. McMains was totally befuddled. He hadnt been to big league spring training before. He thought he just made the national news for hitting a Cactus League home run.The reality: the media cocoon didnt know who Derin McMains was. They had no idea he wouldnt make the team. They didnt understand the story. They just saw someone in a Giants uniform, and they needed one of those guys to talk about Barry Bonds.McMains wasnt offended when the first question was about Bonds. He homered off Hoffman. He just realized for the first time in his life that a 165-pound kid can stand on a cloud. He didnt care.It felt like 1,000 pounds lifted off my shoulders," he said. I just wanted to make sure I didn't trip in front of my parents and my wife. The rest was a blur. I couldn't even tell you whose hands I shook.And what about taking Hoffman deep?Shoot, I've faced him enough times on video games, McMains said with a laugh. I knew he had a good changeup.At the time, that scene energized me, and now I understand why. Its because Derin McMains offered a baseball story to cover amid the sludge of the Bonds years. Not even the drudgery of that time could knock the shine off it.It also represents what I love most about spring training. Sure, there are positional battles and health updates and lineup configurations to write about every day. Thats the important stuff. But spring is also the slowest time of the year in what already is a slow sport. Its a time to reflect and to be hopeful.The clubhouse is half-full of promising rookies. And everyone is in first place. Even the Cubs.So as I get ready to begin the two-day drive to cover my ninth spring training in Scottsdale, and my first for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, Ill be sure to watch every time Brian Wilson throws off a mound. Ill ask Buster Posey how his ankle responded after his first game. Ill watch Freddy Sanchez take infield. I might even ask Tim Lincecum whether hes fallen off the diet wagon and made an In-N-Out run.But Ill also hope to encounter another Derin McMains.If you followed my reporting in the San Jose Mercury News and clicked refresh often on my Extra Baggs blog, youll know I tended to write rather voluminous posts after games. Here on Giants Talk, those might get broken up into multiple posts. But I plan on bringing my same voice to this space, and now I wont have to embed links to game stories and notebooks from the paper. Youll find everything right here.So I hope youll bookmark Giants Talk and check back often. In addition to my coverage as a full-time, traveling beat reporter, we have a hardworking team of young, energetic producers who will be providing new content about all aspects of Giants baseball. Plus youll see a lot more images, graphics and videos than I could manage with a Flip Cam and half a clue.This is going to be exciting. Hope you enjoy.
Follow CSN's new Insider on Twitter @CSNBaggs and on his brand new Facebook fan page