After getting his first chance to play professional baseball when he was drafted by the Giants in 2002, Travis Ishikawa is back with the organization for what could be his final chance to return to the major leagues.
San Francisco signed Ishikawa to a minor-league contract, giving him an opportunity with the Triple-A River Cats.
“It’s just been a class-act organization,” Ishikawa said during Sacramento’s current 12-game homestand. “They’re reaching out to me and giving me this opportunity, so obviously this is home. This is where it all started, and to be back here is a privilege.”
Usually when guys bring it up, that’s when I get to reflect on it and talk about it again. Around here it gets brought up a lot more than in other places, so it’s a great memory and something I’m always happy to talk about.
Travis Ishikawa, on his pennant-winning home run in 2014
The Giants signed Ishikawa, 32, as a free agent June 7 after the Chicago White Sox released him from their minor-league system. In 40 games with the Triple-A Charlotte Knights of the International League, Ishikawa hit .201.
Whether or not he returns to AT&T Park in a Giants uniform, Ishikawa etched his name in Bay Area sports lore in 2014. In Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, his three-run, walk-off home run in the ninth inning eliminated the St. Louis Cardinals and sent the Giants to their third World Series in five years.
That’s why Ishikawa already is one of the most popular players on the River Cats’ roster and usually receives the biggest ovation from the fans at Raley Field when introduced before the game and his at-bats.
“Usually when guys bring it up, that’s when I get to reflect on it and talk about it again,” Ishikawa said about his historic home run. “Around here it gets brought up a lot more than in other places, so it’s a great memory and something I’m always happy to talk about.”
Ishikawa has spent most of his 15-year career in the minors, where he’s played 1,014 games compared to 488 in the majors.
This is Ishikawa’s third stint in the Giants’ organization. He had two call-ups from the minor leagues in 2006 and 2008, then played his only two full seasons in the majors in San Francisco in 2009 and 2010, when he and the Giants won their first World Series rings.
After the Giants designated him for assignment during spring training in 2011, Ishikawa had short stays with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2012 (94 games), the Baltimore Orioles in 2013 (six games), the New York Yankees in 2013 (one game) and the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2014 (15 games). In April 2014, the Giants signed him as a free agent, and he played 47 regular-season games and won his second World Series ring.
Last year, he played six games with the Giants before being waived and claimed by Pittsburgh, where he played 38 games.
After signing a minor-league contract with the White Sox last offseason, Ishikawa finds himself back in more familiar and comfortable surroundings.
It’s just been a class-act organization. They’re reaching out to me and giving me this opportunity, so obviously this is home. This is where it all started, and to be back here is a privilege.
Travis Ishikawa, on the Giants’ organization
“I think it helps, actually,” he said. “I’ve been through it before, a couple years ago coming back here and working my way back to the big-league club, and so I know what it is I need to do.”
The road back to San Francisco has had a rocky start. In just 12 games and 42 at-bats, Ishikawa was hitting .167 with two RBIs. His biggest moment came last week, when he hit a bases-loaded, walk-off single in the 11th inning as the River Cats beat the El Paso Chihuahuas 5-4 to end a six-game losing streak.
“(The goal) is to get up to San Francisco, help them win the division and a lot of postseason games, and hopefully we have a parade at the end of the year,” Ishikawa said. “That’s pretty much what my goal is every year, to be with a big-league club, but obviously with San Francisco, I’ve got a little more fire and a little more desire to try to get up there.”
The Giants, meanwhile, have suffered from a banged-up outfield. Angel Pagan recently missed three weeks because of a hamstring injury, and Hunter Pence could be out two months as he recovers from hamstring surgery. Ishikawa has played 17 games in the outfield in his major-league career, including eight appearances in 2014 and six in 2015.
This season with the River Cats, Ishikawa has only played first base and served as the designated hitter, but he played five games in the outfield with Charlotte.
“If they need me out there (in the outfield),” Ishikawa said, “I’ll be ready for them.”