National League managers have come to think that's not such a bad idea. In one game, Braves manager Russ Nixon had Mitchell intentionally walked twice and pitched around him for another walk in a third trip to the plate. A few days later Rose gave him a free pass in the first inning of a scoreless game in Cincinnati. At the start of this season, San Francisco needed an imposing cleanup hitter to protect Will Clark in the batting order. Mitchell got the job. Now they could use a No. 5 man to protect Mitchell.
Not that Mitchell needs a whole lot of protection. Giants pitcher Mike Krukow once watched him casually deadlift a 30-gallon steel trash can brimming with rice. "It was incredible!" Krukow says. "I couldn't even budge that sucker. Mitch has to be the strongest guy I've ever played with." He may also be the toughest. He played 148 games last season with a strained right hand and a bum right knee that had to be fixed in the off-season. In April, in a play against the Cardinals that made every highlight film, Mitchell overran a long fly ball to leftfield and reached back and caught it barehanded. He once dislocated a finger taking grounders, snapped it back in place and took more grounders.
"I can't get him out of the lineup even when he's hurt," says Craig. "He not only plays hurt, but hard." Mitchell is practically a hymn to the work ethic. He leads the majors in hours logged at the ballpark: He'll arrive as much as eight hours before the start of a game. He spent the winter attending hitting school and playing ball in four different pickup leagues. "This guy really loves the game," says Craig. "He's got the enthusiasm of a little kid playing sandlot ball. And he improves himself with every at bat."
Mitchell bats right, but, oddly, against lefthanders last season, he hit only .200. Now he's pelting southpaws at a .377 clip. Maybe it's a new maturity or maybe he's more comfortable in leftfield than he was at third base, or maybe it's because his idol, Willie Mays, infused him with hitting wisdom during spring training. "Or maybe it's the contact lenses Granny got me to wear over the winter," Mitchell says. "I can pick up the rotation on curves now. Last year. I had trouble reading the scoreboard."
Do the contacts really help? "Definitely," says Craig. "Since Kevin started wearing them, he's been dating better-looking girls."
Josie Whitfield turns up the volume on her TV as Kevin comes to bat. Her husband, A.C., is being led around the bedroom by Kevin's rottweiler, Khan. Aunt Janice is playing footsie with Kevin's chow chow, Bear.
"I wish Kev would be more consistent," Granny frets as she studies the screen. "Sure, he's been getting a home run a day, but how long can that last?"
"It's been lasting," says A.C.
"I'd rather to see him keep his average at .300 and not go oh for 4 and oh for 5. I'd like him to get a hit a day. If you keep a steady speed, you won't burn up so much gas."
The first time up, Mitchell homers. The second time, he parks another. His next time up, the bases are loaded. "Great opportunity," says Granny. "Grand slam. Come on, Kev."