SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Pablo Sandoval endeared himself to San Francisco fans while helping the Giants win World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014.
He continues to give to the team.
Sandoval, who at 33 is heading into his 13th major league season, still seems very much like the 22-year-old kid who debuted with the Giants in 2008. His smile is omnipresent, he pops in on interviews teammates are doing in the clubhouse and, out of nowhere during Thursday’s pregame workout, embraced manager Gabe Kapler. Just because.
But energy and experience isn’t all the man lovingly called the Kung Fu Panda since his rookie year provides the Giants. He has embraced the role of mentor to the many young Giants who are part of the team’s rebuilding process.
“It’s so important for one to come to work happy and have fun. So the whole world can see how lucky we are to be able to get ready and play this game,” Sandoval said in Spanish. “For me (helping young players) is crucial because they aren’t just the future of the organization, they’re the players that are going to finish the game in key situations. And I need to give them the support as a veteran player so that they feel adjusted and comfortable here and they can go work hard with a lot of passion.”
Sandoval’s heart is in San Francisco, even though he left the Giants for the Boston Red Sox for 2 1/2 years from 2015 to 2017. He returned to the Giants in July 2017 after the Red Sox released him and signed a minor league deal this offseason after batting .268 with 14 home runs and 41 RBIs in 2019.
“I care about this organization so much because they signed me when I was 16, he said. "Good memories, beautiful thoughts of the championships and so many moments with this team that gave me my chance in the big leagues.”
There was a sense of finality to Sandoval’s time as a Giant last Sept. 1 at Oracle Park, when he came up as a pinch hitter for one last at-bat before season-ending Tommy John surgery.
Sandoval’s longtime manager Bruce Bochy, in the final days of his tenure, looked on from the dugout that day.
But Sandoval is back with he Giants, getting at-bats as the designated hitter while he rehabs his way back from the surgery. He isn’t expected to be ready for opening day, but with friends and longtime teammates Hunter Pence, Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford still around, fans still have connections to the great Giants teams of the last decade.
Sandoval was the DH on Thursday against the Cleveland Indians in his third spring training game. The cheers for him at Scottsdale Stadium began even before he stepped into the batter's box for his first at-bat of the game.
“The fans are so important to every team,” Sandoval said. “And it’s important for a player to grow and have this kind of support, where no matter what, they are always with you.”
NOTES: Giants legend Barry Bonds was with the team Thursday as a guest instructor. … Former five-tie All-Star Adrian Gonzalez stopped by the Giants clubhouse Thursday morning.
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