Urban: Giants' Panda a true sports hero

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Urban: Giants' Panda a true sports hero

Sept. 15, 2011

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Mychael Urban
CSNBayArea.com

There are certain things we want -- check that; things we need -- from our sports heroes.First and foremost, we need them to perform at the highest of levels. They need to be the cream of the crop, and it needs to be obvious. Statistically and aesthetically.We need to know they genuinely appreciate their station in life, too. The slightest trace of entitlement takes them out of the hero realm, no second chances.
Blow off an autograph request? It better be the request from that 46-year-old troll with a color-coded binder of laminated 8-by-10 glossies. That'll play. Disappoint little Kenny or Kendra, though, and you're a straight-up ass.

We also need our true sports heroes to work hard. Granted, the most gifted of athletes often make the sublime look routine; easy, even. Carlos Gonzalez and Ken Griffey Jr. are among the athletes who've been accused of not busting it because they're so fluid and graceful, their movements so seemingly effortless. But watch any athlete more than a couple of times and you can tell if they're giving it their best effort. Eyes don't lie.And, of course, we need to know that our hero is a good teammate. That's fairly easy to discern, too. All you need to do is look for the reactions that follow a hero-candidate's accomplishments.
If he or she is met with the standard fist bump, high five or pat on the posterior, you're safe to assume it's exactly that: standard. If the greeting is an arms-wide hug, an eyes-wide smile or an out-and-out bum rush, rest assured that the recipient is extremely popular.
It's equally instructive to watch the hero-candidate's reaction to the accomplishments of his or her teammates. The more animated it is, the more you get the sense that it's genuine.The biggie, though, is all about joy. We want our sports heroes to exude it. To make us feel it. To share it with anyone who cares to take an interest. And if nobody happens to be watching, hey, the true sports hero couldn't care less. He or she is so enveloped in that joy that it doesn't matter. It's there to share, sure, but the hero's actions seem to suggest that if nobody else cares to partake, no worries. More joy for me.Five requirements. Five reasons to give affix to that label -- HERO -- reserved for a precious few.In other words, five reasons to love Pablo Sandoval.
And yeah, his remarkable night in Colorado on Thursday was the obvious impetus for this assertion, but the case would be made, and won in a landslide, had he gone 0-for-5.That he reached base in all five trips to the plate -- an intentional walk following the cycle he'd put together before the game was a full six innings old -- merely makes it an easier case to make for the night.Performing at the highest level? Sandoval leads Giants regulars in virtually every offensive stat that means a damn, and he's been so good defensively that people are starting to talk about him as a Gold Glove candidate at third base.Appreciative of his station in life? Ever seen the Panda blow anyone off? He doesn't even blow off the eBay trolls. Every day is Christmas for the guy, and under the tree is a bounty of Big Wheels.Hard-working? Hey, this is a different paragraph at this point last year. But when faced with the first dose of adversity of his fairly charmed athletic life, handed an ultimatum from his bosses about losing the many pounds he found on the side of the big-league road over the previous year and a half, Sandoval literally worked his butt off.
Worked his gut off, too. And his thighs, and his second and third and fourth chins. Good teammate? He's got a special handshake for the bullpen catcher, for crying out loud. His successes are unanimously greeted with enthusiasm in the dugout; did you see Andres Torres waving him into third on his triple Thursday? And he reciprocates like a mad man, as if the success of his teammates is his own -- which, if you think about it, is absolutely the case.As for exuding joy, good lord. Is he ever not smiling? Rarely. And when he smiles, how can you not smile with him? You have to smile with him. His joy is so infectious, otherwise sensible human beings pay to put orange faux fur on their heads. Think about that for a second. Folks drop 20 bones to look silly, just to feel a connection, to feel the joy that Pablo feels.If that's not a hero, nothing is. The Giants and their fans are lucky -- blessed, even -- to have such a character.And the best thing about this character? He's 100 percent real.

Headed for 100 losses, Giants quietly give up on "Don't Stop Believin'" tradition

Headed for 100 losses, Giants quietly give up on "Don't Stop Believin'" tradition

SAN FRANCISCO — At some point over the last month, the Giants quietly stopped playing “Don’t Stop Believin’” in the late innings of games they trail. 

