- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
DODGER STADIUM -- Brandon Belt and Cody Ross both moved toward the exit of the visitors dugout at the end of the Giants' batting practice late Sunday afternoon, both with their heads down, on a collision course. Ross looked up, put his hand on Belt's left shoulder and ushered him forward, giving the rookie the right of way.
It was a small but telling gesture that doesn't always happen. From Aubrey Huff to Pat Burrell to Ross, the other Giants have been gracious and generous and respectful in the way they have welcomed Belt this spring, which says a lot about him, and a lot about the other players, and a lot about how manager Bruce Bochy is respected in the San Francisco clubhouse.
Belt is, by all accounts, very serious about what he does, with a work ethic and personality and professional excellence that makes it easy for others to like him -- even in a situation ripe for resentment. The Giants won the World Series last year without Belt, but because he was so impressive in spring training and made the team, others will lose playing time. Maybe it'll be Huff, who has been pushed to the outfield because of Belt's exceptional defensive skills. Perhaps it'll be Burrell, who may get infrequent starts after Ross returns from the disabled list -- because Ross could return to right field, with Huff playing left. Or maybe it'll be Ross. Somebody who is getting a Giants championship ring this weekend is going to be supplanted by the rookie first baseman.
Right after Belt was told he had made the team by Bruce Bochy, Belt began to weep, and Huff good-naturedly teased him, asking him why he was crying -- because it was Huff, after all, who was going to have to play the outfield now. Belt's at-bats thus far have been so exceptional that there already is speculation that, eventually, he could hit in the No. 3 spot, a place currently occupied by Huff. So the other day Huff mentioned to Belt that he had taken Huff's defensive position, and soon he will own Huff's spot in the lineup, and Huff joked about what else Belt would take from him.
If Belt was a jerk, there might be tension. But he seems down-to-earth to the others. Asked what surprises him the most about the big leagues so far, Belt mentioned the fact everybody dresses so nicely; he is just a kid from Texas, he said, and he didn't have the same caliber of clothes that his teammates have.
But the response to him is typical in a clubhouse where Burrell resides, having asked the Giants to give him a token $1 million deal because he just wanted to stay with the Giants, and where Huff plays, willing to change positions, according to when and where Bochy believes he is needed. Miguel Tejada is in his first year with the Giants, and Bochy sat down with Tejada to talk to him about moving around to other parts of the lineup -- knowing full well that Tejada has been a middle-of-the-order type of guy in his career, with 2,288 hits going into Sunday's game.
But Tejada told Bochy that he was a soldier, indicating that he didn't care where he hit. In the first four days, he has hit in the No. 1, No. 6 and No. 8 spots in the lineup.
Sometimes Burrell plays, and sometimes he doesn't. When Ross comes off the disabled list in a couple of weeks, Bochy will have to make choices about where Huff will play, where and when Burrell will play and what he's going to do with Ross.
But they all seem comfortable with Bochy's choices, because, as one player said, they know him and there is no concern about whether his motives go beyond winning. It can take years for managers to earn this kind of respect and deference; most never get there.
Brandon Belt will be helped by this, by the culture of a clubhouse that has embraced him.
• I've done about eight games in dugouts this spring for ESPN, and what is most surprising, generally, is how quiet the dugouts are during the games. A lot of players lean over the front rails next to teammates and talk to each other in low voices as they watch, but the responses to what's happening on the field are, from pitch to pitch, extremely reserved, until a play results in a run. When Burrell mashed a long homer during Sunday night's game, some players responded with quick shouts -- but then after he returned to the dugout, the collective noise all but stopped. There was a moment when Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti sensed that a squeeze might be coming and wanted to call a pitchout, and they yelled to get the attention of catcher Buster Posey, screaming his first name.
But mostly, the dugouts have seemed like a relatively peaceful place -- which makes sense, because baseball players mostly don't trust highs and lows and work to maintain a relatively even-keeled outlook, maybe more than any other set of professional athletes other than golfers.
