Programming note: Kevin Frandsen joins Jim Kozimor on Chronicle Live, tonight at 5:00 PT on CSN Bay Area.
SAN FRANCISCO – Kevin Frandsen circled Monday’s date on his calendar as soon as the schedule came out. The Phillies’ reserve infielder will suit up for his first game at AT&T Park since the end of the 2009 season.
It’s not the first time in almost four years he’ll set foot in China Basin, though.
Frandsen attended Game 2 of the World Series against the Detroit Tigers last October. He went to two games against the Cardinals in the NLCS, too.
It was a different experience, sitting in the stands for a Giants game. A lot different than when he grew up a rabid fan of the team, or would drive up on a free night in college when he wasn’t pounding out singles and doubles on the way to becoming San Jose State’s all-time hits leader.
“I wasn’t cheering or going nuts, just observing,” Frandsen said by phone Monday morning, as he enjoyed a morning stroll through Union Square. “I wanted to experience that playoff atmosphere. I wanted to feel what that rush was like, because with the Phillies, I know we have a chance to get there every year. I wanted to be prepared for it.”
There was no way that Frandsen could have prepared for what baseball and life would throw at him following his major league debut on April 28 seven years ago, when the Giants called him to the big leagues as a fresh-faced 23-year-old and he went 3 for 5.
Making the big leagues with your hometown team is a dream come true for any player. It was even more meaningful to Frandsen because it was his brother’s dream, too. He shared so much with his brother, D.J., who lost a lifelong battle with kidney cancer. Baseball was their strongest bond, going back to all those games of “Giants vs. A’s” whiffle ball on the Santa Cruz boardwalk.
In one of the more poignant moments in recent franchise history, pitching coach Dave Righetti, a longtime friend of the Frandsen family and D.J.’s favorite player, insisted that Kevin take his No.19.
The story couldn’t get much better.
But more tests would come - from a clubhouse that didn’t always know what to make of Frandsen’s exuberance and passion for the game, from the difficulty of staying patient while trying to become established as an everyday player, to the torn Achilles’ tendon that robbed him of the entire 2008 season save one symbolic at-bat in September.
Ultimately, in the spring of 2010, Frandsen was traded to the Red Sox for a player to be named later or cash. The player, if the Giants ever received one, was never named. As GM Brian Sabean put it, the club valued Frandsen’s roster spot more than they valued the player.
Frandsen bounced from the Red Sox organization to the Angels, where he played in 54 games. Then came 2011, and a 50-game suspension while at the Phillies’ Triple-A club for testing positive for a banned stimulant – a mistake for which Frandsen acknowledged and apologized. But just when it seemed like he would fade away, Frandsen willed himself back to the big leagues and hit a sizzling .338 in 55 games for the Phillies late last season.
He won himself a guaranteed contract for the first time, and although he’s being used off the bench in Philadelphia, he provided one of the most clutch at-bats of the season on April 6. With two outs in the ninth and the bases loaded, Frandsen hit a three-run double off Royals closer Greg Holland to deliver the Phillies a 4-3 victory.
It might have been his best moment in the major leagues since his debut so many years ago.
Now engaged and a few weeks from his 31st birthday, Frandsen is older, wiser and more grounded to the ways of the world. And he’ll always be appreciative of the chance the Giants gave him to play professional baseball. But he’s still the same refreshingly outspoken, honest and opinionated person, too.
And while it’s been more than three years since he was a member of the Giants organization, some tethers will always remain.
Here’s the rest of our conversation:
Q: What are your emotions in coming back to AT&T Park?
A: It’s kind of funny. It’s a little more than seven years to the day I got called up for the first time. So this time of year always means a lot to me. Coming back to the city and the team you grew up rooting for, the team you were drafted by, the team that helped you through the loss of your brother, that gave you an opportunity, all those things come into play. It’s exciting, and I won’t lie, sometimes it kind of sucks to think about because my main goal as a player here was I wanted to win the title. As fans, we came so close in 2002. I wanted to be a part of that, and obviously I was in spring training in 2010 when I saw that team starting to come together. You were there. You remember that I called it. I predicted that something special was starting to happen. I wish I could’ve been a part of it and I wish I had a ring, but I’ll tell you this: It’ll be cool to come to the ballpark and see all those flags that weren’t there before.
Q: Do you still keep in touch with some of the guys?
A: Of course, Rags, and (head athletic trainer) Dave Groeschner and Cainer. I text Zito all the time. And Buster, because he and (wife) Kristen lived with my family.
Q: That’s right. Your parents were Buster Posey's host family when he played at Single-A San Jose.
A: Right, and he and Kristen were so great to our family. My parents kind of thought they would leave them alone and let them live their newly married life. But they made an impression on my parents. They were so great to them. It might have been three or four months but it’s a relationship that will last a lifetime. Kristen and Buster mean more to my family than most people realize or even he’d realize because of how genuine they are and their parents are, too. So I’m just loving all the accomplishments he garnered and all the guys garnered, really, because I know who they are as people and what they’re about. People give me hell all the time because I still stay in touch, but it’s where I grew up in baseball and beyond and I’ll never forget it.
Q: In what ways have you changed since you were here last? Are you a different person than the kid who got called up seven years ago?
A: Let’s be honest about when I came up. If a veteran were to read this, they’d know what I’m talking about here. Personally, I was treated like crap from a lot of guys because of the way I was energetic as a player and person. I feel it got misconstrued a lot. But everything was real – all of it. That was me, and I’m the same now. Maybe you could say I have the maturity level now to let it out at the right time. I guess I just thought I could be myself all the time and it would be OK. But Barry (Bonds) was the only one who really stood up for me. He and Ray Durham. They stood by my side the whole time. And I want to say this again: I’ve always been grateful and appreciative of the opportunity Giants gave me. I’ve always said that and felt that. But last year, when I was called up, I felt absolutely I had earned the call-up and to be a big leaguer. I felt it was a different kind of appreciation last year because every bit of it was earned. When I was younger with the Giants, it was more like, `I need to be here’ instead of looking at the big picture. As you get older, you see how the organization sees things and why they see you the way they do. But I will always believe that what I did last year wasn’t a fluke because that’s the kind of player I always knew I could be. That’s what I did in the minor leagues.
Q: The day you were traded in the spring of 2010, how did you know that team would do something special?
A: I just knew the homegrown guys, the guys I came up with, didn’t just want to be in the big leagues. We wanted to win. We won together in the minors leagues. We were waiting for that opportunity to put it together. Then when I saw the direction that clubhouse was going, with Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa, I knew there was something special happening. Those two World Series teams were the most team-oriented group of guys you’ve seen in San Francisco. People don’t realize it, but it’s not always about talent. It’s having the ability to grind through things as a group. That’s what you have to do in this game. That’s what they did so well.