Nate Schierholtz: A Farewell to the Hometown Boy with a Weapon on His Shoulder
The Giants traded Nate Schierholtz on Tuesday and frankly, seeing him in a Philadelphia Phillies hat makes me a little woozy. As a friend of mine aptly noted, "You're the only male I've ever seen wear a Nate Schierholtz jersey."
Setting the Stage
When I was a kid, my favorite players were Ken Griffey Jr. and Kirby Puckett. They made me woozy for a different reason.
With the exception of watching the Bay Series at age 3, Puckett's game-winning HR in Game 6 of the '91 Series is my first baseball memory. If I need to explain why Griffey was another one of my favorites, I suppose all that needs to be said is that I grew up in the middle of California, in a family that was devoid of baseball tradition. Griffey was, in two words, the man.
On top of being offensive robots, these two won a combined 16 gold gloves in their careers. They were power-hitting studs that proudly patrolled the same outfields as their forefathers. Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays also won a combined 16 gold gloves.
(Note: Mantle, Aaron and Mays are three of the greatest HR hitters of all time. Aaron alone nearly eclipsed Puckett and Griffey's combined HR totals. I feel like I have to say this after that last Gold Glove comment.)
As a slightly overweight kid that grew up playing first base, I was jealous of all these guys. They had the strongest arms on the team, they could track down anything (even if it went over the fence) and they were widely admired.
Until Nate Schierholtz came along, I didn't have an active player that I called my favorite. There just wasn't anyone that wowed me on the field.
Migration to the Outfield
My junior year of high school, first base was the Grand Central Station of our infield. At some point, I realized I wasn't going to be on the field very much unless something changed. Luckily I'd grown up (Griffey) instead of out (Puckett), and my arm strength had increased for no particular reason.
My first few times out in the field, I was pretty uncomfortable. I wasn't exactly praying the ball wouldn't come to me but I had zero confidence. The fat kid in me was terrified.
As is the case with most fears in life, it was nothing a few repetitions wouldn't cure. Before I knew it, I was starting in right field every day.
I was also thanking my lucky stars that I didn't have to deal with that wacky right field that Reggie Sanders tackled daily at AT&T park.
Of course, the Giants fell short in '02 and frankly, I lost a ton of interest in baseball once I went away to college and couldn't watch them on TV every day.
The first time I saw Schierholtz play, I realized that he had a very similar game to my own: he's a RF with a little power, a little speed and an absolute shotgun sitting on his shoulder. It was clearly his best asset and it was the only characteristic of my own game I'd ever dare brag about. The obvious difference is that I was an everyday player and Nate spent most of his days at China Basin riding the pine.
2007 was Nate's first year. Admittedly, it was also the year Lincecum showed up and the year after Cain's first full season. They had given me hope once again and I was back in full swing as a Giants fan. I never really put it down but when you can't listen to Kruk and Kuip every day, the fun disappears pretty rapidly.
The first few times Schierholtz threw someone out and had Edgar Renteria falling over to make plays, I knew, without a doubt, he was my new GriffeyPuckett.
Another thing about Schierholtz I'll never forget is that he didn't wear batting gloves. I was obsessed with pine tar as a player and I never saw the purpose of using it if you were going to use batting gloves. When you can own Coors Field like Nate did, the hell with batting gloves...right?
Nate Gets Dealt
The last few days have been exciting ones for Giants fans, as Brian Sabean made a trade that nobody thought he could pull off: he landed Hunter Pence from the Phillies, a career .290 hitter that will fit in just fine in the Giants lineup.
In baseball terms, the Pence trade is a very solid one for the Giants: they didn't give up top prospect Gary Brown and they landed a right-handed bat that will provide them with a little more power than Gregor Blanco or Nate Schierholtz ever could.
The one possible disaster is that Pence is up for salary arbitration at the end of the year. Even if the Giants win the series, we won't know if the Pence deal was a good one until those negotiations are over. (Fortunately, this doesn't exactly smell of the Beltran-for-Wheeler deal. If you're unaware of Zack Wheeler's rapid ascension with the New York Mets, read this— and you'll understand my frustration.)
An Emotional Goodbye (for Both of Us)
Schierholtz voiced his frustrations with the club in an interview with the SF Chronicle just a week ago. In true hometown hero fashion, Nate went out and hit 2 HRs (against the Phillies) the day after, probably to prove a point. I knew without a doubt he was getting traded at this deadline, despite how scared I'd been for years that they'd get rid of him.
In his swan song with the Giants, Nate smoked three hits, two of which kept SF in the game when almost everyone had given up. The bullpen blew it in the end but Schierholtz walked out of AT&T with his head held high. Sure, everyone hated to see him go. Everyone, except for maybe Nate himself.
From Hank Schulman's emotional farewell to Nate:
"I think one thing that always drove me to be better was I always believed I could play every day and contribute more than I did. For me, that makes this a little bit easier. I don't think they saw me as an everyday player in San Francisco. I think that makes me look forward to an opportunity somewhere else."
It's sad that a local kid had to force his way out of town because he was under appreciated.
I'm the first to admit that on the field, he'll never live up to Griffey or Kirby or Mickey or Willie. For me, it doesn't matter. There's always space on my team for Nate Schierholtz, even if it's just an honorary spot.
For the record, I don't play fantasy baseball.
You can follow me on Twitter @ericdrobny.
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