It’s unclear exactly when it started, or who made the decision. A number of team employees, surveyed over the past week, had noticed. But nobody knew the exact details. Perhaps the longtime staple of AT&T Park was shelved on July 9, when FanGraphs dropped the playoff odds to 0.00 percent for the first time in a lost season. Maybe it was during a bad loss before that or a bad loss after that. You can take your pick. This season has been filled with so many of them it’s hard to keep track. 

Friday’s stood out, in part because this was the kind of night where Journey briefly made sense. The Giants gave Jeff Samardzija a 4-0 lead in the first inning against a Padres team that spent the early innings kicking and throwing the ball all over the field and making mistakes on the bases. It was 5-1 after three innings. By the sixth, the Padres had tied it. By the seventh, they had the lead. By the eighth, it was a three-run lead. 

Before the bottom of the eighth, the in-stadium crew played Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” for a crowd of a few thousand. Last weekend, Huey Lewis was the fill-in for Journey. On Wednesday, a game the Giants actually came back to win, the scoreboard played a singalong game to “Happy Together” by The Turtles. 

On this night, the Giants actually would come back. Conor Gillaspie hit a two-run homer with two outs in the ninth, tying the game and sending it into extras. The Giants had trailed by three with one out remaining, but the momentum provided by Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford and Gillaspie was just a blip. The Padres scored three in the 11th off George Kontos, who has pitched five times over the last eight days and was supposed to get a night to rest. 

Kontos was the last to give up runs in a 12-9 loss, but hardly the only one. Samardzija took blame after failing to get through five with a big early cushion. That put pressure on the tired bullpen, and the relievers blew it over and over again. The Padres scored runs in six consecutive innings at one point and had 20 hits. 

“We couldn’t stop them,” Bruce Bochy said, shaking his head. 

Nothing can apparently stop this skid. The Giants are 37-61 and six games behind the Padres. They are much closer to the No. 1 draft pick than they are to fourth place in their division. 

“Don’t Stop Believin’” survived the 2013 season. It survived 2015 and the second half of last year. Nothing can survive this season.

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways as Giants lose marathon in extras to Padres

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways as Giants lose marathon in extras to Padres

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — A few hundred, maybe a few thousand, stayed to watch the Giants late Friday night. The Giants did not make it worth the effort. 

Conor Gillaspie’s two-out homer in the ninth sent the game to extras, but the Giants lost 12-9 in a game that lasted nearly five hours. The Giants had trailed by three with two outs and nobody on in the ninth. They tied it. Instead of carrying that momentum over, they suffered yet another demoralizing loss. 

They have dropped both games of this series and they trail the Padres -- who had 20 hits -- by six games in the race for fourth place. Those are facts. Here are five more, mostly from earlier, when a young man harbored dreams of leaving a ballpark before 1 a.m. … 

—- Hector Sanchez took Jeff Samardzija deep to lead off the fourth, and at this point it’s flat-out hilarious. Sanchez has seven homers this season and three have come against his former team. He hit two homers at AT&T Park in 296 plate appearances as a Giant, and the fourth-inning blast gave him three in 11 plate appearances as a Padre. He also doubled in a run and singled. It’s an all-time revenge tour. Just go along for the ride. 

—- There were a ton of scouts on hand to watch two starting pitchers who could move in the next 10 days, and they left disappointed. Trevor Cahill gave up six earned on seven hits and four walks and lasted just 3 2/3 innings. Jeff Samardzija gave up eight hits and five earned in 4 1/3 innings. 

—- I dunno man, it’s really hard getting to five of these every night. Sam Dyson was good again. 

—- Gillaspie's pinch-hit homer was the sixth of his career. He's a hero around these parts, but perhaps Bobby Evans should see if a team out there was watching Friday and remembers his October run. Gillaspie could help a contender. 

—- When MLB inevitably introduces a pitch clock and pitchers start complaining, this will be the game I tell them to sit down and try to watch start to finish.