In the locker room after another rough outing—this time against the Colorado Rockies–San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum had just finished talking to the media.
Afterwards, I tell him in passing, for Filipino baseball fans, he is still “the guy,” and that had the Philippines an entry in the World Baseball Classic last month, he’d have to play all nine positions.
“Yeah, but I’d have to hit too,” he joked.
Oddly, Lincecum, Filipino on the distaff side, had a base hit in that night’s game, a single just past the third base baseman’s reach.
“It was a lucky swing,” he smiled.
It’s one of the few light-hearted exchanges I’ve seen Lincecum have these days with a no-nonsense media that scrutinize his every move.
That’s what happens when you’re an ace who has fallen from grace.
Here’s the guy they called the “Franchise,” and for a time was the “Face,” adorning everything from soda cups to ducats.
But now, his freakishness has normalized, and his fastball no longer smokes, his change-up no longer fools. It’s made it questionable whether Lincecum gets one of those long-term lockup deals recently awarded teammates Buster Posey, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner that make them forever Giants in their prime.
And after all Lincecum’s done for the Giants?
Two National League Cy Young Awards for best pitcher. Two whole World Series rings. The third pitcher since 1893 to reach 1,300 trikeouts in six season?
Is there another Asian American of Filipino descent who has had as much impact in Major League Baseball as Lincecum—ever?
This year, even with his long-hair cut off, Lincecum is worth watching even more.
After following the Giants all these years, I’m writing on Lincecum (see my Linceblog at www.amok.com) a bit more regularly because of what Lincecum has meant for the Giants and to the Filipino baseball fans all over the world.
When there’s a dearth of high-profile, world-class Filipino Americans in anything, a star baseball player does more than you think to a global community’s self-esteem. His troubles on the mound make this a critical year for Lincecum watchers.
It’s hard to imagine him not being a Giant for life.
After his last pre-season start against Oakland at AT&T Park, I asked him about the start of the new season.
I didn’t ask if he regrets not taking the big payday when it was in front of him (reportedly a five-year $100 million dollar deal after 2011). Instead, Lincecum signed a two-year $40.5 million deal (just imagine that in pesos) that still puts him in the top ten among all baseball stars, and makes him a free agent at the end of the year.
But he may not be in position to command $15 million, let alone $20 million a year, unless his performance dramatically improves.
So I asked him if this was a “make or break year” for him.
“Not really, that concern is the last worry, the last emotion on my mind,” Lincecum told me. “It’s more excitement and obviously. ..ah.. conviction. This year is going to be a big, big year for me, but I don’t look at it as a make or break year, I look at it as an opportunity to make myself better and come out at the end of the season on top.
“You never want to take a negative approach to anything in baseball or anything in this profession, so just to be able to stay positive after coming off a rough year last year is good for me. I’m carrying all the positives I can into this year.”
The positives? His relief performances in the post-season come to mind. Coming out of the bullpen, he was dazzling. Five appearances, 1-0 with a 0.69 ERA, along with 17 strikeouts in just 13 innings. That sort of performance line, make people think that the evolution for Lincecum, may be as a middle reliever.
But that’s not the kind of performer who gets the really big money.
And so, in this, his last year before free agency, there’s a natural motivation to do well. He’s shown flashes of his brilliance in that last pre-season start at AT&T. But then, opening week against the Dodgers he walked seven batters.
In his next start against Colorado, he walked five batters, including the pitcher twice. But his wildness led to giving up five runs in a nasty second inning that should have chased him out of the game . But Lincecum didn’t give up and battled like a Pacquiao or a Donaire, until the 6th inning, and then the Giants, with timely hitting, ultimately won the game.
It’s that kind of season for the former ace.
But to take his cue, don’t call it a “make or break” year.
Lincecum’s out there setting an example for us all, staying optimistic, gutting it out when his talent fails, and not thinking about things like the deal that got away.
Call this season a true test of character.
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