Cody Ross

Nate Schierholtz is healthy, anxious to prove himself

Full disclosure: I’m a huge Nate Schierholtz fan. Ever since his mom came into the triathlon store where I used to toil during the days so I could afford to freelance for the Contra Costa Times in my spare time, and helped set up an interview with her son back in 2007 — my first ever interview of a professional athlete. At the time Schierholtz was raking as a Fresno Grizzly, on the verge of getting called up to the Giants.

Since then, Schierholtz’s career has seen alternating moments of greatness and frustration. Drafted in the second round, Schierholtz hit everywhere he was in the Minors except Connecticut (and .270/.325/.443 wasn’t really that bad in Connecticut, which was a very tough place to hit). He earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, making a name for himself internationally by trucking a Chinese catcher in a home plate collision. Blessed with tools galore, Schierholtz’s defensive skills have translated perfectly to the Majors, and was the reason why he had a spot on the postseason roster and played in 11 playoff games, starting Game 4 of the World Series. However, with the bat he’s been relatively punchless in the Majors (.270/.214/.399 in 758 PA) compared to his Minor League production (.308/.355/.516 with 84 HR in 2,628 PA).

Last year wasn’t just a roller coaster for Schierholtz — it was like riding the Zipper at the county fair if it were run by a particularly cranked-out carny. He entered Spring Training as the favorite for starting RF gig, then John Bowker swiped it from Schierholtz’s batting-gloveless hands.

Then Schierholtz worked his way back in the lineup, highlighted by a tour de force series against the Phillies where he followed up 2 outfield assists on April 27 with a 5-for-5 game the next day that raised his numbers to .378/.440/.556. Unfortunately, that was also the series when Schierholtz jammed his shoulder diving in right field, and he was never the same the rest of the season, ending the year at .242/.311/.366 and only getting one regular season start after July 23. However, a lot of the pain from how his 2010 season went individually was mostly relieved by winning the first World Series in San Francisco for the team he grew up rooting for.

Schierholtz will be handed a shiny, diamond-clad ring in two months, but he also faces the biggest challenge of his career: at 27 and entering the prime of his career, the time is now to earn an everyday job. He needs to prove that his power numbers in the minors weren’t a mirage and that he can show more discipline at the plate, while fighting to break into a much more crowded outfield situation where Cody Ross already owns the starting RF job and prospects like Brandon Belt are receiving far more attention.

The first time I talked to Schierholtz, it was after playing phone-tag for weeks. This time, Schierholtz was sitting right there in the lounge at a bar table during Media Day. I introduced myself, mentioned his mom setting up our first interview and he didn’t seem like he knew or remembered what I was talking about. No surprise, he’s probably done a thousand interviews since then, and I wouldn’t blame him if he had a natural distrust of the media, especially considering recent events. This time, we talked about his health, what it’s like to throw someone out from RF, basking in the World Series afterglow as a resident of San Francisco this winter, the Showtime reality show and what he wears under his uniform during night games at AT&T.

BASG: You played an important role on a World Series team, and you’re a pretty goal-oriented guy. What are your goals this year?

Nate Schierholtz: Well, I’m healthy this year. I banged up my shoulder last April and it kind of lingered all year. So I spent the off-season rehabbing, going to physical therapy, finally feel healthy again. So I’m excited to come to spring, and have a chance to play how I’m capable of, and hopefully something good will happen. Obviously, every guy wants to play more, that’s in a role Travis or I was in last year. It’s my time, Spring Training’s my time to show that I can turn it around, earn a job and play every day.

BASG: Did you get an MRI that told you anything about your shoulder?

Schierholtz: Yeah, I banged up my labrum, my rotator cuff.

BASG: But not bad enough to get surgery?

Schierholtz: No. I didn’t want to get surgery … by any means. If I had to do it over I probably would have let it rest a little bit last season, took some time off, but I battled through it. Probably wasn’t the right thing to do, but we won a World Series, so … there’s really no complaints.

BASG: There was a lot of flux in the lineup at that time. You went into Spring Training as the favorite to get the spot, and then Bowker was in there Opening Day, so it’s understandable that you don’t want to sit out for weeks.

Schierholtz: Yeah, things happen. I mean, I worked my way in there and then totally kind of just took a bad dive catching a ball.

