Forever a Giant


When I was about six or seven, back in Alabama, this kid from the local high school came over one day to help my dad out with some work around the house. He played on the baseball team — and somewhere in between the work, I guess, he and my dad got to talking.

He was a pitcher, a pretty good one if I remember. And my dad, he’s one of these guys where, you know, nothing feels like small talk. Just a very thoughtful individual, and a great listener. Loves to learn new things about other people. So when he found out this kid was a pitcher, he started asking him a thing or two about it. What do you like about pitching? and How do y’all make the ball move like that? and that sort of thing. And of course the kid had a ball handy — Rule No. 1 about baseball: someone always has a ball handy — and before you know it, he starts showing my dad some of the different grips that pitchers use.

Showed him two, in particular: the four-seam, and the two-seam.

“Well isn’t that wild,” I imagine my dad saying, before filing it away.

And then it was later that very same night, I think, that my dad came around and said he had something to show me. Something pretty cool he’d learned, just earlier, from that kid from the high school who’d been helping him out.

“Want to know how those pitchers get the ball to do all that?”

And then he showed me the two grips: the four-seam, and the two-seam.

Did you ever get shown a magic trick as a kid — maybe the nickel pulled out from behind your ear, something like that. And it’s like: If you’re just young enough, and the trick’s done just right … it’s about the greatest thing you’ve ever seen? You see that trick once, and your mind is racing. And your head is spinning. And now all you can think about is wanting to see it done again, and again, and again? Well that’s really how it was for me with those grips on that ball. As soon as I saw it once, man … I was hooked. My mind went racing. My head started spinning. And I just wanted to see it done — wanted to do it — again, and again, and again.

You grip the baseball, just like that … and you throw.

I thought it was about the greatest thing I’d ever seen in my life.

I thought it was magic.

As of today, I am officially retired from the game of baseball. I’m not one for big spectacles, or for putting any sort of spotlight on myself, or really for talking about myself much at all. But I still wanted to take a moment over the weekend and write this — just as a thank you. I wanted to say thank you to everyone who has helped me along the way in my career, and who has made an impact on me throughout my life as a ballplayer. And when we’re talking about my life as a ballplayer — I guess I’ve been lucky enough so that, you know, it means we’re pretty much just talking about one thing. The San Francisco Giants.

Brad Mangin

A lot of people have asked me why it meant so much to me — to play for one team, and one team only. And the truth is, while it was happening, I never really had a good answer. I knew it’s what I wanted … I’m just not exactly sure I knew why. But as these last few days have come and gone — with making the decision, and making the announcement about my last start, and pitching for the last time, and suiting up for the last time, all of that — I think everything has come a little more into focus.

I think I’ve realized that, what I’ve been able to build for myself here in San Francisco … it’s just so much bigger than baseball. It’s bigger than the innings I’ve pitched, or the games I’ve won — or even the championships we’ve brought home. It’s something that you can’t measure by looking at my stats, and you can’t understand by looking at my scouting reports.

I think I’ve realized that what I gave you guys is 15 years of baseball.

And that what you gave me back is an entire life.

I got to build an entire life here in San Francisco. I got to grow into a man, and a husband, and a father. I got to become someone, and something, that looking back — and now, in another way, looking forward — I can truly be proud of.

I got to become Matt Cain, Pitcher, San Francisco Giants.

And I’ll always be in your debt for that.

When I think about what being a Giant has meant to me, there are so many moments that stand out. There’s June 4, 2002: draft day. I was a late bloomer, and it was only when I was a senior in high school that I’d started to get much attention. So me and my parents, you know — we weren’t really equipped for what was about to happen, I don’t think, in a lot of ways. I remember, for the draft, it was this really small group of six of us — just me, my mom, my dad, his mom, my uncle, and our Yorkie-poo dog — huddled up around this desktop computer at my parents’ house in Somerville, Tennessee. And we’re all sitting there together, just trying to get the dang dial-up internet to work so we could watch it online. And we couldn’t at the start — the internet was too slow, and it just wouldn’t connect — so I think we ended up missing the first 10 or so picks. And I just remember my mom in her chair, writing down all the picks by hand as they came in. And then it got to the 25th pick, and they announced my name, and my mom started to write it — and then all of a sudden, it was like, wait a minute. That’s my name. I just got picked, in the first round, by the San Francisco Giants. I’m a Giant.

