First pitch is four hours away. What better time to beat the slump of a lifetime with a baseball stick than in the pregame quiet of AT&T Park?
No classic rock cracking through the ballpark’s speaker system. No fans muttering under their garlic-fries breath about automatic outs. No vendors hawking salt and shells to the peanut gallery.
Just the sound of pennant flags snapping in the wind, and Casey McGehee at the plate, adding dents to the left-field seats when he isn’t grounding out to no one in particular.
“This is one of my favorite things,” the San Francisco Giants third baseman said in the dugout. “It’s peaceful, it’s quiet, you just come out here and work on things. You can look around and just enjoy being on a baseball field.”
McGehee’s next pop fly to center field is four hours away, and Fresno State’s proudest is trying like mad to swing his way out of the worst start of his life, with “worst” defined as a .164 batting average with eight double-play balls in his first month as a Giant.
“He’s probably hitting hell in the head right now, trying to fight his way out of it,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “April wasn’t the best month for him. With that said, when things are not going well, you want to see them fight through that, and that’s what he’s doing.”
McGehee has been slowed by a left knee injury for three weeks, which is a real problem when you were already all-trot and no-steal. He doesn’t get the same lift on contact, thus the grounders. He doesn’t get any speed up the first-base line, thus all the 6-4-3 shoutouts to those keeping score at home.
“Is he 100 percent?” Bochy asked. “I doubt it.”
McGehee is the Giants’ first and last option at third base. He has to struggle his way through the injury because the Giants don’t have a contingency plan. When urban legend Pablo Sandoval torched all six Bay Area bridges on his way to Boston, the Giants went all in on McGehee.
And why not? He’s a Santa Cruz son who always wanted to come home. He just missed getting voted into the All-Star game with Miami last year, leading all third baseman in hitting and runs kicked in at the 2014 break.
McGehee has struggled like this before — there was his prolonged slump that ran him out of Milwaukee in 2011, his shared frustration with the Pirates and Yankees in 2012 that forced him to hold on for dear career in Japan two years back.
But this is different. When McGehee went 0 for 4 at a Reds-Brewers Tuesday tilt, who knew? When he went 0 for 3 Friday against the Angels at AT&T Park on Friday, everyone who knows him knew. It feels just as lousy to McGehee, only it now plays out in front of friends and family.
And so he pounds away at hell’s bald spot, in a private therapy session before the real batting practice. It’s just McGehee, a gray-haired pitcher and a hitting coach who uses forearm gestures to explain why he keeps hitting two-bouncers to short and cans of corn to center.
McGehee still wants to be that Brewers rookie who hit .301with 16 home runs, or that big-league sophomore who ripped 23 home runs with 104 RBIs. He still looks the part, to be sure.
He stands inside the chalk box with his creamsicle pants long as ever, dragging at the bottom of his cleats. He still puffs his bearded cheeks when he swings, he still spits hard between pitches, he still gets all red faced in better and in worse.
He looks like a 32-year-old Giants veteran, and a 22-year-old Fresno State superstar, all at the same time. He swears he can batting-cage his way out of this fine mess.
Not convinced? Maybe you should have been at the yard Saturday. McGehee went 3 for 4 in his best game as a Giant. He jacked his batting average to .200 in a single day.
The old man may not be done just yet.
“I’ve been there before, so I know what I need to do,” McGehee said before taking a second round of batting practice, the music turning full blast, the autograph beggars lining up. “I’ve always worked my way out of it. You just have to keep at it, put your head down and grind at it.
“I’ve been counted out before. What’s one more time?”