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  • José Carlos Fajardo / Contra Costa Times

    Buster Posey, right, Eric Surkamp, middle, and Dan Otero of the Giants sign autographs Saturday during FanFest at AT&T Park.

  • José Carlos Fajardo / Contra Costa Times

    Thousands of fans converge on the playing field at AT&T Park on Saturday for the Giants' free FanFest event. At one point, access to the field was halted because of the crush of fans.

For Buster, what a difference a year makes

Published: Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013 - 2:04 pm

SAN FRANCISCO – Sharing a stage with the reigning National League MVP during a question-and-answer session with fans at Saturday's FanFest at AT&T Park, Giants outfielder Hunter Pence was thrown a bit of a curveball by moderator Eric Byrnes: Give us something – a story, a tidbit – to "humanize" Buster Posey.

Pence thought for a moment before responding that Posey, the stoic, 25-year-old catcher and quiet leader of the Giants, "is probably the (team's) biggest joker."

"This was a quote on the bus from Buster Posey today," Pence said. " 'The only reason I missed baseball so much is I couldn't wait to make fun of all you guys.' "

"That's one of the reasons," Posey said, nodding amid laughter.

Such is the difference this spring for Posey as opposed to a year ago, when the biggest unknown surrounding the Giants entering spring training was whether their star catcher could regain his form following his devastating ankle injury in 2011, and handle the rigors of his position.

On Saturday, Posey took the stage to the factual chants of "MVP!" from dozens of the estimated 40,000 fans who turned out for FanFest, clamoring for their first look at the defending champion Giants after a short winter.

"It's night and day," Posey said Friday. "My ankle feels great. I'm sure that throughout the rest of my career I'm going to have to do some stuff, just maintenance, to make sure I'm keeping it strong for balance purposes.

"But, no, I couldn't be happier about it."

Posey described his offseason as "low-key," with much of it spent among family. Absent were questions about his repaired left ankle, injured in the May 2011 home-plate collision that wiped out the rest of his season.

Answers came last season, as Posey returned to play 148 games, win a batting title (.336) and become the first N.L. catcher in 40 years to be named MVP. In the playoffs, Posey caught 14 of 16 games as the Giants won their second World Series in three seasons.

The two championships have come in Posey's only two full major league seasons. In 2011, with Posey out rehabbing his ankle, the Giants missed the postseason altogether.

"I don't think it's a coincidence," reliever Jeremy Affeldt said. "What he brings in leadership, from behind the plate, to (comfort) in the lineup protection-wise, (comfort) with the pitching staff of throwing to him, he's a complete-package guy.

"He's not the only guy, but when we lost him in 2011 we lost a lot of different scenarios. Obviously you lose 100 RBIs. And with the Giants, that's a lot of runs. So you lose other guys getting pitched to. Pablo (Sandoval) might get a pitch to hit now because Buster's coming up, and stuff like that.

"When you lose him, it's a big hole. So you hope that doesn't happen."

Posey played 29 games at first base last season as the Giants tried not to overtax him, and manager Bruce Bochy said he foresees a similar plan for Posey this year.

Posey has been adamant about catching as much as possible but concedes the rest last season was beneficial.

"I think we did have a good balance last year," Posey said. "I think the big kicker, as with any player, is you want to remain as productive as you possibly can."

Last season, Posey talked often about appreciating baseball more in the wake of his injury. It's a feeling, he said, that he hopes lasts for the rest of his career.

And if the chance arises this spring to rib a teammate – like Marco Scutaro on Saturday: "The guy's like 45 years old, but you can tell he loves the game so much." And Brandon Crawford: "Does Crawford have Twitter? He's never on it." – he'll enjoy those, too.

FanFest – Bochy touched on several serious topics during the mostly lighthearted event. He continues to lobby for rule changes to protect catchers in plays at the plate, saying he worries it's a matter of time before a player is "paralyzed" during a game.

Bochy said he believes pitchers will soon wear protective hats to guard against line-drive comebackers, and that he's glad to see the end of the fake-to-third, throw-to-first pickoff move.

There also were some good one-liners from the players:

• Brandon Belt, on winning the World Series: "It was a huggable moment."

• Affeldt, on facing teammates in the upcoming World Baseball Classic: "I'll probably just hit Pablo (Sandoval). I'll walk Scutaro, pitch around all the guys, and then they won't have bragging rights over me."

• Ryan Vogelsong, on the same topic: "(Sandoval) said something to me today about taking me deep. … I said you can't hit the ball if I hit you first. And let's be honest, Panda ain't no small target."

• And Sandoval, on his nickname: "I want it all my life. I'm thinking about changing my name to Panda."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Matt Kawahara



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