The Giants never wanted to bring Brandon Belt with them to Los Angeles to start the season. That’s not only clear because he got sent down once Cody Ross returned from his calf injury, but also how they treated him while he was around.
I was one of the few who wanted Belt to start the team in Fresno. I didn’t see much point in throwing a kid who’d barely spent any time in Triple-A in the starting lineup on Opening Day to be a young intruder during a two-week period of reliving World Series glory he wasn’t a part of. However, once Ross went down I saw the reasons why the Giants felt more comfortable with him in the lineup, and when he started off with good, long at-bats, a home run to center field, some base-hits and several loud outs, I was content to watch the show.
That brings us to the problem: the show. Namely, the Giants-centric reality show on Showtime, for which Belt has unwittingly become a go-to storyline. First, as a teary-eyed rookie getting the news all kids dream of, that he’s so damn good the Giants can’t go on without him. It was a made-for-TV moment. Belt, overcome with emotion, Bochy (who seems cooler by the minute) offering Belt a beer and inviting him to hang out a while in his office.
Yesterday, on his birthday no less, Belt was sent down to Fresno. It wasn’t a real surprise; Belt hasn’t really done anything at the plate at all since that opening series in L.A., with almost as many strikeouts (10) as hits and walks combined (12). Plus, the Giants’ outfield depth, particularly in center, made keeping Belt a luxury they didn’t feel they could afford. But the end of Andy Baggarly’s report on Belt’s demotion caught my eye:
The Showtime cameras were allowed in Bruce Bochy’s office when he gave Belt the not-so-surprising news. Bochy had Belt circle back later, though, for a private meeting after he packed a few things.
It’s unfortunate for Belt that his short Major League stint ended on his birthday, but that’s professional sports. However, making Belt — who should be an important player for this franchise for years to com — reality show fodder, is curious at best and exploitative at worst.
Marc Kroon’s story was the highlight of the first episode of The Franchise, as he spoke truthfully and emotionally about his estranged father, his journey from the Padres to Japan and then to Giants camp. When Bochy gave Kroon the news that he wouldn’t make the club out of Spring Training, it wasn’t surprising. For a fringe player like Kroon, the extra publicity couldn’t have hurt, either. Kroon’s fascinating story is now known by thousands more fans than would normally have been the case.
Scenes where players get cut is a staple on Hard Knocks, HBO’s yearly insider’s view of NFL training camp. The scenes of passionate, hard-working athletes’ dreams being dashed just like that is heartbreaking and heartless at the same time (especially when the player getting cut has to hand in his playbook). But like Kroon, these are players whose stories would never be told without the “all-access” show.
Belt seems to have a great attitude, and no interest in making waves. The Giants probably asked him if it would be okay if the Showtime cameras caught each diametrically opposed moment, and wanting to stay in good graces, Belt probably felt like he had no choice. But if he turns out to be the star the Giants hope he will become, will his most emotional moments as an athlete getting broadcast for everyone to see make him resentful in the coming months and/or years?
The Giants have already been questioned in the past year for building marketing campaigns around young players (yes, I’m talking about panda hats), and they were using Belt for promotional purposes in this instance. For all the talk about confidence-building and shielding a young rookie from all the pressure, the Giants come across not unlike the parents in Toddlers in Tiaras in the way they’ve featured Belt.