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Brandon Belt and the Giants Are Writing Their Own Rules

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The captain of the San Francisco Giants — that’s captain with a capital C, crudely concocted with strips of black tape — reported for duty this season in a ship bearing precious cargo. He wore a white captain’s hat with black-and-orange trim, flung his wares starboard and set ground, ultimately, on a shimmering emerald green.

“He’s an entire bozo within the clubhouse,” the left-handed pitcher Alex Wood said of the captain, Brandon Belt, whose impish humor spilled onto the sphere on opening day. Belt emerged from the left-field corner, at Oracle Park, standing at the back of a speedboat pulled by a truck along the third-base stands. He tossed baseballs to the group, then hopped out, grabbed one for himself, and fired the ceremonial first pitch to Manager Gabe Kapler.

“They wanted me to catch it originally,” shortstop Brandon Crawford said. “I assumed, ‘I’m not going to advertise this any greater than he already is.’”

Crawford is 35, one 12 months older than Belt but a few month behind him in service time. They made their debuts in early 2011, when the Giants were the reigning World Series champions, and shortly helped the team win two more titles. Now, Belt and Crawford are the old guard, guiding a Giants team that set a franchise record with 107 victories last season before losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers in an exciting division series.

After a weekend sweep at Washington, the Giants have began this season 11-5. Refashioned as a contemporary contender — data-savvy, coaching-heavy, unafraid to challenge convention of their variety of play — the Giants are stronger by retaining two pillars of the glory years.

“We had tons of models to look as much as, and so they were awesome for us,” Belt said, naming the pitchers Matt Cain and Javier Lopez and the catcher Buster Posey, who retired last fall, amongst his early mentors. “And I believe a variety of those guys are the the explanation why we won World Series back then, because we had that great leadership. Now me and Craw are in a position to help these young guys out and be leaders like those guys we looked as much as before. And that’s fun for me.”

Belt named himself captain as a lark. Last September, when the Giants landed in Chicago for a weekend series with the Cubs, he instructed teammates to remain seated until their captain had left the plane.

“Just going for somewhat shock value,” he said. “They’d never heard anybody say that. I mean, it’s just so ridiculous.”

In Belt’s locker at Wrigley Field the subsequent day, his jersey had a “C” taped to it, courtesy of his teammate Evan Longoria. Belt wore it to the dugout — again, just as a goof — but Kapler suggested he leave it on for the sport. Belt homered, the Giants won, and now the taped-on “C” is part of Belt’s legend. Some teammates wear it on a T-shirt in his honor.

“Nothing surprises me with Belter,” outfielder Steven Duggar said. “He’s unbelievable, man. The guy gets nine at-bats in spring training, comes out and lights the world on fire. And he did it last 12 months, too. Incredible player, incredible person.”

Belt missed most of spring training with a knee injury but homered on opening day and hit .345 within the Giants’ first three series. He has thrived under Kapler and his expanded coaching staff. Entering Sunday’s game, he had slugged .584 since 2020. Only two hitters, San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr. and Atlanta’s Ronald Acuña Jr., had a greater slugging percentage in that span with at the least 500 plate appearances.

A season that was doubtful is suddenly in full gear.

Belt, who was 2 for five with a triple Sunday afternoon within the Giants’ 12-3 win against the Nationals, has chased fewer pitches out of the strike zone, helping explain the surge, but said he also benefited from the coaching staff’s constant reassurance. The arrogance to keep up his disciplined plate approach has helped him stay out of long slumps — and brought an end to the so-called Belt Wars, a debate amongst fans about his value.

“Essentially, some people in San Francisco really liked Brandon and a few people were like, ‘Man, it’s best to exit of the zone somewhat bit more to attempt to drive in that run,’” Kapler said. “But what we imagine is like, this can be a really, really excellent offensive profile just the best way he’s. So we wanted him to know that we value Brandon Belt exactly as he’s, with no improvements. And I believe that message freed him up somewhat bit.”

Kapler, who took over for Bruce Bochy in November 2019, faced a trickier issue with Crawford, who was coming off his worst season. The Giants platoon at several positions, and Crawford, who hit .228 in 2019, seemed uncertain of continuous in an on a regular basis role.

But after playing well within the shortened 2020 season, he fully re-established himself last 12 months, winning a Gold Glove and ending fourth in voting for the National League Most Worthwhile Player Award. Crawford, who hit .298 with 24 homers, called it his best season.

“I don’t think my defense had really declined as much as perhaps some sabermetrics were saying,” Crawford said, “but to get back to Gold Glove caliber defense was big, and proving people flawed all the time feels pretty good.”

The Giants give Crawford leeway to regulate their infield alignment — sometimes with only a look to the bench coach, Kai Correa — if he sees something that deviates from the pregame script. But embracing recent ideas is critical under Kapler and Farhan Zaidi, the team’s president of baseball operations. Crawford understands that the game must evolve.

“It’s modified on so many levels — from celebrating on the sphere to how lineups and rosters are put together, through analytics and stuff like that,” he said. “But I believe change, throughout the course of anything, is usually pretty good. If celebrating on the sphere grows the sport more to perhaps a younger audience, great.

“If someone’s given a likelihood because their analytics were really good within the minors — and perhaps in years past, they’d have been missed because they weren’t projectable enough — that’s good for the sport, too. So I believe, on the whole, it’s good to see where the sport goes.”

In some cases, though, the Giants have pushed the sport forward in ways in which irk their opponents. On Friday in Washington, with a six-run lead within the ninth inning, Thairo Estrada attempted to steal second base when the Nationals weren’t holding him on. Crawford singled on the pitch, and after Estrada was thrown out attempting to rating, the veteran Nationals shortstop Alcides Escobar barked on the Giants’ dugout.

“They did some things that we felt like were uncalled-for,” Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said. That echoed sentiments of the Padres the week before, when Duggar stole a base and Mauricio Dubón bunted for a single with a nine-run lead within the sixth.

Most of baseball’s unofficial code of conduct must be preserved, Belt said, for the sake of sportsmanship. But there may be a difference between showboating and easily playing the sport, he added — and the Giants just play.

“I get a variety of the unwritten rules, and I like the best way they’re,” Belt said. “But I do agree with the logic that Kap is talking about here: We’re not doing this to be disrespectful to other teams. We’re doing this to attempt to win games, period. And I understand it doesn’t look like that to another guys, but we’re attempting to get deeper into the bullpen, make guys throw more pitches so perhaps they’re not in a position to use them in the subsequent couple of days. It’s not only going on the market and showing people up.”

Crawford said the Giants were actually showing more respect to their opponents by continuing to try to attain. This, he said, is the message they need to hear: “We are able to see you guys putting up some runs potentially, which could drastically change the best way we approach our bullpen for the remaining of the sport and the remaining of the series.”

It’s sound logic, even when it hurts other teams’ feelings. In any case, the Giants is not going to apologize for the best way they compete. They’re thriving again, and Belt and Crawford are thrilled to ride one other wave with a special crew — and a veteran (self-proclaimed) captain.

“There’s really no place I’d relatively be than San Francisco,” Belt said. “I’m more enthusiastic about the organization now than I’ve ever been.”

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