From where Josie Whitfield sits in the stands behind home plate at Candlestick Park, Kevin Mitchell looks very small, a lot like the little boy who used to hit Wiffle balls in her driveway in southeast San Diego. "Come on, Kev," she yells, snapping open a cold San Francisco peanut. "Pop one like your Granny taught you to. Come on and rip one for me."
Kev's Granny is 67 years old and looks great. She's a warm, comfortable woman in black slacks, a black Giants windbreaker, a black Giants cap and black running shoes she calls her "joggers." She wears big harlequin glasses. four massive rings on her right hand, three more on her left, and gold heart-shaped earrings that weigh maybe a pound and a half each. Dangling from her neck is a diamond-encrusted brooch that spells out JOSIE.
"Lift your shoulders!" she shouts. 'Watch your follow-through! Don't open up your body so wide!" Granny is the biggest booster of Mitchell, the Giants' leftfielder. and—at 5'4"—his littlest batting coach. "I don't want to nag," she says, "but I've flown all the way up here, and I'd sure like to see a three-thirty-five off the wall."
"That's how many feet it is down the leftfield line. Kev doesn't need to get a homer for me. I'll settle for a triple. He doesn't have too many of them, anyway."
Only one all season, in fact. But Mitchell has 24 home runs, tops in the majors. And 19 doubles, fourth in the National League. He's batting .301, and six of every 10 of his hits are for extra bases. He has driven home more men than Ralph Kramden, and his slugging percentage is higher than Mike Tyson's. "The only other player I've seen have a year like Kevin was Dick Allen in 1972." says teammate Goose Gossage. " Allen never drove in a run that season that wasn't what we call damage. Very few of Kevin's hits haven't caused some kind of damage."
Mitchell is busting up the bleachers at a pace that puts him just barely behind that of Roger Maris's 61-dinger campaign in 1961. He has put himself up there in the Giants' home run pantheon with Mel Ott, Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey and Duane Kuiper.
"Kevin hasn't hit any cheapies," says Kuiper, now a Giants broadcaster and famous for his one tater in 3,379 career at bats. "They're all no-doubters."
"In my 40 years of baseball, I've seen a lot of great hitters," says Roger Craig, the San Francisco manager. "But I can't remember anything like this. It's unbelievable."
"Unbelievable?" says Mitchell with mock indignation. "You think I can't keep this up for the whole year? You think it's impossible? Well, I can. Hitting is easy for me."