One year ago today, Pablo Sandoval of Venezuela made his big-league debut with the Giants.
Today, he is quickly becoming the team center. Fans are wearing panda masks (some frightening, some just plain stupid) around the ballpark, getting jerseys made with “PANDOVAL” on the back, and generally acting like grateful fools. It’s been a long time since we had someone we could really, truly love on the Giants — as opposed to someone we admired but who made us nervous (Bonds), someone we adored but whose godlike talents in the field set him on a pedestal (Vizquel), and someone before whom we simply stand in awe (Lincecum).
Sandoval’s Kung Fu Panda nickname was bestowed by Barry Zito after a play last year where he jumped over a Dodgers catcher to score a run, but it just as fittingly applies to Sandoval’s quickness at third base, where his acrobatics have been compared to Hall-of-Famer Brooks Robinson. He can and has done all of the following this year: play catcher, first base, and third base; hit 17 home runs and lead the team in RBIs; shown startling quickness and a terrific arm at the third base corner, fallen down on the base paths a couple of times; and yesterday sparked a benches-clearing tussle after being grazed by a James McDonald pitch and then angrily barking and gesturing at the pitcher.
Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum is called “the Franchise” for his potential long-term value to the team; fellow pitcher Matt Cain has matched him win for win this year. But it’s Sandoval, who plays the game with joy, who is the heart and soul of the team, and the hands-down fan favorite.