Back Where I Belong

Aug 14 2017
Photo by
Jason O. Watson/Getty Images
Photo by
Jason O. Watson/Getty Images
Pablo Sandoval
San Francisco Giants
Aug 14 2017

It was like one o’clock in the morning on August 5 when the phone rang. I was sleeping in a hotel room in Omaha, Nebraska, where I was with Triple A Sacramento for a road series. The phone woke me up. It was my manager. He told me that I had to get on a flight the next morning.

To San Francisco.

I was getting called up.

I thought I was dreaming. I couldn’t believe it. I went numb for like two minutes. I felt the emotions from all the ups and downs in my career — the good and the bad — come back to me at once.

I thought back to when San Francisco signed me to my first contract at 16 years old. I wanted to be a Giant forever. Then I thought about being released by the Red Sox last month and doing everything in my power to get back to San Francisco. It was a lot of emotion.

After I hung up, the first thing I did was call my fiancée. She was in San Francisco with our son. When I signed with the Giants last month, they sent me to the minor leagues. I didn’t want to drag my fiancée and son along with me, so I rented them an apartment in San Francisco and I promised them that I would be back there — and back with the Giants — as soon as possible.

I felt the butterflies in my stomach as I told her I was getting called up and that I’d be in San Francisco the next day. I was happy and excited and nervous all at the same time, and I … couldn’t process it. I didn’t know what this feeling was called. It was just so much emotion.

I guess my fiancée heard something in my voice, because she stopped me right away and said, “Pablo, if you want to cry, just cry. It’s O.K.”

And so, sitting on the bed in my hotel room by myself, I put my head down … and I started to cry.

But it was a good cry.

It was the best cry of my life.

“It’s O.K. to be happy,” she said. “You don’t have to change nothing now. You can be yourself again.

“You’re going home, Pablo.”

Before I continue, I want to take a moment to apologize to the Giants and to the fans. I know I already have, and I probably will again, but I don’t think I can apologize enough for the way I left — for some of the things I said. I said things I didn’t have to say. Things I don’t want to repeat. Things I didn’t mean. I was just so emotional when I left San Francisco, and I didn’t handle it the right way.

I made a mistake.

I’m very sorry.

And I understand how fortunate I am to be back with this organization. It’s just such a blessing for me to be back in San Francisco — back with the team that has been there for me through so many ups and downs in my career. The Giants gave me my first chance to be in the big leagues.

Now they have given me the opportunity for a second chance.

SF Giants

When I first signed with San Francisco, I wanted to have a long professional career, and I wanted to be a Giant for life. But professional baseball was a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be. I was just a teenager coming from high school in Venezuela to the United States for the first time. I didn’t know the language. I didn’t know the culture. It was crazy for me. I felt very alone.

In those first few years, you don’t know how many times I thought about packing up and going back home to Venezuela.

Many, many times.

But every time I would start to feel like that, I would tell myself that this was the career I had chosen — that this was my dream, and the Giants were giving me a chance to live it. And in return, they were expecting me to work hard to get to the highest level.

So I stayed.

And two days after my 22nd birthday, I got called up. When I got to the ballpark, I thought about all the work I had put in, and I promised myself that I would work even harder to make sure I stayed in the big leagues.

It wasn’t easy. I had times like 2009, when I played so good, and times like 2010, when I played so bad that I got benched and barely even played in the World Series.

But the Giants … they kept believing in me. So I kept working hard to get better, and two years later we won another World Series. And this time, I was not on the bench. I hit three home runs in Game 1, and I ended up winning MVP.

It was amazing to win a second championship with my teammates, but it meant so much more to me personally because of where I had been in 2010 and how hard I had worked to get better and help my team.

And then in 2014, I caught the last out of the World Series against the Royals, and it felt amazing to be a part of Giants history like that. Like, when people remember that World Series … to be the one who caught that last out that started the celebration — for me, that’s an honor.

That group of guys we had was so special. I came up through the minor leagues with a lot of them, and over the years we built great chemistry together.

And by winning the World Series three times in five years, we also built a dynasty.

David E. Klutho/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

Then I chose to go to the Red Sox, and … what can I say? Leaving San Francisco was so emotional that when I got to Boston, I just tried to forget about everything and play my game.

But it wasn’t that easy.

For the first time since I had come to the United States as a teenager, I had to learn a new culture. I had to start all over.

I tried very much to fit in, and I think that was part of the problem.

It’s the same thing when I step to the plate: When I try too much, I struggle. And when you’re trying so much to fit in, it’s difficult to perform.

At the end of the day, I just never felt comfortable in Boston. It had nothing to do with the organization, or my teammates, or the fans, or the city. Everybody was great to me. I think it was just something that happens sometimes — you don’t feel comfortable somewhere, or you don’t fit in, even if you’re in a place you chose to be.

In Boston, I was lost.

It just never felt like home.

And then I got released, and it was the worst feeling. I knew it was coming, but when it actually happened, it felt worse than I had even imagined it would. I felt like my career was over — like everything I had worked for my whole life was just … you know … done. All the great memories. All the great times you have playing this game. And one day, it can all be gone like that.

