FORT MYERS, Fla. — Immediately, you recognize the infectious smile from a mile away. Pure Panda. So is the laughter and the joy.
And inside the Boston Red Sox clubhouse, nothing about Panda says San Francisco anymore.
Leaving the Giants?
"Not hard at all," Pablo Sandoval told Bleacher Report during an early-morning conversation here the other day. "If you want me around, you make the effort to push and get me back."
The Giants did not make that effort, Sandoval said, reiterating that last spring's aborted talks for a contract extension in San Francisco were pretty much the end of the line.
"I knew early in spring training last year I was going to leave," Sandoval said. "They didn't respect my agent. Contract talks, everything. The way Brian Sabean (Giants general manager) talked to my agent."
From there, Sandoval said, he did his best to soak in everything during the rest of the season, making the most out of what he knew would be his last summer in a Giants uniform.
He kept business off the field, playing in 157 games, batting .279/.324/.415 with 16 homers and 73 RBI (including posting a .308 average and .799 OPS from May 11 through season's end) and, of course, playing the hero again in October in front of thousands of worshipping Panda masks with an MLB-record 26 postseason hits.
All of this explains, he says, why he rebuffed the Giants' late charge to keep him in November. By then, he says, it was too late. Even with October echoes still fresh in the air.
"The Giants made a good offer, but I didn't want to take it," he said. "I got five years (and $95 million) from Boston. I left money on the table in San Francisco.
"It is not about money. It is about how you treat the player."
The San Diego Padres made a hard run at Sandoval early in his free agency, but he never seriously considered them, he said. For that, the Padres have only one thing to blame, and it was out of their control: geography.
"I wanted to get out of the NL West," Sandoval said. "If I had gone to San Diego, it would have been crazy when we played San Francisco."
Given that the Giants and Padres play 19 times annually, that was going to be too much crazy for the Panda.
The AL East is a world away from the NL West, both geographically and philosophically. Given Sandoval's lifetime battle with weight, many in the industry pegged Boston as a perfect landing spot because he can play third base for a time in Fenway Park and then move into the designated hitter role when David Ortiz retires.
Not so fast, Sandoval said.
"I want to play third base all five years," he said. "I don't like DH. I love to be involved in the game."
He's acting like it, too.
"He's already talked to a couple of starting pitchers about how they like to pitch so he knows how to position himself, whether it's near the line or away from it," Clay Buchholz said. "I reached out to Jake Peavy when we signed him. I think a lot of Jake Peavy's opinion, and he said he compares him with David Ortiz in the playoffs.
"I knew when he said that, we were going to like Pablo."
In his early days with the Red Sox, Sandoval has been involved in just about everything. Early-morning card games. Impromptu clubhouse dance sessions. Even, ahem, afternoon fishing expeditions. There is a man-made lake in one of the housing complexes nearby, and Sandoval says he, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli and Hanley Ramirez go fishing.
"I love it," he said. "We talk. We have fun."
They also throw the fish back. Well, the others do. Sandoval, asked if he handles the worms and baits the hook himself, acknowledged that he doesn't actually fish, he just likes to go along and watch the others.
"Everybody loves Panda," said Ramirez, who spent the past two-and-a-half seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers as Panda's NL West rival. "He's a great guy, and he's got a great heart.
"He gives everything he has every day."
New Red Sox hitting coach Chili Davis knew to expect that after having winter conversations with Giants hitting coach Hensley "Bam-Bam" Meulens.
"He told me you might have to get him out of the cage sometimes because he likes to work," Davis said. "He's a good guy. He's going to be something to watch.
"They're going to miss him."
In all likelihood, far more than the Panda is going to miss San Francisco.
"Only Bochy," Sandoval said of Giants manager Bruce Bochy. "I love Boch. He's like my dad. He's the only guy that I miss. And Hunter Pence. Just those guys.
"But now, I feel like I'm home."
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.
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