Somewhere, Travis Ishikawa has a photograph that helps underscore how life in baseball is constantly changing.
Taken last August at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., it shows Ishikawa, in his Giants uniform, posing alongside Kevin Frandsen and Nate Schierholtz, both of whom were on the Nationals at the time. Nine years earlier, all three had been teammates on the Class-A San Jose Giants in 2005, their professional careers just starting.
“Them in their Nationals uniforms, me in the Giants’, it was cool to see that picture and how we’ve all grown up,” Ishikawa said last week. “It was cool, but obviously it’s weird. When you’re playing together coming up, you envision yourself, I guess, always playing with these guys your whole career.”
Yet there was still change to come. Ishikawa finds himself teammates once again with Frandsen, this time at Triple-A Sacramento, where both are playing for a shot at returning to the majors with the Giants. Until last week, the reunion included outfielder John Bowker, another member of the 2005 San Jose team, who was traded to Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
“It is (ironic), but at the same time, what we’ve talked about is how it’s the family type of atmosphere we’ve always had,” Frandsen said before the Bowker trade. “We’ve battled together.”
Frandsen was the last to arrive, rejoining the Giants on a minor-league deal May 31 after being released two days earlier by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Frandsen, 33, played from 2006 to 2009 with the Giants before they traded him to Boston, and said that once Arizona cut him, he knew exactly where he wanted to go.
“When the Giants called, I wanted back because the last five years from a personal standpoint I’ve become, I feel in my mind, a better teammate,” Frandsen said. “I wanted to go back to where it all started basically because this is family. … I wanted to show how I’ve matured, you know?”
Being traded by the Giants was part of a “tough time” for Frandsen, when he says he still “really didn’t know who I was” as a player coming back from a 2008 Achilles’ injury. He admits that while trying to prove he could still perform – to himself and to the Giants – he placed less importance on being a good teammate.
Frandsen says he focused on that and carving out a role as a utility player while spending 2012 and 2013 with the Phillies and last season in Washington. He led the National League with 13 pinchhits in 2013 and had 11 more last season, while also expanding his defensive repertoire to include 21 games in the outfield for the Nationals.
In the River Cats’ clubhouse last week, Frandsen credited former Giants third-base coach Tim Flannery with giving him advice that helped shape his career. He said Flannery told him: “You’re never going to be a successful utility guy until the day you embrace being a utility guy – you love it, and just know the ups and downs are part of it.”
Frandsen said he’s better suited now to deal with both. After Washington released him at the end of spring training, Frandsen signed a minor-league deal with the Diamondbacks, who released him after 81 at-bats in Reno. With the River Cats, his path to the majors seems blocked by the Giants’ young but mostly established infield.
“My intent is always to get back to the big leagues,” Frandsen said. “But my intent here (in Sacramento) is to help this team win. When you’re a guy that’s been released twice in two months, the last thing on your mind should be the big leagues.
“Obviously you weren’t good enough for two organizations. In my mind, I’d done enough there to show I’m good enough. But here I’ve got to show that I’m here to win, show the type of player that I’ve become, that I feel like the Giants haven’t seen in a couple years.”
For inspiration, Frandsen could look across the infield at first baseman Ishikawa, who spent three years out of the Giants’ organization before rejoining them on a minor-league deal in 2014 and going on to become a postseason hero during the team’s World Series title run in October.
Frandsen said he was at a cousin’s wedding in Sonoma on the night that Ishikawa hit his pennant-clinching, walk-off home run against the Cardinals, and that “you’re not going to find too many people in the baseball world that were so excited for Travis.”
Travis Ishikawa spent three years out of the Giants’ organization before rejoining them on a minor-league deal in 2014 and going on to become a postseason hero during the team’s World Series title run in October.
“Seeing him now, everywhere we go I just love watching him,” Frandsen said. “We were just in Oklahoma City, and kids were like, ‘Travis!’ And just to see his smile … that hit was great, but the story behind everything, his perseverance, that tops everything.”
Ishikawa’s route back to the Giants, which included time with four other organizations and thoughts of retirement, was well documented last fall. He entered this spring slated for a roster spot, but back issues sidelined him until May, and when it came time for them to activate him, the Giants had no room on the major-league roster. After being designated for assignment and passing through waivers, Ishikawa returned to Triple A.
Last week, Ishikawa, 31, said he was not shocked that no other major-league team put in a claim for him, despite his left-handed bat and relatively small ($1.1 million) salary this season.
“I had some anticipation that there were some teams that might have shown interest,” he said. “But obviously whatever happened, there was a reason for it.
“When I went into that process, I didn’t think there was a bad outcome. Obviously I want to be back in the big leagues. But if it’s back in San Francisco this year, it will have been worth it.”
For now, both Ishikawa and Frandsen are at home in Sacramento, where there is one other tie to their past. Manager Bob Mariano was in his first season in the Giants’ organization in 2005. The minor-league hitting coordinator at the time, he recalls visiting San Jose to watch the then-prospects in action.
“Seeing these guys and having them (now), it’s kind of a treat for me, because I’ve seen what they’ve been through,” Mariano said. “They’re like your kids, because they’ve got a dream, and you see them fulfill their dream.
“I was telling Franny, ‘I can’t believe it’s been 10 years.’ They just fly by.”