Giants gear up for tough task of defending title

Andres Torres checked out the banner at the main entrance to
Scottsdale Stadium blaring ”2012 WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS” and knew
he was back in the right place.

The outgoing outfielder bounced through the clubhouse Tuesday
morning, sporting a beanie for the cool desert weather after
batting practice and some running. He offered handshakes and hugs
as he said hello to all the familiar faces he missed spending one
season away with the New York Mets following three in San
Francisco.

Now, Torres will play alongside the guy the Giants traded him
for last offseason: center fielder Angel Pagan.

San Francisco features a close-knit cast of Latino players,
including World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval, the re-signed Pagan,
second baseman Marco Scutaro and outfielder Gregor Blanco. And
Torres already fits right back in with that group.

”Oh, I’m really happy, so happy to be back,” said Torres, who
will play for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. ”This is
where I feel good. This is home for me. I’m excited to be back with
the guys. I know Pagan, Blanco and Scutaro. It’s a great group. I’m
ready to go.”

The Giants won another World Series crown last year while Torres
was away, though he attended some playoff games at AT&T Park to
cheer his former, and now current, club. Reliever Ramon Ramirez,
another member of the 2010 title team who went to the Mets in that
same swap, also is back after agreeing to a minor league deal with
San Francisco last week.

The champion feeling is everywhere at the team’s spring training
site. Several dozen fans lined the gate where players walk in for
work. Boxes full of fresh T-shirts, pennants and hats were unloaded
in the team store. Hitting coach Hensley ”Bam Bam” Meulens
sported a black T-shirt on Tuesday with orange writing that read
”Kings Wear Rings” with an image of a sparkly championship
ring.

When Meulens snapped a picture of the shirt and sent it to his
brother, he arrived home to see family members in the same one
after a speedy visit to a silkscreener.

”Like 25 people had it,” Meulens said. ”I got home and they
all were wearing it. It was pretty cool.”

Longtime visiting clubhouse manager Harvey Hodgerney has new ink
from last month on his left calf with the 2012 World Series
champions logo to go along with the tattoo he got on his right leg
following the 2010 title.

”It’s unbelievable, two World Series championships in three
years,” reliever Santiago Casilla said. ”I feel so happy, so
proud, because nobody believed. God put his eyes on the
Giants.”

Many of the Giants’ position players already were at the stadium
ahead of the first full-squad workout Saturday.

”That’s always a great sign,” manager Bruce Bochy said. ”This
is as good a place as you can have to work out, with the cages and
the workout room, so a lot of them like to come in early and some
we wanted to come in early to get a head start. But most of them
came in on their own.”

Right fielder Hunter Pence is one of those guys eager to get
started.

He begins his first spring with the Giants after being dealt
from the Phillies at last summer’s trade deadline.

”It’s a new year, it’s a new league, it’s not the same,” Pence
said. ”It’s great to have the group that went through what we went
through last year. I’m just very grateful, grateful to be a
part.”

Torres and Blanco could wind up platooning in left field, and
Bochy said he has no problem with Torres taking time away to play
in the WBC while he’s competing for a job. If it was somebody else,
somebody Bochy didn’t know well, things might be different.

The manager and Torres stayed in touch during the free agency
period before Torres signed a $2 million, one-year contract in
December.

”He’s a Giant at heart,” Bochy said. ”We know Andres.”

Bochy brought a similar message on Day 1 to what he offered two
springs ago after the franchise’s first World Series title since
moving West in 1958 from New York. San Francisco failed to make the
playoffs in 2011 after a rough September.

He wants his players to enjoy the feeling of being reigning
champions, keep the memories and remember how difficult it is to
get to the top – and remember the work it takes to stay there.

”They were a very unselfish group and had so much unity, the
really cared about each other and set aside their own agenda and
asked what’s best for the club,” he said. ”They had one goal in
mind, it was a common goal throughout the club, and that was to get
to the postseason and hopefully win a world championship, which
they did.”

Now, other teams will be eager to bring down the Giants after
two titles in three years. Bochy got a little glimpse, a preview of
sorts, with how he was treated when out and about during the
December winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn.

”The only difference I probably saw a little bit, at the winter
meetings the first year a lot of people came out and said,
`Congratulations!’ and the second time you do it, they’re mad at
you,” he said. ”’Hey, that’s enough, you’re ball hogging
now.”’

Notes: Sandoval hardly had a voice Tuesday as he nurses a cold.
That didn’t keep Kung Fu Panda from taking his swings in the cage
beyond the center-field wall. ”I’m sick,” he said. Bochy believes
Sandoval is near the end of his illness and will be full strength
by Saturday’s first full-squad workout. … Bochy ”has a pretty
good idea” on the identify of his opening day starter will be but
plans to meet with pitching coach Dave Righetti and tell the player
before announcing it. … Bochy: ”We’re like the players, we come
in here and we have to get in shape, too.” With condensed spring
training because of World Baseball Classic, Bochy said his pitchers
will ”be happy to cut out one play – the third to first move.”
… Pagan and LHP Javier Lopez also are on Puerto Rico’s WBC
team.