Pablo Sandoval returns to the Bay Area as the third baseman of the Boston Red Sox to play the A’s this week – an opportunity his former team, the Giants, seized to deliver Sandoval the World Series ring he helped them win last October.
The Giants planned to give Sandoval his ring at the Red Sox team hotel on Sunday, with a delegation including general manager Bobby Evans, manager Bruce Bochy and team president and CEO Larry Baer. The Red Sox do not visit AT&T Park this season, which ruled out a pre-game ceremony in front of fans like the one the Giants held for Miami Marlins outfielder Michael Morse on Thursday.
Such an event might have felt awkward, anyway, given comments Sandoval made about the Giants this spring in a story by Bleacher Report. Sandoval said it was “not hard at all” leaving his former team in free agency last winter, and that he “left money on the table in San Francisco” after feeling the Giants disrespected his agent during contract negotiations.
Despite the tone of those comments, Evans said last week he expected the ring exchange with Sandoval to be “a good feeling, no worries about that.”
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“Pablo was a Giant for 12 years in our system and the big leagues,” Evans said. “He was a key contributor to three World Series championships, he was at one point a (top-seven) MVP guy, he’s a player that’s always worked hard.
“You want him to feel good about his time here and to remember it in a positive way, so it’s hard to hear some things that he said. But at the end of the day, I hope that his lasting memory is of these fans and of this organization, the accomplishments he had here, and I hope those memories are the ones that stick with him.”
A two-time All-Star with the Giants, Sandoval made perhaps his greatest impact during the playoffs, batting a combined .344 in three postseasons and .429 in the World Series last year as the Giants won their third championship in five years. In seven seasons with the Giants, Sandoval was a gregarious personality and fan favorite, his “Kung Fu Panda” nickname inspiring thousands of fans to wear fake panda ears out in public.
Sandoval, though, did not sound nostalgic last week about returning to the Bay Area.
“What’s different about it?” Sandoval said Saturday before the Red Sox played the Blue Jays in Toronto. “It’s just another city.”
Sandoval used to live in San Francisco but said he’d sold his place. Asked if he’d turned the page on his time with the Giants, Sandoval said: “It’s turned already.”
Sandoval had indicated as much in the Bleacher Report story, in which he said he played much of 2014 knowing he would not return to the Giants. In November, he signed a five-year, $95 million deal with Boston. After Sunday’s 6-3 victory over the Blue Jays, Sandoval as hitting .306 with three home runs and 14 RBIs for the 14-17 Red Sox.
The quote that elicited the most reaction from that March story was Sandoval saying he did not miss his former clubhouse mates. “Only Bochy,” Sandoval said. “I love Boch. He’s like my dad. He’s the only guy that I miss. And Hunter Pence. Just those guys. But now, I feel like I’m home.”
Asked about those comments last week, Bochy said: “Sometimes things are taken out of context. That’s what I’ve been told through some friends of his, that he didn’t quite mean it how it came out.” Sandoval, though, never said he’d been portrayed inaccurately. And Giants outfielder Gregor Blanco said he worries those comments could affect how some remember Sandoval’s time in San Francisco.
“Yeah, man, and it’s a little sad, because of all that he’s done for this ball club and the city of San Francisco,” Blanco said. “Just because he said something out of the normal stuff – things can change. But I feel like it’s still like people love him. He’s a human being and he can make mistakes and stuff like that. But it’s hard to forget what he has done here.”
Blanco said what stands out in his memory is Sandoval’s hitting in the 2012 and the 2014 postseasons, when Sandoval “would like transform himself into a championship-role type player.” Sandoval was named MVP of the 2012 World Series, in which he hit three home runs in Game 1 against the Detroit Tigers, and last year he set a major-league record with 26 hits in the postseason.
Giants reliever Javier Lopez said he wasn’t privy to how contract negotiations between Sandoval and the Giants unfolded, “But as a player, as a teammate, I respected the way he went out there and played hard every day for us.
“Even last year, he played through some injuries but battled,” Lopez said. “He got the contract that he was looking for. And he was looking for a new challenge – nothing better than the A.L. East to try to do that.”
The Red Sox were traveling from Toronto, where they played a day game on Sunday, and the Giants were scheduled to depart early Monday for a six-game trip beginning in Houston, leaving little time for a reunion. Speaking on Saturday, Lopez said he was glad to hear Sandoval would soon add to his collection of postseason metalwork.
“Obviously Pablo was a big part for us, not only last year, but winning all three,” Lopez said. “When you go through those kind of long seasons together and they culminate in a World Series victory, of course you get excited, for everybody on that team. I’ll be happy for him to get his ring.”
Michael Silverman of The Boston Herald contributed to this report.