The panda is, by nature, a docile creature.
DreamWork's Kung Fu Panda was a lovable novice who needed to learn how to harness his considerable talents.
Lovable though he may be, the 2011 version of Pablo Sandoval resembles neither a kung fu panda nor a real one.
That’s why it may be time for a new nickname.
In 2009, Sandoval truly resembled the Kung Fu Panda of big screen fame. He was a lovable, wide-eyed, jovial newcomer whose innocence and lack of experience only made his success more endearing.
Sandoval seemed unaware of his full potential—he smiled and laughed as he drove eye-level fastballs to all fields with power. He was so happy to be playing professional baseball that it didn’t even dawn on him that he shouldn’t be dominating.
In 2010, he switched from kung fu panda to real-life panda; huge, still lovable, but ultimately not that scary. He could be dangerous, sure, but as long as you carried a small piece of bamboo with you at all times, he wouldn’t hurt you.
For pitchers, a panda encounter was an easy problem to solve.
But the 2011 panda? Well, that is a whole other story.
Sandoval has been fantastic this year. His offense seems to have returned to 2009 form, but more importantly, his offseason conditioning program seems to have resulted in a new sense of confidence.
Gone are the days when Sandoval was not aware of his full powers. Now he knows he can hit any pitcher at any time—knows it.
The fire in his eyes says so. So does his continued domination of NL pitching.
As fitting a nickname as the Kung Fu Panda was two years ago, it no longer fully reflects the change that Sandoval has undergone. If you are an opposing pitcher, a stick of bamboo will no longer help you. A 98 mph fastball or a nasty slider won’t help you either.
The new Sandoval will de-globe you and toy with your unconscious body.
The new Sandoval is a killer.
I’m not actually suggesting that people start calling Sandoval the Black Bear or something of that nature. For the fans and the city of San Francisco, the Panda is a perfect nickname. It's fun, it's cute and it's something you can sell your kids on.
But the Kung Fu Panda that once existed seems to be gone, hopefully forever. This new panda is far more serious, far more focused and, consequently, far more dangerous.
For Giants fans, a reinvented Panda is a welcome sight indeed. For NL West opponents, facing Sandoval is once again akin to coming across a wild bear on a family camping trip.
Defeating him is not an option. You can only hope that he doesn't decide to destroy you.