BASG: You’ve probably gotten this question before, but one of the more enjoyable things for Giants fans this year has been your arm and seeing you throw people out at second, home, wherever. What gives you a bigger thrill, hitting a long homer or gunning someone at second who tries to test you?

Schierholtz: It’s pretty close. I don’t know, it’s neck and neck. I really enjoy taking a chance, an opportunity to throw someone out, just because you get a little rush after. I mean, you see the whole play developing in front of you. Obviously it helps out the team and the pitcher, if you can keep a guy off second. Might save you a run or two every couple weeks, and it might be the difference in a game. Like last year showed, every game counts, last year came down to the last day. So, it’s close.

BASG: Do you live in the Danville area during the off-season?

Schierholtz: I live in the Marina.

BASG: Oh, you live in the city. How many Giants live in the Marina right now, isn’t there a few?

Schierholtz: After the series, everyone stuck around for a week or so and left, so I was the only one here. I used the field in the off-season. Come in and work out, it’s convenient. And the city was wild after the parade, the energy.

BASG: What did you think of the parade? Did you see some crazy stuff in the crowd?

Schierholtz: Yeah, that was … the parade was one of the best days I’ve ever had, involved with baseball. I’m from the East Bay, so it was just so neat to see everyone come out. So many people, flooding the streets just for us. We had a great time. It was a pretty magical day. Saw people in trees, swinging around, people hanging out of buildings (laughs), so you definitely could feel the excitement from the cable car.

BASG: Was it kind of surreal? You rooted for this team, didn’t you?

Schierholtz: I did. I moved up here in 1990, and for some reason I chose the Giants over the A’s. Went to a lot of A’s and Giants games, came out to Candlestick a lot. Yeah, it was such a surreal feeling. It was almost like a dream. After it all happened, kind of have to pinch yourself and say ‘wow, that really happened.’ So we’re all excited, the city is excited, the fans are great. I really enjoyed living here this winter because I can’t tell you how many times a day people come up to me and just say ‘thanks.’ It was really cool.

BASG: You’re, relatively speaking compared to your teammates, kind of quieter and not as attention-seeking. What’s it like being like that with guys like Wilson, Huff, Burrell…

Schierholtz: It’s a fun group of guys. I mean, there’s never a dull moment in our clubhouse, which is probably one of the reasons they want to have us on Showtime. Last year it was the best group of guys I’ve ever been around. Our chemistry was just so close, I’m really not surprised with everything that happened.

BASG: Speaking of Showtime, do you know if that’s going to happen for sure?

Schierholtz: Um, I believe it’s going to happen. Sounds like it. They’re just trying to … it’s more like a documentary on us coming as world champions into another season, defending our title. Should be interesting.

BASG: When you work out in the field (at AT&T), do you take fly balls, do you do all your training out there? What’s a regular workout day like for you here?

Schierholtz: I kind of split time. Sometimes I go to a gym in the city, sometimes I work out here. I did a lot of running this off-season, to stay in shape. And a big thing for me was getting my arm back where it was. I had a little physical therapy, and just keep making sure I swing the bat. I took a little bit of time off to heal, but I’d go down there and hit off the machines just like we do during the season. So whether someone comes to throw to me or not I can still get my work in. It’s nice there was actually a field this winter. They had a football field for a little bit but usually it was motocross, so you couldn’t really get any work done. But having the field there, the last few days I’ve been running bases, I’ve been taking fly balls here and there. So I feel ready to go, I’m leaving Monday (2/7) to get a little bit of a head start.

BASG: You’re going to Scottsdale on Monday?

Schierholtz: Just to get down there. Weather’s supposed to be nice next week. I know it’s cold now, said it was in the 40’s, but 75 next week sounds good. But this winter here’s been great, too. The last couple days, running around on the field, it’s been warmer here than it is all summer.

BASG: That’s true, May and June here…

Schierholtz: Cold…

BASG: Especially in right field, wind whips around…

Schierholtz: They didn’t do us any favors, opening up those bricks. The wind blows right off the water and you definitely need a pair of tights under your pants.

BASG: Do you ever hear people yelling to you when you’re playing right field, because that’s a pretty close vantage point for fans, that sort of free space there.

Schierholtz: Yeah, well luckily we’re the home team, so it’s always positive things. But you can definitely hear them, they’re right over the top of you. 309 down the line, so they’re right above you. But for the most part it’s just positive stuff.

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