Belt fits nicely in San Francisco

BY foxsports • April 1, 2011

As a baseball star at Hudson High School in Lufkin, Texas, Brandon Belt was known for his powerful pitching and prodigious hitting. Eventually, his teammates figured it was time to give him a nickname befitting someone who authored such towering home runs.

They called him “Bomb.”

Then, as often happens, the moniker evolved. “Bomb” became “Bob.” So, at least in the dugout, Brandon Belt was “Belty Bob.”

But it wasn’t until Belt enrolled at the University of Texas that teammates and coaches arrived at the perfect slugging sobriquet, particularly in light of his evolution into the latest stud hitting prospect for the San Francisco Giants.

Jethro.

You know, from The Beverly Hillbillies.

Tommy Harmon, the Longhorns’ associate head coach, is the one who popularized it.

“Coach Harmon, he just loved to call me Jethro,” Belt said. “He must think I’m a hillbilly, which is probably true.”

And like they say in the theme song: Californy is the place you oughtta be

Belt made his major-league debut Thursday at Dodger Stadium — not far from where Jed and all his kin unloaded the truck in Bev-er-ly. He took some terrific at-bats. He came away with a base knock. He played flawlessly in the field. He was, in all, quite impressive.

One night later, he became the toast of baseball, or something close to it.

See, the ball doesn’t carry too well in Chavez Ravine — not to center field, and certainly not at night. The kid was apparently unaware of this. In the fourth inning, Chad Billingsley offered him a meaty 2-0 fastball. The noise from the impact was something like a firecracker detonating in a tin shed.

And darned if it didn’t disappear over the wall in straightaway center, some 400 feet from home plate.

“A dream,” Belt said, of the moment the ball dropped out of sight. “That’s pretty much the only way I can explain it.”

“In this ballpark, in center field, I haven’t seen a lot of them go out like that,” Giants third base coach Tim Flannery admired. “It sounded different off the bat. It just kept going.”

“He hit the ball hard, man,” said Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp, the other star of the series thus far. “He’s been really good. I’ve seen his at-bats. He’s got a really nice swing.”

Kind of makes you wonder what the rookie will do for an encore when the series renews on Saturday (MLB on FOX, 1:10 p.m. PT).

Belt should be pleased with his two-day-old career – but for the fact that he has yet to shake hands with his teammates following a victory. The Giants have made five errors and dropped a pair of one-run games.

It’s been 56 years since the Giants defended a World Series title. They are obviously out of practice.

“It’s tough,” Belt said. “We play this game because we like to win. If you don’t, you wouldn’t be here. I don’t think anybody’s panicking or anything like that. It’s just Game 2. We’re going to come out ready to play tomorrow.”

Sounds like a veteran already.

Belt admitted Thursday to experiencing “nerves and butterflies.” It sure hasn’t looked that way. He saw 27 pitches in the opener, the most for any player on either team. And Belt, a left-handed hitter, did it against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, who ranks with Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia among the stingiest southpaw starters in the game.

The Giants have a crowded roster that will get more complicated once Cody Ross returns from the disabled list. But Belt, who also can play the outfield, is a keeper. Even the name and number — BELT 9 — look proper and symmetrical on the back of his jersey.

“Kid’s doing a nice job,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

Nice? Let’s examine this a little more closely: One year ago, Belt was playing in the Class A California League. Now, he will be in the everyday lineup — even against lefties — for a San Francisco team that just won its first World Series. He took his first major-league at-bat on an 85-degree evening in Southern California, as described by Hall of Fame broadcasters Vin Scully and Jon Miller.

A damp and dreary September afternoon, this was not.

“When I walked into this stadium, I was like, ‘I’ve got to be dreaming right now. Somebody’s going to wake me up here in a second. This is unbelievable,’” Belt said after his debut. “To walk on the field for the first time, it was pretty amazing.”

Belt is merely the latest star prospect to emerge from a once-barren Giants farm system. The rotation includes four homegrown pitchers who are not yet 29: Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner. A nimbler Pablo Sandoval, only 24, has done more good than ill through two games. Buster Posey, 24, is an icon-in-the-making.

Belt, like Posey, plays older than he is. I mean that as a compliment. While Posey may be a franchise player in the truest sense — as a catcher, he’s been compared to Johnny Bench — the two receive similar praise for their maturity and advanced approach at the plate.

“He’s here for a reason,” Giants adviser J.T. Snow, a fellow left-swinging first baseman, said of Belt. “He’s one of those guys, you don’t say too much to him. He asks a lot of good questions. He’s interested in getting better. He’s done the work. Now, it’s just time to relax and play. He’s got the makeup to handle it.”

Swimmin’ pools. Movie stars. The phenom from Texas is very much at home in this lo-cal-i-ty.



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