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Pablo Sandoval is happy to be back, but I’m not sure how to feel yet

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How should we feel about Panda being back on the Giants? Let’s see if he can still play baseball, first.

San Francisco Giants v Washington Nationals - Game 2 Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Pablo Sandoval is on the Giants. I guess I haven’t really taken the time to process this yet, even as I’ve written about it, talked about it, and discussed it with both real-life friends and online friends. I think I’m avoiding it because he makes me realize that like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives. What happened to the spry catcher of the future? Where did he go? Why is he back? Wasn’t it just 2008?

And because I haven’t processed this, I haven’t done a post about the emotions of his return. Sandoval left, he got mouthy and claimed he didn’t miss anybody but Bruce Bochy and Hunter Pence, and then he stunk. For a lot of Giants fans, that was enough to write him off forever.

As for me, I’m confident enough in myself to take a very bold sports stand, here. A lot of people aren’t expressing it in these terms, but I’m just going to dive in here:

I’m very willing to cheer for Pablo Sandoval as long as he produces for the sports team that I have chosen.

Phew. Feels good to get this off my chest. I’m totally cool with this professional athlete contributing to specific parts of my hobby until he is no longer useful to my rooting interests, and I don’t care who knows it.

More specifically, though, I’ll cheer for him the same way that I cheered Rich Aurilia when he did good things, and I’ll grouse about him the same way that I groused about Jose Guillen or Casey McGehee if he can’t hit. Your mileage my vary, except it probably won’t. You’re a sports fan.

If you want to be conflicted about something, read Jen Mac Ramos on what Sandoval’s return should mean. I know that I often gloss over Sandoval’s sexual assault charge, and I remember thinking after the charges were dropped something like, “Phew. He didn’t do it!”, which was incredibly naïve about the realities of how most sexual assault charges are handled. It was just what I wanted to think, and I still struggle on how to address situations like this. I’ve rewritten this paragraph 30 times already.

As for the way he left San Francisco? Nah. Not that concerned. Sandoval apologized in his Players Tribune piece, totally written by him, and he talked about his rally-starting double against the Diamondbacks:

And I knew that I had been welcomed back — that the Giants fans who I had missed so much wanted me here.

I don’t know … maybe it’s not a big thing. But to me, it just means so much. Being wanted was a feeling I had forgotten. A feeling that I think only Giants fans could give me.

And then, for that double to be the hit that started the rally, and for Hunter to hit a home run, and then we come back and win in extra innings?

That was special. It felt like the old days. And one of the best things I remember about being in San Francisco — on top of the great teammates and great fans and great organization — is that we win.

The whole article has that Players Tribune feel, where the player gives a ghostwriter some themes he wants to touch on, makes sure the words “Also, Red Sox fans can choke on their chowder” aren’t included, and approves it for publishing. If that’s not how it happened, my apologies. If that’s the case, Sandoval has a brilliant post-playing career in public relations. He’s got the goods.

So that’s the cynical part. Pablo is back, and I’ll cheer for him if he’s good. He apologized to the fans because it was necessary PR, and he wrote a Players Tribune piece in his name to express how happy he was to be back. None of those should surprise you.

What I can’t get over is the underlying psychology of it all, how it really just might make a difference that he’s back playing where he’s comfortable. That he’s playing in front of fans who have seen him at his best. That he isn’t living up to an enormous contract in front of new fans who are rightfully skeptical of him. All of that resonates with me.

I’m not usually one to talk about clutch genes and playing the game the right way and all the other intangible stuff that’s easy to note when you need to support an opinion pulled from your nether regions, but a rebound makes intuitive sense. A progression of the last few years:

  • Player is comfortable
  • Player takes situation for granted, leaves
  • Player struggles
  • Player becomes lightning rod for criticism
  • Player struggles even more, gets hurt
  • Criticism doesn’t stop
  • Player goes back to where he’s comfortable

The arc doesn’t have to end with Sandoval becoming a productive hitter again. It can certainly end with him hitting like Conor Gillaspie without the postseason heroics. But if he were to revive his career, the path he took to get there would look so bloody obvious.

You might be surprised to know that they’re not very happy about that Players Tribune piece in Boston.

I agree that the part about his heart being back in San Francisco wasn’t a deftly added touch. It was someone trying to be a little too clever and referencing the Tony Bennett song. I’d wager he didn’t write that particular kicker, though. What he wanted to say was probably something more like ...

I’ve always loved San Francisco. I thought about it often when I was struggling and being criticized. I was filled with regret. I can’t count how many times I wondered, “What if I had stayed?” Because I was comfortable there, and I put too much pressure on myself in a new situation. I’m hoping this reclaimed comfort will affect how well I play.

And I can believe that. I really can. So I’m keeping an open mind on Sandoval, and the early returns are positive enough to keep going with the experiment. But I’m still not sure how to feel yet. That’s okay, though. I’ll know how to feel just as soon as his bat lets me. Pretending to be mad or elated before then just wouldn’t be very sports fan of me.