• The Giants joked about Huff's defense before the game, but it was a problem on Sunday night; it was like the baseball gods kept throwing darts at him, to see how many he could dodge. Knowing how superstitious baseball players generally are, I wonder if it's the last time the San Francisco players employ this kind of prank. San Francisco lost three of four to the Dodgers.
• The Dodgers took what the Giants gave them, and had a very good opening series, Dylan Hernandez writes.
• By the way: We're tweeting from both dugouts during the Sunday night broadcasts now. I set up with a laptop on the home plate side of the visiting dugout in Dodger Stadium. Next week, it's the Yankees and the Red Sox, and we'll be working in Fenway Park.
• The Orioles are 3-0, and Zach Britton was spectacular in his debut, even without his best stuff, Jeff Zrebiec writes. His fastball seems to move a foot on a horizontal plane. Spirits are rising in Orioles Nation. Buck Showalter is pumped up for the O's home opener. I'm really curious about what the O's attendance is in the first month.
• The Rangers wrecked the Red Sox, Jeff Wilson writes. They drew some record crowds in Arlington, writes Anthony Andro. Clay Buchholz is the latest Red Sox starter to struggle, writes Peter Abraham. Carl Crawford was dropped to the No. 7 spot in the Boston lineup, as Terry Francona looked to take pressure off him.
• From Zachary Singer of ESPN Stats & Information: "There were 40 home runs hit in the majors on Sunday, including four players who hit two. The last day with this many home runs was last July 9th (42), and there were only six days with as many as 40 in all of 2010. Ian Kinsler, Mark Teixeira and Nelson Cruz have all homered in each of their team's first three games this season. Kinsler and Cruz are the first set of teammates ever to homer in each of their team's first three games. It took Kinsler 53 games to hit his third home run last season."
• The Brewers are 0-3 for just the fifth time in franchise history (also in 2003, 2001, 1984, 1970). In each of those previous four seasons, the Brewers ended up losing at least 94 games and didn't finish higher than fourth in the division.
• Red Sox starters against Texas allowed nine homers in 15⅓ innings -- and the most alarming was Buchholz, who yielded four on Sunday. He allowed nine homers in 173⅔ IP last season (eight on the road).
Dings and dents
6. Izzy has back pain.
Moves, deals and decisions
Scott Kazmir had a really bad day, again, and now Mike Scioscia is indicating that change, generally, may be on the horizon for the Angels. It would not be a surprise, at this point, if the Angels either demoted or cut the left-hander, because his struggles have gone on for many months.
ERA: 2.84 (6 ER/19 IP)
4. Watched a lot of the Tigers-Yankees game and Phil Hughes had absolutely nothing with his fastball and cutter -- no velocity, no movement, everything flat, like Javier Vazquez in 2010. Privately, there are some in the Yankees' organization very concerned about him. He has become the Yankees' No. 1 rotation headache, writes Joel Sherman. Mark Teixeira can't explain his hot start.
5. Javier Vazquez got pounded.
7. The Rays were completely shut down by the Orioles this weekend.
9. The Indians turned a triple play in winning for the first time this year.
12. The Mariners made mistakes and dropped the final game of their series in Oakland.
22. The Astros got crushed. I think there is a real chance that the Astros will finish behind the Pirates this season.
23. The start to the Brewers' season: Not good.
The Patience Index
• A reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest of the men who beat a Giants fan the other day. The man, Brian Stow, is in the hospital and in a medically induced coma, and according to his brother-in-law, he is not doing well.
• An authenticator is monitoring the humidor balls in Colorado. Now that would be a job anybody would want.
• Some volunteers cleaned up at old Tiger Stadium, writes Elisha Anderson.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Brandon Belt was thrilled and humbled when he was picked by Bruce Bochy to start the season with the Giants. And instead of making the rookie earn his keep, veterans have stepped aside and tried to encourage the youngster.