I’m not going to lie about it. Like many folks who have a soft spot for the underdog, I was rooting for the Kansas City Royals to prevail in this year’s hard-fought World Series. How could you not appreciate the amazing achievements of a team with a bunch of journeyman players, sprinkled with young upstarts who were virtually unknown outside the state of Missouri?
The San Francisco Giants, though, were not exactly the Las Vegas favorites either when the tournament began. Like the Royals, this was a wild card entry expected to make an early exit. I guess the experts forgot that Madison Bumgarner and Pablo Sandoval seem to clutch up in the month of October.
The seventh game showdown was all but over when MadBum, the North Carolina country boy, emerged from the bullpen in the fifth inning. The big lefty seemed to mesmerize the Kansas City crew, while displaying the durability of a plow horse working the farm. And it was appropriate that Pablo Sandoval, the plump third baseman Barry Zito once nicknamed the Kung-Fu Panda, hovered over a pop fly for the game’s final out. Then for good measure, the fun-loving fan favorite fell flat on his back with arms raised in jubilation.
It’s worth repeating common knowledge that the Giants have reigned as baseball’s champions of the universe three times in the last five years. This is a team without many voids now that a tough kid from New York, Joe Panik, has filled Marco Scutaro’s shoes at second base. But to remain supreme, the suits in San Francisco must resign Sandoval, who is now a much-coveted free agent. Along with Bumgarner, Buster Posey and Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval is part of the Giant’s version of the “Core Four.” What’s more, he is the 21st century’s Mr. October. In World Series play since 2008, Sandoval has compiled a batting average of .426, the third highest in history for qualifying at-bats. In this year’s postseason alone, he established an MLB record with 26 hits. And in the series finale, the 28-year-old Venezuelan went 3-for-3, scoring the winning run. As a defender at the hot corner, he is also a finalist for a Rawlings Gold Glove.
“It was just an incredible feeling,” reflected Sandoval after catching the final out. “In wanted to laugh, to cry, to enjoy it. Everything.”
Before the crucial game, Sandoval could be seen walking up and down the dugout, preparing his comrades for battle with fist pumps and encouragement. He spent an extra few moments to steady the rookie Panik, and the youngster would later initiate a double play in the third inning that would break the Royals’ backs. While Pence is the Giants’ visible leader who gets all the media attention, Sandoval has always been the steady performer at crunch time, and he now has three rings to prove it.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” admits Posey. “Pablo just loves the big stage.”
Pablo Sandoval is in the prime of his career, and although there have been periodic weight issues, he played in 157 games during the regular season. The Giants could be looking at an investment upwards of $100 million to retain Sandoval’s services, a figure driven up by interest from wealthy teams like the Boston Red Sox and even the division rival Los Angeles Dodgers. But the two-time All-Star loves San Francisco, and club president Larry Baer is hoping that will be a factor in the negotiations.
“I’m happy to be with my teammates and my team,” says Pablo with genuine emotion. “They (the Giants) game me an opportunity, and I think I have demonstrated that I want to be with them.”
That means the ball is in San Francisco’s court. Despite stalled extension talks this spring, Baer must show some respect for Pablo Sandoval and put a legitimate offer on the table. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do. It’s not wise to jeopardize a relationship that’s been mutually successful.
Just get it done.