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

There’s August 26, 2005: The day that I got called up. I was winding down my season in Fresno, hanging out with a buddy, Kevin Frandsen, and we were actually heading down to drop off my truck — taking it in to get it lifted with some big tires, have some suspension put on it. Not even thinking about baseball at all, at that point. It was more like, alright, it’s fall — time to take this truck out on a road trip, go do some duck hunting or whatever we can get ourselves into, and just, you know … have ourselves an offseason. But as we’re taking the truck in, I get a call from this phone number I don’t recognize. Random 415 number. Pick it up. “Yep, this is Matt.” “Hey, how’s it going? Bobby Evans here, with the Giants. Just wanted to congratulate you. You’re getting the call-up to the big leagues.” And I didn’t even know how to process that. Just … wasn’t expecting it at all. And I’m such a kid at the time, I’m still just 20, that my first thought is about how I’ve got all these plans I’ve made for these next few weeks, trucking and duck hunting and all of that — and now that’s all up in smoke. But fortunately I at least knew enough to stop myself before I blurted any of that out loud. And instead I was just, like, “Thanks — thank — thank you!” Then I canceled my plans, and I packed a bag.

There’s May 6, 2007: The day that Timmy got called up. I guess that might seem strange to include here, in a letter about my career, but to me that day really meant something — and looking back, really has come to represent a lot. Because I think that was the day this era of Giants baseball went from being about a team in transition, that was losing a lot … to a team in transition, that was building something special.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Images

It was such a cool mix on those teams: We had me and Timmy, these two pitchers both young enough to basically still be in college … and then we also had this great group of veterans, who really helped to show us the way. And that’s no accident, you know? That’s the Giants culture, that’s what they do. They welcome guys in, and — whether you’re a rookie or a vet or anywhere in between — they set you up to succeed.

I just think about all of the special guys who I crossed paths with during those first few years in San Francisco. Jason Schmidt, just talking to him, a pitcher with his résumé who also happens to be this great person — that was huge for me when I got called up. Randy Winn, Rich Aurilia, Mike Matheny, Matt Morris … man, all these guys. They took a liking to me, and a genuine interest in me, even when they didn’t have to.

And speaking of people who didn’t have to: I’ll tell you who was one of the best, nicest guys to me, during those first few years, straight up — it was Barry. He’d sit me right by him on the plane, and man … he would just talk the game to you, so caringly, through his eyes. And of course he’s on this next level, so even when he’s trying to explain things to you, it’s a little, like, O.K., well, that’s why you’re the best ever, and I’m just a kid — but even in those moments, honestly, he was as understanding as could be. And he protected me. Whether it was from other teams, and giving me advice on how to deal with certain situations, or it was from guys on our own team who he felt were coming down too hard on me … truly very few people were there for me, at the beginning of my career, like Barry.

And I’ve got to thank him for that — I’ve got to thank all of those veterans for that.

And I know Timmy would say the same.

There’s the day I met Chelsea. To say that I wouldn’t have been able to do this without Chelsea is the understatement to end all understatements. A baseball player’s life is a weird one, and Chelsea’s been so much more than my wife over these last eight years. She’s been my rock. She’s been so strong, and so supportive: From the highest highs of pitching lights out in the World Series, to the lowest lows of getting left off the playoff roster … Chelsea’s been there for me. And more important than that, she’s been there for our family — especially in those moments when my schedule wouldn’t allow me to be. I’m so grateful.

Brad Mangin

Chelsea has also been instrumental in helping me to understand what my relationship with this city could be. And by that I mean — Chelsea made me realize what it is that makes a city feel like a home: a community.

From the opportunity we’ve had to support senior citizens and the critically ill with Project Open Hand and the Giant Race, to our involvement with the NOH8 Campaign opposing Proposition 8, to our work with the Giants Community Fund and Junior Giants, Until There’s a Cure, Sunrise Horse Rescue, PAWS, Strikeouts for Troops, Project Night Night and all the special kids and families we’ve met through Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area….

What Chelsea and I have been able to accomplish in the community, and with the community, over these last several years — it’s meant as much to me as any world championship.

There’s June 13, 2012: the perfect game. Not going to call anyone from S.F. a liar, but I’ll just say this: There were about 42,000 people in attendance that day. And in the last five years, I think I’ve met all 100,000 of them.

And finally: There’s November 1, 2010, and October 28, 2012, and October 29, 2014. If you’re reading this letter, then I’m guessing you already know what those dates stand for. But if you don’t, then honestly, even better — look ’em up. I won’t spoil it for you, except to say that our Giants teams.…

We did a little bit of winning this decade.

Jeff Chiu/AP Images

So, you know — thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to the best organization and the best fans in all of sports. You are what makes this franchise great.

And you are what made my life in baseball possible.

It hit me on Saturday when I woke up.

Tapped the alarm clock, got out of bed, hopped in the shower….

I think it’s the routine that gets you. All those years of routine, all those years of waking up on my start day and going through the same set of pregame habits. There’s a real comfort in routine — I think that’s probably why we do it. But when it comes time for that last time … man, there’s nothing “routine” about it.

This is my last alarm clock on a start day. This is my last shower on a start day. This is my last drive to the ballpark — last time heading over that bridge, last time pulling into that parking lot — on a start day.

