Sandoval's Bat Just the Tip of the Iceberg: Little Panda's Little Secret

Bleacher ReportSenior Writer IJuly 25, 2009

Fellow Community Leader Danny Penza dropped a nice link by my bulletin board that showed ESPN's brief online highlight clip of the San Francisco Giants' game on Friday night.  In it, you see Nate Schierholtz' home run, Bengie Molina's run-scoring single, and Matt Cain's virtuoso pitching—all deserving inclusions.

What you don't see is what the rest of Major-League-Baseball-conscious America doesn't know—Pablo Sandoval is becoming an incredible defensive third baseman.

I don't mean this as a criticism of ESPN, per se.  The clip is brief and I stopped watching SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight long ago.  Back when they first started mixing in heavy doses of vapid, pop culture drivel.

There's probably (hopefully) a good chance Little Money's defensive inspiration made the longer television highlight and/or the "Web Gem" feature, assuming that still exists.

Instead, I mean it as a larger call to senses.

Based on his treatment during the All-Star team selection and the debate such engendered, it's clear most of America outside the confines of the Bay Area believes Pablo Sandoval to be a fat pud with the knack for hitting a baseball.

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Some slovenly slugger who's been pressed into defensive duty at the hot corner because of an impotent offense and a catcher's spot anchored by the one ersatz thumper in the batting order.

As is often the case, the truth has been distorted beyond recognition by prejudice and mob mentality.

By prejudice, I don't mean the big P—I'm talking the literal definition as in to pre-judge, as in to see a superficially unathletic body and assume it can't produce athletic feats.  There's a reason Little Panda has the nickname and it's not just his Jack Black-esque physique.

The star of Kung Fu Panda was capable of outrageous animated displays of martial artistry despite his gelatinous girth.

THAT is the primary reason for the loving moniker—Pablo Sandoval may look like the chubby kid you'd pick last, but that's why there's the saying.

This kid can pick it and pick it clean at one of the most difficult positions in baseball.

Defensively, the catcher's position is so arduous and soul-sapping, it should be in a category all by itself.  But it's not so the Tools of Ignorance will have to settle for the blue ribbon in this particular contest.

Then, it's shortstop and I don't see how anyone can debate this.  Nor will I entertain any such futility.

The bronze medal (I don't know what color the third-place ribbon is) goes to the five spot on the diamond and I'll only open the floor for minimal discussion.

You could argue first because of the heightened responsibility, you could argue second base because you have time to think, you could argue center field because you want to, etc.

However, the hot corner gets its name for a reason, as well.

Third base is less about actual physical difficulty than it is about the mental fortitude to stand in front of Major League howitzers and say, "bring it, big fella."  There is no quarter on that third island—you spend most of your time closer to the batter than any infielder other than the pitcher.

But that's not the rub.

The rub is the vast majority of splinters in the Show get swung from the right side.  And the vast majority of those can spin on even the nastiest of fastballs to send a screamer straight for your face or a minimally protected/majorly vulnerable spot farther south.

To be wonderful, you must have quick, soft hands and twinkling, feline toes—there is no doubt about that.  But that's true of every infield spot in Major League Baseball.

What makes a third baseman a third baseman is the willingness to get his crouch with the best view of the batter you can get without sincerely risking death on a pitch-by-pitch roll of the dice.

And Pablo Sandoval is learning this perilous craft at its highest level.  Learning it well.

Last night, he made two exceptional plays—both crucial to game preservation, both superlative snags, both featuring astonishingly quick and delicate footwork, and both sealed with frozen ropes across the diamond.

Furthermore, both were pure robbery of one of the Bigs' fastest runners in Dexter Fowler.  It's not easy assignment to make those plays with a sloth inching down the line, but to do it under the additional pressure of a burner like Fowler?

Nicely, nicely.

Pablo Sandoval will always be known for his bat, that comes with the territory of a .322 average and good pop in the larval stages of a Major League career.  Nonetheless, people need to be aware that his glove shines no less brilliantly than his bat.

Some would even argue more brilliantly—gold is, after all, more valuable than silver.

**www.pva.org**