SAN FRANCISCO -- If you haven't poked around the San Francisco Giants clubhouse at AT&T Park recently, a lot of things might surprise you. For one, the music over the stereo system is played at high volume. You're likely to be greeted by the Black Eyed Peas'
You might see the Latin core of the team hooting and hollering as closer
You might see Wilson giving a handheld video-camera interview to
"Uh, 100 Grand?" answers the reporter.
"Ooh, 100 Grand," drools
It's the kind of banter and frat-boy camaraderie you might find at, well, a frat house. That's not a surprise considering that, for the first time in years, the Giants are leaning heavily on homegrown youth. The roster's average age is 29.3 years, the lowest it has been in 12 years.
"Everybody seems to get along," says Lincecum. "That probably has a lot to do with the fact that we're playing better -- we have better chemistry."
The Giants are on pace for 90 wins, their highest total -- and first winning season -- since 2004. If the season ended today, they'd be the National League wild card and would face the defending World Series champion Phillies in the NLDS. Going young doesn't necessarily translate into wins, but in this case, it's a sign of something more encouraging: San Francisco has turned a big, big corner.
In case you've forgotten -- and really, who can blame you -- the Giants are two years removed from one of their worst finishes of the past 20 years. It was a historic season to be sure:
But more so, it was Sabean's sense of urgency that put the future on indefinite hold. The Giants' farm system had been largely ignored or dealt away for several years in order to surround Bonds with complementary veterans such as
Since the '04 season, the Giants have paid for those sins. The team compiled a combined 294-353 record over the following four years, stretching fans' patience to no end. But when Bonds left the team after '07, his vise grip on the organization began to fade. With not much further to fall, the team quietly made plans to rebuild for the future through the draft. In the meantime, the few prospects who did survive the geriatric generation were able to develop in key positions without pressure to contribute immediately.
That's why young aces Lincecum (a defending Cy Young winner at age 25) and
"Guys that have come up in the past few years, we've taken our bumps and bruises," says Cain, "Now everyone's playing together and having fun. We're showing that we can play like we've been wanting to play [during] the past couple years."
There are more pieces of the youth puzzle in place, too. Highly touted third baseman
Even more have been yo-yoing between the majors and Triple-A Fresno, including pitcher
The change in organization attitude is finally making some of the veterans enjoy the game again, too. "It's a lot more fun in here," says veteran right fielder
And the changeover is still taking place. Despite the litany of kids in every corner of the clubhouse, there are still aging veterans in prominent roles who hint at the Sabean strategy of old, including Winn (35), shortstop
But in a way, that also exemplifies the transitional year the Giants are experiencing: trying to bury the recent past while rebuilding themselves into a perennial contender stocked with talented, exciting youngsters. And many of those kids need the time to mature. As Lincecum puts it, "Just because we have this youth movement doesn't mean we're taking over [the veterans'] roles as leaders."
Despite the incredible pitching performances the Giants are putting on display, they're weighed down by two major issues: inexperience and a punchless offense (their .310 on-base percentage is the worst in the majors). Manager
But there's no question a ray of light has cut through the gloomy fog that has sat over AT&T Park for the past few years. If everyone lives up to their potential, it's very likely the Giants have themselves an entire generation of players who can turn them back into a perpetual winner.
"We have some of the pieces in place to compete for a long time," says Winn.
The future is bright, the ghosts of Bonds are being put to bed and the kids are being handed the keys.