SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – A persistent rumor has followed Brock Bond through his six years in the Giants’ minor league system.
He’ll be the last to ask club officials if it’s true.
“I don’t know,” Bond said. “I kind of don’t want to know.”
Bond, a 27-year-old infielder, is in his first big league camp. Scouts will tell you he doesn’t have a single outstanding tool. He doesn’t have the arm or range to be a premium defender, he’s mostly limited to second base and he’s averaged one homer per 533 at-bats in the minor leagues.
And when the Giants took him in the 24th round of the 2007 draft … yes, it’s true.
It was a mistake. A clerical error.
The Giants meant to take Casey Bond, a gliding, 6-foot-3 center fielder out of Lipscomb University in Tennessee. They mistakenly took a high-achieving, 5-foot-11 infielder from the University of Missouri. When they realized what happened, they grabbed Casey Bond with their next pick.
“Mistakenly, yes, Brock was taken first ahead of Casey,” Giants vice president Bobby Evans acknowledged. “But we planned to take both of them all along.”
That last part might be true or it might be saving a bit of face for both player and organization. This much is fact: Brock Bond owns a .410 on-base percentage in more than 2,400 plate appearances scattered over all six minor league levels. He earns plaudits from teammates and coaches for his “animal” effort, as Brett Pill put it. And he has a shot at being in the major leagues this season, perhaps even on the Giants Opening Day roster as a bat off the bench.
As for Casey Bond? He’s been out of pro baseball for almost five years, having played just 121 minor league games before moving on to an acting career. You might have seen him as A’s pitcher Chad Bradford in “Moneyball,” among other parts.
“We have similar features, too, so people always got us confused,” Brock Bond said. “The whole thing is kind of crazy, definitely peculiar. But like I said, I don’t want to ask them about it.
“Whether it’s fate or not, it’s worked to this point, right?”
It usually requires a few twists of fate to reach the cusp of the big leagues when you’re taken in the 24th round (or the 25th). Brock Bond had to prove himself at every level but just kept finding ways to get on base, and kept holding on to playing time. A switch hitter, he has drawn 256 walks to 266 strikeouts over six seasons, and last year at Triple-A Fresno, he hit .332 with a .422 OBP in 106 games.
“You see him play one game and it’s not going to wow you,” Pill said. “But watch him for a week. It’s unbelievable how many pitches he sees. He lets the ball get so deep. He spoils everything. Some guys are kind of passive about (fouling pitches). He’s aggressive, taking hacks, and he’s still able to do it. I’m trying to learn how to do that by watching him.”
Some days the Grizzlies didn’t have a spot in the field to play Bond, so he’d DH. He’d take a shopping cart full of baseballs into the indoor cage. When Pill would go down the tunnel for a protein bar, he’d look in on Bond.
“All the balls would be on the ground,” Pill said. “He was going like an animal, nonstop, to get ready for one opportunity.”
Young players dream big; they don’t dream of becoming pinch hitters. But there is an art and a mental toughness to that job that often seems lost in today’s game. There just aren’t that many Dave Hansens, Lenny Harrises and John Vander Wals anymore -– guys who might not be a great threat to go deep, but often extend the game for someone who can.
A .410 on-base percentage? It will do nicely in that role.
“That’s always been my approach, even when I didn’t know it,” said Bond, who grew up near St. Louis and was coached by his dad from a young age. “The more pitches you see, the better your chances of getting on base. Maybe there’s a little less pressure because I’m not a home run hitter. I have to work the count and make solid contact. I don’t have to hit the long ball. It works because I can have the same approach whether the wind’s blowing in or out, or no matter what kind of day it is.”
Bond’s scariest day is May 3, 2011. He was fielding a grounder during batting practice at Colorado Springs and had no way to see a line drive off Edgar Gonzalez’s bat. It hit Bond in the back of the head near the temple, and bounced all the way past first base. Bond wanted to play that night. The team told him no, and when he began having throbbing headaches a few hours later, they treated him for several weeks before sending him home. Bond insisted on trying baseball work again in August but still had post-concussion symptoms. Even walking would give him motion sickness. It took seven months to make a full recovery.
During his convalescence, Bond traveled to San Jose to see Giants internist Dr. Anthony Saglimbeni, who has become one of baseball’s leading figures in the diagnosis and treatment of concussions. The doctor pointed out that the Giants were playing in a half-hour, and Bond made a snap decision to drive up Highway 101. He might have played his last game in a pro baseball uniform. He might have been knocked off the road. But he wanted to see Emerald City for the first time.
He walked to the ticket window without a plan, eventually settling on, “Uhhh…I play for the Triple-A team in Fresno. Can I buy a seat?”
He got one gratis, in the field club level, too. AT&T Park was even better than he had imagined. He had animated conversations with the fans around him. He never told them who he was.
Bond returned to the field last season, spent another summer getting on base. And now, said Evans, “He’s put himself in the conversation because of what he’s done.”
The good news came just a few weeks before pitchers and catchers reported to Scottsdale: Evans called Bond and told him he’d have a locker in big league camp. It was the call Bond almost didn't dare hoping he might receive. Until then, his only experience on the major league side was when he came over for a day, with a duffel bag and a jersey with no name on the back, and either shagged in the outfield or was used as the rabbit in rundown drills.
“It’s kind of a humbling thing,” Bond said. “They give you $25 to come over here and you feel … well, not so good about yourself. But then you think about how many people would kill to be on the field and do what we’re doing.”
Pill called Bond as soon as he heard his buddy would have a locker at Scottsdale Stadium.
“I love it,” Pill said. “Shoot, the couple years I had a lot of RBIs, I think he scored a quarter of the time. It’s been a lot of hard work for him and I’m glad he’s getting this chance to show what he can do.”
After watching the Giants win the World Series last October, Bond is more enthused than ever. He had a family connection that got him tickets for Games 1 and 2, so he traveled from St. Louis to be in the crowd and leap from his seats for each of Pablo Sandoval's home runs. He went to a game during the NLCS too, wearing a plain black hoodie to Busch Stadium.
“I tried not to draw attention to myself,” he said, smiling. “But I wasn’t wearing red, so…”
A week ago, Bond noticed a couple minor leaguers on shag duty. He walked up to them and told them to keep working hard and have fun. After all, just a year ago, he was the one taking $25 and going for thirds on the clubhouse spread.
It's always true in this game. No matter who you are or where you were drafted, you have to make the most of your trips to the plate.