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The Personal Side of Baseball

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Every set and subset of Giants fans has that one player who drives them nuts. Here in elitist know-it-all land it’s Eugenio Velez. In the wilds of the unwashed, ignorant masses, it’s Fred Lewis. When Velez runs the bases, I expect him to do something bizarre -- say, dig several feet below the mound looking for the fabled "fifth base," which sounds weird, but no more so than sliding ten feet past second base. When he’s at the plate, I expect two things: a distinguished display of impatience, and a wild, sack-of-antlers-in-the-spin-cycle swing. When he succeeds, I call it a fluke. When he doesn’t, it’s because he’s only one of the best 10,000 baseball players in the world, and not the best 1,000, but I still call it other, less savory things.

But I don’t know Eugenio Velez. I don’t know if he likes backgammon, Clive Cussler novels, falconry, and long walks on the beach. I don’t know if he’s the kind of guy who will pick you up from the airport at 3:00 a.m., and I don’t know if he’s the kind of guy who passes up the last glass of milk because he knows you have a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch left. When he’s on the field, he’s a part of the theater. I pretend that I don’t have any other problems except for the team opposing the Giants, and Velez is a character in that pretend-world. I’m not sure if I want to know if Velez is a great guy. He does just fine as the oft-maddening, speedy extra that he is.

Sometimes, though, you’re reminded that baseball is filled with people. The game isn’t like the Hall of Presidents at Disneyland, where animatronic figures do a little jig for your amusement. Well, maybe Velez looks a little like Lincoln, but that’s not the point. And, heck, Velez isn’t even really the point; he’s just one example. It’s just as tough to find out that a truly great player is a truly troubled human. And maybe the toughest thing at all is to read about a guy hanging it up after years of riding buses.

Which brings us to Garrett Broshius, who is retiring after six seasons in the Giants organization and recently wrote a thank-you note to all of the people and fans he met over minor league career. Just over a year after leaving the University of Missouri, Broshius was playing at Fresno, knocking on the door of the major leagues. Five years later, he retires without having ever pitched in the majors. There was no crushing injury, no Lifetime movie-of-the-week reason for this. He was effective and efficient in almost every season. For some reason, things line up for a guy like Ryan Sadowski where they don’t for a guy like Broshius. There’s no science to it.

Broshius was talented enough to share his minor league career with us through columns in The Sporting News, Baseball America, and his blog, so he became a bit of a fan favorite. How can you not root for a guy who writes things like this:

A conversation with Steve Kline is like a conversation with a flying cow. Even if you don't learn anything, it's going to be memorable.

It’s easy to read a name on a minor league transaction log and forget all about it by the time you’ve tweeted your choice of toilet paper. That’s what it’s like when the players are just names or faceless entities. Brett Pill doesn’t walk enough, and the Giants should trade him for a middle reliever. See? That’s easy to write from my perch in nerd world.

But Pill is a guy who probably works hard as heck, who hasn’t had anything handed to him, and it would be a fine story if he came up. Pablo Sandoval is mirthful and jolly. Barry Bonds is, uh, complicated. Omar Vizquel wears shirts that seem like they’re lit by six C-batteries. And Garrett Broshius probably knows where to get a good sandwich at a good price in Akron, and he can write a mighty fine story about it if he wants to. That's all pretty danged cool to know, even if it makes it a little harder to see things in a binary, my team/your team kind of way. It’s easier not to know anything about the players we root for, but it's also a hell of a lot less interesting.