Ann Killion
Tuesday November 16th, 2010

Until Monday, the most convincing proof of Buster Posey's inexperience and youth was his inability to join his team's postseason "Fear the Beard" campaign.

The only way the clean-cut Posey was sprouting whiskers was if he bought one of the fake Brian Wilson beards sold outside of AT&T Park. The 23-year old couldn't grow a decent beard if he tried.

But now he has some Rookie of the Year hardware to help explain his lack of facial hair. Yes, the preternaturally mature catcher who batted in the middle of the order, handled the most talented pitching staff in the major leagues and helped lead the Giants to their first world championship since moving to San Francisco was, indeed, a rookie.

It's a nice combination: a World Series ring and a National League Rookie of the Year plaque. Combine that with the fact that Posey has become the biggest attraction on a wildly popular team -- that his jerseys jump off the rack and that half the hipster population of San Francisco seems to be rocking the name of a clean-cut youth from South Georgia -- and you have a marketing dream, right?

After all, this is a team that has left no sales opportunity untapped: Lincecum wigs and Panda hats and Beard T-shirts are all hawked at the ballpark. So surely, in the future, we can expect to see baseball caps with big pink and purple flowers on them? A corner of the stadium devoted to Posey's People?

Not so fast. The Giants are thrilled in what they have in Posey but they're trying to restrain themselves.

In a press gathering a few days after the World Series, general manager Brian Sabean lamented the pressure put on Giants errant third baseman Pablo Sandoval -- he of the Panda hats, and "Panda Inside" signs, who spent much of the playoffs on the bench. Sabean's point came during a discussion of what Sandoval needs to do to get in shape and reclaim his rookie form. While most of the onus is on Sandoval, Sabean thinks the Giants had some culpability for his off-year, thanks to their frenetic marketing campaign.

"We learned that can put a lot of pressure on a player," Sabean said. "We're not going to make that same mistake with Posey. We're going to try to let these guys fly under the radar, because we know the second time around they are marked men."

Fly under the radar? It's a little too late for that.

The fact that Posey was named National League Rookie of the Year on Monday saved the Baseball Writers Association some serious embarrassment. The votes were due at the end of the regular season, at which point Posey's candidacy was viewed as neck-and-neck with Jason Heyward. At that point, Posey actually might have been under the radar in some quarters, despite hitting .305 with 18 homers and launching his team into playoff contention.

But he ended up receiving 20 first place votes (and oddly no votes from one voter, Yasushi Kikuchi of Japan's Kyodo News Service), as voters recognized the pressure of his position.

Good thing because after an unexpected postseason, that ended with Posey and his teammates hoisting the World Series trophy, the Rookie of the Year question was answered. Unequivocally.

He led the Giants in hits during their first-round victory over Atlanta, while Heyward struggled (and was serenaded by Giants fans with "our rookie's better."). In pivotal Game 4 of the NLCS against Philadelphia he had four hits and a phenomenal play at the plate. He batted .300 with a homer in the World Series.

And he was a calm, assured presence behind the plate, while his pitching staff dominated. At one point in Game 4 of the World Series when fellow rookie Madison Bumgarner was cruising, a Giants error caused Posey to make a trip to the mound.

He later said, smiling, that he went out, "because you're kind of supposed to, I think."

Posey brings that same kind of matter-of-fact, know-my-role approach to his job every day. Which is why it seems unlikely that Sabean's concerns about Posey getting distracted or pressured would ever come true. He seemed always mindful of his role as a rookie, even as he became one of the Giants leaders. He knows his place in the pecking order.

"I'm extremely humbled and honored with all the talent in the National League," Posey said on a conference call on Monday. When told he joined a Giants group of rookies of the year that includes Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey, he said, "It gives me chills to be mentioned in that group."

In the two weeks since the Giants won the World Series, Posey's life has been a whirlwind. He and his wife drove across the country. He was honored at the Florida State-Clemson football game with a prolonged ovation. He was conducting his conference call while driving down to the Florida Keys.

"I feel good," he said when asked about fatigue at the end of the season. "I'm ready to get in the weight room and get ready to go again."

You can see why the Giants marketing department will have to restrain itself. For years the franchise failed to produce a homegrown position player. For too long they were marketing Barry Bonds jerseys that a large chunk of their fan base had no interest in wearing.

Then along comes Posey -- fresh-faced, sincere and the real deal.

At the Giants victory parade -- a wildly sentimental celebration with a million of their closest friends -- the team basked in its achievement. Old-timers couldn't believe the Giants had finally won a championship for San Francisco. The players sat on a stage, listening to speakers wax poetic about the magic of it all.

When it was time for the rookie to speak, he sounded like he was making a stump speech.

"Let's enjoy this today," Posey said. "Tomorrow, maybe a week or a month."

"Then," -- and he banged the podium for emphasis -- "let's get back to work and make another run at it."

With Posey on board for the future, that request actually seems possible.

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