I had the greatest times of my life in San Francisco. And when I chose to leave, I left the special group of guys that I had shared those times with. I left behind the chemistry I had built with my teammates. I left behind a dynasty.

And I think that’s another reason I struggled so much the last couple of years: Because every day I spent in Boston, my heart was still back in San Francisco.

Jed Jacobsohn/The Players' Tribune

So when I got released, the first thing I did was try to find a way to get back to the Giants. I started texting people in the front office — people I knew I needed to talk to. I told them how much I appreciated them. I told them I was sorry. I told them I should have never left.

I told them I wanted to come home.

When I signed the contract to return to the Giants, it was an amazing feeling. I felt like I had new life. Like my career had been saved.

But I was also very nervous.

The Giants had given me a second chance, and I didn’t want to waste it. I knew it was going to be difficult, and I was ready to work hard to get back to the big leagues.

But after the way I left, I think I was most nervous because I didn’t know how I was going to be received by my teammates and by Giants fans.

I would have understood if people were not happy with me. So I was ready for anything. I was prepared for people to be happy to see me, but also for people to be upset with me. I was prepared for cheers and for boos. And I told myself that however people reacted, good or bad, I would accept it and just be grateful that I was back where I want to be.

So after I got the word that I had been called up, I got on a flight from Omaha to San Francisco in the morning. When I got the the ballpark, I was a little tired. It had been difficult to go back to sleep after getting the news. But I was too excited to be that tired. I just couldn’t wait to walk back into the clubhouse and see all my friends again.

But still, I was nervous because I didn’t know how they would receive me.

As soon as I walked into the clubhouse, I noticed that it was different. It had been renovated since I was last there. It looked very new, very nice. It was beautiful.

Then I got to my locker, right next to Hunter Pence, and I saw my old number 48 jersey in black and orange, and that was when I got emotional. I think that was the moment when it started to feel real … like I was really back. In that moment, I felt so fortunate, but also like I didn’t deserve it. It’s tough to describe.

I didn’t even sit at my locker. I dropped my bag there and spent most of the afternoon before the game going around the room from locker to locker, talking to all the guys, sharing old memories, telling stories. And even though the new clubhouse looked different, it felt very much the same.

It felt like I had never left.

It felt like home.

But I still had one more nervous moment to get past: walking onto the field at AT&T Park.

In my first game after I signed back with the Giants, in High A San Jose, as I was walking from the on-deck circle to home plate, the fans cheered. When the announcer said my name, they cheered even louder. In Triple A Sacramento, the fans cheered again. It made me feel very good.

But at the end of the day, it was the fans at AT&T Park in San Francisco that I had missed so much for the last couple of years, and I was nervous because all I really wanted was for them to be as excited to have me back as I was to be back. And I didn’t know what to expect.

It’s not even the first time I stepped into the batter’s box that I really remember. I mean, I heard a lot of cheers when I first went up to the plate, but I also heard a couple of boos — and like I said, that’s O.K. I deserve that.

But in the seventh inning, when we were losing 4–0 and I hit a double, that was when I felt the Giants fans the way I remember them.

I was standing out there at second base, looking down both baselines. Everybody was standing and cheering and it was so loud. I tried to be cool, but I was so happy. I mean, I can’t think of the word. Just … happy. If there’s a word for the happiest you could possibly be, that’s the word I’m looking for.

That, and … relief.

I was just so relieved.

In that moment, I knew that I was back. I knew that I could still play this game at this level.

And I knew that I had been welcomed back — that the Giants fans who I had missed so much wanted me here.

I don’t know … maybe it’s not a big thing. But to me, it just means so much. Being wanted was a feeling I had forgotten. A feeling that I think only Giants fans could give me.

And then, for that double to be the hit that started the rally, and for Hunter to hit a home run, and then we come back and win in extra innings?

That was special. It felt like the old days. And one of the best things I remember about being in San Francisco — on top of the great teammates and great fans and great organization — is that we win.

That’s what we do.

And to be back here, with these guys, with these fans … it just felt good to win.

The first time I talked to Bruce Bochy after I came back, I told him I was sorry. That was the first thing I said to him.

He has been like a father to me. He’s been my coach, my mentor, my friend — he’s been everything. When I got down, he was always the guy to tell me the things I needed to hear to pick myself back up. To teach me how to be a success. He’s always taught me how to be a better player and a better person. And he’s never afraid to say something to my face when I was doing the wrong things.

That’s why it was important to me to tell him I was sorry. And in response, he said, “I’m happy to see you back.”

That was all I needed to hear.

It’s a blessing to be back with the team I love. Boch and the other guys in the Giants clubhouse know what type of guy I am and what type of heart I’ve got. It’s been a difficult couple of years for me — the worst of my life, really — and also a tough year for the Giants. But it’s exciting for me to be back in San Francisco with the guys I grew up with. And with the fans who I have shared so many great memories with. I never thought I would be back here, even though this is the only place I have ever wanted to be.

And man … it just feels so good to be home.

Pablo Sandoval
San Francisco Giants