Travis Ishikawa hit his first home run of the spring Thursday – or his first since he launched one of the most memorable postseason home runs in Giants history into the AT&T Park arcade seats last October.
“Feelingwise, it felt the same,” Ishikawa said Friday morning. “The meaning behind it wasn’t nearly as cool.”
The historic home run, off the Cardinals’ Michael Wacha in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, followed Ishikawa everywhere this winter. It sent the Giants to the World Series and left fans referring to Ishikawa in the same breath as Bobby Thomson. Ishikawa lived in the Bay Area during the offseason and said he rarely left home without a fan approaching him at least once.
“The coolest part was the fans who were at home, a lot of them said they jumped up and hit their head on the ceiling or were screaming at the TV,” Ishikawa said. “I thought that was pretty cool.”
Ishikawa said his memory of his trip around the bases is still spotty. He saw the replay “about 200 times” that night, but has only watched it a handful of times since. He laughs at his interaction with pitcher Jake Peavy, because he thought he’d tried to “swim-move” around Peavy near third base and he instead appears to shove Peavy out of the way. His favorite part may be “the moment when you see me hitting home. It just made it official.”
“It was a year where, within a few months, I was at my lowest of lows in baseball and I was at my highest of highs,” Ishikawa said. “I think that the emotions you saw from me on that trot were probably an accumulation of everything I’d gone through in my career.”
The lowest of lows came last June in Round Rock, Texas. Ishikawa was with Triple-A Fresno, mired in a slump and playing sporadically. Outside the team hotel, he called his friend Danny Graham, a former high school pitching coach in Federal Way, Wash., and broke down crying.
“I told him, ‘I don’t know what to do anymore,’” Ishikawa said. “‘I’m in the cage feeling good, batting practice feels good. I can go to sleep every night knowing I did everything I could do to become a better player today, and it’s just not translating on the field.’”
Graham told Ishikawa he was still one of his closest friends, baseball player or not. He told Ishikawa about how his kids still bragged about Ishikawa in school back in Washington, and quoted Scripture to Ishikawa, who’s a man of faith.
Things didn’t get better right away, but it helped Ishikawa through that day. His average picked up after the All-Star Break and he joined the Giants at the end of July – first as a fill-in first baseman, then their starting left fielder in the postseason, and finally an iconic figure in their third world championship in five seasons.
Ishikawa had been there for the first as well, but as a 26-year-old role player who saw just 10 at-bats in the 2010 playoffs. The next spring he was designated for assignment by the Giants, starting a career odyssey that saw him play for five different organizations before he rejoined the Giants on a minor-league deal last April.
Because of that road, and his contributions last October, Ishikawa said receiving his 2014 World Series ring will have “a little more special meaning.” He’s pushing for an Opening Day roster spot in a utility role, having spent the offseason and early spring taking fly balls and focusing workouts on quickening his first step in the outfield. At the plate, he’s off to a hot start: 7 for 14 with a home run, four RBIs and five walks.
He has found it easy to come into camp this spring and get back to work. Reinvigorated by the second half of 2014, with a championship to help defend, Ishikawa said he spends little time dwelling on the swing and 360-foot gallop with which he’ll be forever linked.
“Not so much now,” he said. “But I think, when I get older, it’ll be a cool story for the grandkids.”