This is my last start day.

It hit me, and it kept hitting me, throughout that morning.

I got out of my car, and walked into the ballpark. Me and that park … we’ve been through a lot together. But I told myself that I wasn’t going to treat this start, this day, like anything out of the ordinary. I promised myself that I wasn’t going to give in to the nostalgia.

Then I went and broke that promise pretty much instantly. I got to the clubhouse, and the TVs — I mean, you can’t make this stuff up: They were all playing this packaged loop of my “greatest moments.” You know — all of my career highlights, sequenced from start to finish, running on every TV in the room.

And of course the guys are loving it.

Some of the younger guys are coming up to me, during the older clips, like, “Matt, Matt — why’re you wearing number 43, what’s the deal?” And so I told them a story involving me and this guy named Moises Alou — a great, great player from before they were born. (Just kidding, Moises.) They’re all letting me hear it when the TV flashes to my old leg-kick I used to do, or shows me going up against some hitter “from the ’90s.” And of course (of course) there’s Gardy, giving me the hardest time of everyone, for how much harder I used to throw back in the day. And he’s just loving it: Every second, it’s, “Matt, wow, bringing the cheese, I’m into it.” Or, “I didn’t know you used to hand out three fastballs an at-bat.” It’s a lot of fun. But even in that moment, watching those clips, I don’t think it quite hit me that this was the end.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It wasn’t until Rags came up to me, I think, that it really started to sink in.

Dave, I’m lucky enough to say, has been my pitching coach for my entire career. And I owe so much of my success to him — more than I could ever fit into a letter like this. Rags has just been a special, special presence in my life. And so when he came up to me, you know, at first I thought he was going to want to talk about the elephant in the room — that this would be our last ever meeting as pitcher and pitching coach — and maybe get a little emotional. And I think, just sort of anticipating that, I started to get a little emotional myself.

But then, in perfect Rags fashion, he pivoted — and just started going on about the Padres lineup for that day. You know — like it was any other day, and any other start. And so the two of us … we’re just sitting there, by my locker, talking shop, going through some approaches. But I think that entire time, it’s almost, like — we’re speaking two languages at once. It’s like we’re saying one thing, but then meaning another. Like Rags is talking me through this player’s or that player’s tendencies … but what he’s really saying is, you know, “I’m proud of you, kid.” And I’m just taking in every word, and saying back what I’d usually say, and nodding … but what I’m really saying, I think, is, “Thank you, for everything. I don’t know where I’d be without you.” So it’s like this moment that was totally ordinary — but then also, just under the surface, incredibly special.

We finished talking, and Rags got up to leave.

And then at the last second, he turned around. Looked back at me, and cracked a smile.

“Hey. Enjoy it if you can.”

From there, I’ll be honest — it was tough. Putting on my jersey … putting on my pants, my cleats … just in those last few things that I had to do to get ready … there were probably 5-to-10 times where I had to hold myself back from crying. One thought I kept having was back to all of the times in my career, especially over the last few years, when that stuff — prepping for a start, meeting with coaches, putting on my gear — had felt like a grind. And how much I wish now that I could kind of go back, I guess, and knock that younger guy on the head, and just sort of tell him, you know, “There’s going to be a morning in October, a few years from now, when you’re going to realize how much you miss this grind.”

I walked through the tunnel.

Climbed up the stairs.

Made my way to the bullpen.

Took in the crowd — this awesome sight of the only fans I’ve ever known….

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And you know what: I think that was the moment.

That was the moment, I think, when I finally answered the question — of why it meant so much to me to play my entire career as a Giant. It wasn’t the first World Series, or the second, or the third, or the LCS against the Cardinals, or the LDS against the Reds, or one of the hundreds of Dodgers games, or the perfect game … or any other moment in between. It was the reaction that I got from those fans, on that afternoon, on my last day as a starter.

It was a reaction that said, Hey — we know what you’re going through. And guess what: We’re going through the exact same thing. It was a reaction that said, You’re going to miss this? Well, guess what: We’re going to miss this — we’re going to miss you — just the same.

It was a reaction that said, When you’re in this ballpark, you’re not just “Matt Cain, Pitcher.” You’re “Matt Cain, Pitcher, San Francisco Giants” — and you’re not on your own. We’re right here, with you, and we’re going to do this together.

And that’s what happened. I walked out of the bullpen, and I took the mound — and I didn’t feel alone the entire time. It was kind of wild to think about: 25 years after my dad had showed me this trick he’d learned in the backyard from some kid … there I was, gripping that ball, for the last, first time.

I waited for Buster, and then went into my windup.

You grip the baseball, just like that … and you throw.

It’s still about the greatest trick I’ve ever seen. It’s still never gotten old. And on my last day ever as a pitcher, it’s the craziest thing … but it still worked.

That’s the thing about magic.