Amy Gutierrez

Giants' Pablo Sandoval reveals true story behind 'Panda' nickname

Giants' Pablo Sandoval reveals true story behind 'Panda' nickname

In the middle of a lengthy conversation with NBC Sports Bay Area's Amy Gutierrez on Instagram Live, Giants infielder Pablo Sandoval was asked if his children know his nickname. He smiled and called over his young son, who started chanting "Panda!" 

Pablo Sandoval has been the Kung Fu Panda -- or Panda -- for over a decade. Most Giants fans know the story. Barry Zito gave the nickname to the energetic young catcher when he was called up in 2008 and the organization ran with it, using the nickname in marketing campaigns and on merchandise. "The Panda" became well known at Oracle Park. 

But ... it turns out there's more to the story.

On Gutierrez's Wine Wednesday Instagram series, Sandoval revealed that another Giants veteran might actually be due just as much credit for the famous nickname. Sandoval said Zito and former infielder Rich Aurilia are jointly responsible. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

"I thank Rich Aurilia," he said, "Because he got me good on that one." 

Aurilia later joined Gutierrez and confirmed that he had a big hand in the creation of the "Kung Fu Panda."

"I've never made it public or never said anything, but we were playing in LA (in 2008), we were playing a day game and he rounded third and I was standing next to Zito and Matt Cain on the rail at Dodger Stadium," Aurilia said. "He rounded third and got towards the catcher and the ball was coming at the same time. He jumped over -- it looked like slow motion -- he jumped over the catcher, twisted his body, missed the tag, and he got his hand in to touch the plate. 

"I was like, 'Holy cow!' My boys were eight and six, so I was totally into all these movies. I said, 'Look at the Kung Fu Panda over there, look at him go, look at how agile the Kung Fu Panda is.'"

As Aurilia remembers it, Zito immediately used the nickname in an interview and it stuck. 

[RELATED: Giants offer credits, refunds to fans with tickets for April, May games]

"For all of these years I haven't said a word about this," Aurilia said. "I'm shocked that Pablo knew that. I'm shocked he knew the whole thing and how it came down."

Maybe it shouldn't be that big of a surprise. Sandoval counts Aurilia, who played for the Giants for a dozen years -- two with Sandoval -- as one of the veterans who helped him the most early in his career. 

"I always give the credit," Sandoval said of Aurilia. "(He was) one of the greatest mentors for me, especially when I was moving from catcher to third. He taught me a lot of things about how to play the game and how to move at third base. He did a great job." 

How wiffle ball helped Kevin Mitchell make iconic barehanded catch

How wiffle ball helped Kevin Mitchell make iconic barehanded catch

Believe it or not, wiffle ball had a helping hand in one of the most iconic catches in MLB history.

Former Giants outfielder Kevin Mitchell, in a recent interview with NBC Sports Bay Area's Amy Gutierrez, recalled how he made the shocking barehanded catch against the St. Louis Cardinals in 1989. It seemed to even catch him by surprise, because he wasn't expecting Ozzie Smith -- himself one of the great defensive wizards in the game's history -- to slice a ball down the left field line. 

"We (were) playing Ozzie in the gaps," Mitchell told Gutierrez. "We weren't even supposed to be pitching him outside because he hits the ball to left field (well). I felt I couldn't get to it with my glove and I just put my hand up. You know, as a kid, you play in the boys clubs and you always used your hands in wiffle ball. It was just something that just happened. I don't know, what was I thinking then. I just hoped that Ozzie wasn't mad at me, he wasn't really pissed at me."

Mitchell was a man well ahead of his time. 

He hit the types of homers that would have made him a superstar in an era where highlights are king, and dropped juicy quotes like "You go up to swing the bat. Only the mailman walks" that a modern audience on Twitter would eat up. And on this day 31 years ago, he made the catch that would have been one of the most viral sports moments of the year had it happened today. 

Mitchell's barehanded grab would have him trending for hours in 2020. Even in 1989, it was a big deal.

[RELATED: Clark recalls homer off Nolan Ryan]

The catch was part of a memorable season for Mitchell and the Giants, one they celebrated last year with several events at Oracle Park. Mitchell had come over in a 1987 trade with San Diego and developed into a superstar. He slugged 47 homers, drove in 125 runs and won the National League MVP award for a team that lost to the A's in the World Series. 

"I was blessed to be playing for the San Francisco Giants," Mitchell said. "After leaving the Padres, my hometown, I didn't know where I was going. After playing (in San Francisco) as a rookie I told myself I would never want to play in Candlestick because of all the wind, but as I went over there I had to face whatever was in front of me and, by having teammates like I did have, they made it fun for me and I felt like I had a home and felt like I had a lot of brothers to play with. That's what gave me the motivation to go out there and play."

Giants fans that want to show their appreciation for Mitchell's iconic catch can head over to the Breaking T website to buy this incredible shirt, which you can buy here.

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Will Clark shares funny story about homer off Nolan Ryan in MLB debut

Will Clark shares funny story about homer off Nolan Ryan in MLB debut

On April 8, 1986, 34 years ago to the date, Will Clark made his major league debut with the Giants.

And it was a debut Clark and everyone else involved won't forget.

Clark's first career at-bat is the stuff of legends.

With the Giants facing the Astros in Houston, Clark had to face Nolan Ryan, one of the most intimidating pitchers in baseball history.

Instead of easing Clark in by putting him at the bottom of the lineup, Giants manager Roger Craig batted the rookie second, guaranteeing a first-inning at-bat.

Rather than striking out against "The Ryan Express," Clark crushed his first career homer in his first at-bat.

In an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area's Amy Gutierrez this past weekend, Clark recalled the scene in the dugout after he rounded the bases.

"So I come in and everyone is excited and I'm high-fiving everybody and we sit down on the bench and there's just like this calm, and nobody was really fired up," Clark said. "Everybody was kind of looking around and [Giants pitcher] Mike Krukow sorta says it best. Everybody's looking around going 'What the hell did he just do?' That kind of thing. Off of Nolan Ryan. Dead center field in the Astrodome.

"So then, I'm sitting there, and like I said, this calm came over me, and I don't know why, I looked at Chili Davis, who was sitting on my left, and I said 'Chili, he's going to drill me next time up?' And he goes 'Oh hell yeah.'

"And the next time up, Nolan's in his wind up and I'm already easing to the ground and it was up and in, but it was just a message pitch."

[RELATED: Giants set to retire Clark's number]

The homer was Clark's only hit of the game, but the Giants went on to win 8-3.

So in his big league debut, Clark homered, didn't get drilled by Ryan and left the Astrodome with a win. Not a bad day for the 22-year-old.