Giants gearing up for tough task of defending crown
By JANIE McCAULEY
AP Baseball Writer
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Andres Torres checked out the banner at the main entrance to Scottsdale Stadium blaring “2012 WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS” and knew he was back in the right place.
The outgoing outfielder bounced through the clubhouse Tuesday morning, sporting a beanie for the cool desert weather after batting practice and some running. He offered handshakes and hugs as he said hello to all the familiar faces he missed spending one season away with the New York Mets following three in San Francisco.
Now, Torres will play alongside the guy the Giants traded him for last offseason: center fielder Angel Pagan.
San Francisco features a close-knit cast of Latino players, including World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval, the re-signed Pagan, second baseman Marco Scutaro and outfielder Gregor Blanco. And Torres already fits right back in with that group.
“Oh, I’m really happy, so happy to be back,” said Torres, who will play for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. “This is where I feel good. This is home for me. I’m excited to be back with the guys. I know Pagan, Blanco and Scutaro. It’s a great group. I’m ready to go.”
The Giants won another World Series crown last year while Torres was away, though he attended some playoff games at AT&T Park to cheer his former, and now current, club. Reliever Ramon Ramirez, another member of the 2010 title team who went to the Mets in that same swap, also is back after agreeing to a minor league deal with San Francisco last week.
The champion feeling is everywhere at the team’s spring training site. Several dozen fans lined the gate where players walk in for work. Boxes full of fresh T-shirts, pennants and hats were unloaded in the team store. Hitting coach Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens sported a black T-shirt on Tuesday with orange writing that read “Kings Wear Rings” with an image of a sparkly championship ring.
When Meulens snapped a picture of the shirt and sent it to his brother, he arrived home to see family members in the same one after a speedy visit to a silkscreener.
“Like 25 people had it,” Meulens said. “I got home and they all were wearing it. It was pretty cool.”
Longtime visiting clubhouse manager Harvey Hodgerney has new ink from last month on his left calf with the 2012 World Series champions logo to go along with the tattoo he got on his right leg following the 2010 title.
“It’s unbelievable, two World Series championships in three years,” reliever Santiago Casilla said. “I feel so happy, so proud, because nobody believed. God put his eyes on the Giants.”
Many of the Giants’ position players already were at the stadium ahead of the first full-squad workout Saturday.
“That’s always a great sign,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “This is as good a place as you can have to work out, with the cages and the workout room, so a lot of them like to come in early and some we wanted to come in early to get a head start. But most of them came in on their own.”
Right fielder Hunter Pence is one of those guys eager to get started.
He begins his first spring with the Giants after being dealt from the Phillies at last summer’s trade deadline.
“It’s a new year, it’s a new league, it’s not the same,” Pence said. “It’s great to have the group that went through what we went through last year. I’m just very grateful, grateful to be a part.”
Torres and Blanco could wind up platooning in left field, and Bochy said he has no problem with Torres taking time away to play in the WBC while he’s competing for a job. If it was somebody else, somebody Bochy didn’t know well, things might be different.
The manager and Torres stayed in touch during the free agency period before Torres signed a $2 million, one-year contract in December.
“He’s a Giant at heart,” Bochy said. “We know Andres.”
Bochy brought a similar message on Day 1 to what he offered two springs ago after the franchise’s first World Series title since moving West in 1958 from New York. San Francisco failed to make the playoffs in 2011 after a rough September.
He wants his players to enjoy the feeling of being reigning champions, keep the memories and remember how difficult it is to get to the top — and remember the work it takes to stay there.
“They were a very unselfish group and had so much unity, the really cared about each other and set aside their own agenda and asked what’s best for the club,” he said. “They had one goal in mind, it was a common goal throughout the club, and that was to get to the postseason and hopefully win a world championship, which they did.”
Now, other teams will be eager to bring down the Giants after two titles in three years. Bochy got a little glimpse, a preview of sorts, with how he was treated when out and about during the December winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn.
“The only difference I probably saw a little bit, at the winter meetings the first year a lot of people came out and said, ‘Congratulations!’ and the second time you do it, they’re mad at you,” he said. “‘Hey, that’s enough, you’re ball hogging now.’”
Notes: Sandoval hardly had a voice Tuesday as he nurses a cold. That didn’t keep Kung Fu Panda from taking his swings in the cage beyond the center-field wall. “I’m sick,” he said. Bochy believes Sandoval is near the end of his illness and will be full strength by Saturday’s first full-squad workout. … Bochy “has a pretty good idea” on the identify of his opening day starter will be but plans to meet with pitching coach Dave Righetti and tell the player before announcing it. … Bochy: “We’re like the players, we come in here and we have to get in shape, too.” With condensed spring training because of World Baseball Classic, Bochy said his pitchers will “be happy to cut out one play — the third to first move.” … Pagan and LHP Javier Lopez also are on Puerto Rico’s WBC team.
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