On April 13, the premium television channel Showtime aired a sneak peek of their new series, "The Franchise," featuring the San Francisco Giants and the defending of their World Series championship. There was some excitement generated among Giants fans everywhere, but no one knew it would be this good.
At first many people were hesitant to support the show, fearing it could be a distraction for the Giants who would need to focus now more than ever as the defending champs in the 2011 season. However, the few extra cameras around do not seem to be bothering anyone, and they are getting some excellent footage that cannot be found anywhere else.
The new series takes viewers where they have never been before. Along with player interviews (which, with the cast of characters they have there in San Francisco, are highly entertaining to say the least), the Showtime cameras get inside the clubhouse, the manager's office—and even inside private meetings with the Giants' brain trust, including manager Bruce Bochy, GM Brian Sabean and owner Bill Neukom.
The first full episode premiered Wednesday night, and it did not disappoint. Starting with the theme, bulls eye, the Showtime crew divulged on the theoretical target the Giants will have on their backs all season long as the defending champs.
Another common theme in the episode was the injuries to several key Giants players early in the season, including Cody Ross, Andres Torres, Barry Zito, Pablo Sandoval and, of course, Buster Posey.
They got some terrific shots of Posey with the Giants trainers and medical staff, and some of the best commentary from the young star catcher since the injury, a play which Posey called "a perfect storm." In an interview they asked him what his response would be if one day his son wanted to be a catcher. Posey insisted, "No way. Not a chance."
The hour-long episode was not completely filled with heartbreak though, as the incredible stories of a few different Giants resurfaced.
First, there was the resurgence of the Kung Fu Panda, Pablo Sandoval. After a poor 2010 season, Pablo filled his offseason with a grueling workout regimen and found himself 35 pounds lighter at the beginning of the 2011 season. That was only the beginning of his turnaround—the lean Panda was made an All-Star, despite missing serious time on the disabled list due to a broken bone in his hand.
Next was the Brandon Belt saga. The rookie first baseman was hyped up to near the same extent that Buster Posey was the year prior. After playing well in spring training, Belt's lifelong dream came true in an emotional scene when Bruce Bochy told him he made it on the big league roster. With tears in his eyes, Belt knew he could not walk back out into the clubhouse until he regained his composure, so Bochy tossed him a beer and told him to hang out a while.
The best story of them all, however, was that of 33-year-old starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong. In his own words, the one they now call "Vogelstrong" told of all the struggles he faced throughout his career.
Citing early setbacks, such as Tommy John surgery and eventually pitching in Japan for multiple years, Vogelsong admitted, "I wondered if I was ever going to pitch in the big leagues again." Sure enough, he got his chance and ran with it, making the 2011 All-Star team and being among the league leaders in ERA midway through the season.
Getting the viewers emotionally invested in the players and their lives outside of baseball is a key component of the series. The Showtime crew does an amazing job of portraying the professional athletes as normal people off the field.
Pitchers Matt Cain and Jeremy Affeldt allowed the cameras inside their homes, which gave the viewers a good sense of what life is like for the families the Giants leave behind when they go on the road. Their wives become single parents for 10 to 12 days at a time. For fans, the end of a road trip simply marks the beginning of a homestand, but for the players it is so much more than that. Husbands come home to their wives, and fathers come home to their children.
The final theme of the first episode was resiliency.
The entire first half of the season was a struggle for the Giants. Battling injury after injury, a continuously slumping offense and the sheer exhaustion from the postseason, Bruce Bochy's squad still entered the All-Star break 12 games above .500, leading the NL West by three games.
Fueled by a crazy amount of walk-off wins and consistently sold-out crowds, the Giants look to be in good position for another postseason run.
Brian Wilson closed out the premier episode with some of his own editing, including intense violin playing, fireworks and the always classy "You're f***ing welcome."
Be sure to check back every Thursday for the recap of each episode.