Champion Giants still under the radar -- and it's fine by them
Giants won their first World Series since moving to San Francisco last fall
The team is still anchored by its starting rotation, led by Tim Lincecum
Closer Brian Wilson is one of the few Giants to be making headlines off the field this spring
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There's a banner in the clubhouse and a logo on the field, empirical evidence that the San Francisco Giants are indeed the defending World Series champions.
And with winning comes -- all too often - change and turmoil. Fame and excess.
But this spring the Giants are indulging in remarkably little post-championship drama. Their roster has become, if anything, more stable and predictable. They haven't noticeably transformed into divas. Nor have they morphed into favorites -- the Phillies took care of that in the offseason by signing Cliff Lee.
"The only difference is that we know for a fact that we're winners," said closer Brian Wilson. "So when we scuffle during the season, and that's going to happen, we know how to hone in and get back to winning."
Wilson was the leading candidate to succumb to championship-induced megalomania. The bearded one has popped up in the kind of bizarre situations peculiar to newly-minted celebrities: dressed as an insane sea captain on the George Lopez Show, jetting from spring training to Charlie Sheen's house, mentioned in Sheen rants.
"I've been the same character since I was seven," he said, "except now people televise it."
But alarm bells sounded when spring training games began and Wilson was sidelined, troubled by a sore back. It was a red flag for arguably the team's most valuable player, the man who had six saves during the Giants unexpected postseason run.
But on Sunday, Wilson -- his beard bushier, blacker and more ZZ Topish than ever -- pitched an inning against the Mariners. His velocity hit 94 miles per hour, he struck out the first two batters he faced and got Milton Bradley to line out to third for the final out. In a nutshell, he picked up where he left off on Nov. 1 in Arlington, Texas.
"I have no concerns about Willie," manager Bruce Bochy said. "Nobody works harder or is more prepared. He gets in a game today and throws the ball like its October."
So there's one more potential distraction squelched. One unusable "Wilson derailed by late nights with Charlie Sheen" headline. Wilson's solid outing came on the same day that Tim Lincecum looked ready for opening day, striking out seven; when Matt Cain tested his sore elbow without issue; when Miguel Tejada -- who was signed to replace departed postseason heroes Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria -- his a triple and made an age-defying defensive play to start a double play. In other words, yawn.
So far the Giants biggest drama of the spring has been the latest twist on an old story: The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the team was exasperated by Barry Zito's chronic underachievement and might take him out of the starting rotation. The story was quickly shot down by Bochy and general manager Brian Sabean.
Bochy, whose steady demeanor helped navigate the Giants through a tense championship season labeled "Torture" by team broadcasters, is committed to the no-drama theme in 2011.
"My concern coming in was, 'Are they going to be caught up in everything?'" Bochy said. "But they're focused."
The Giants are still largely flying under the radar. The spring attention is directed at the Phillies, the Albert Pujols-Cardinals drama, the mighty Red Sox, Derek Jeter's giant mansion. While the Giants are the subject of a Showtime documentary-style show, and cameras follow them most of the time, there is less of a circus atmosphere in the championship clubhouse than what surrounded less successful Barry Bonds teams.
The Giants are still an afterthought.
"Good," said Aubrey Huff. "I like it that way. We were underdogs all last year. All the heat is on the Red Sox and the Phillies."
But the players do take umbrage at anyone calling their World Series a fluke.
"When you have a pitching staff like we have it wasn't a fluke," Huff said.
Cody Ross' voice raises slightly when listing the Giants attributes.
"When you talk about pitching staffs, full pitching staffs -- not just starters -- I don't see how we could be considered an underdog," Ross said.
The Giants pitching staff is its strength. But the team also has fewer questions this spring than it did a year ago. Ross, an August waiver wire pickup, is the starting rightfielder. Pat Burrell, who signed last May, is back on board. Pablo Sandoval has made a diligent effort to drop weight and has been playing well. Lincecum is more dedicated to his workout routine.
And, perhaps most importantly, Rookie of the Year Buster Posey -- who started last season in Triple-A Fresno -- will not only be with the team all season, but has become its centerpiece and leader.
The Giants' fans are still riding a wave of euphoria and seem less concerned about talk of a repeat than with continuing to celebrate the team's first San Francisco championship
When Wilson entered the game Sunday a prolonged ovation rang through the crowd of 10,980 at Scottsdale Stadium.
"That felt good," Wilson said. "I felt honored to be in a Giants uniform."
Wilson contrasted it to past years when he'd take the mound to a polite golf-clap and a single "Let's go Brian."
"And that was my mom," he cracked.
The quirky clubhouse, full of offbeat personalities and lacking traditional superstars, seems to be picking up where it left off.
Wilson has been TMZ fodder. But he said that all he really wanted was to get back to his unique team and cherish his time there.
"When it's over, its over," he said. "Unless I build a clubhouse inside my house and invite people over for pregame routines."
He just might do that in the future. But for now, the Giants clubhouse is his workplace and it's all business.
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