SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants-Dodgers rivalry is still intense between the lines and for the fans, but inside the clubhouse, there’s an understanding that business comes first.
President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi came to the Giants after a successful stint as Dodgers general manager, and his hand-picked manager is a man he got to know well while both worked for the rival. Gabe Kapler immediately plucked a hitting coach, Justin Viele, out of the Dodgers' minor league system.
One of Viele’s first projects was Donovan Solano, who went from Triple-A with the Dodgers to Silver Slugger with the Giants. Alex Wood spent five seasons with the Dodgers before signing in San Francisco, and Darin Ruf also has Dodgers ties.
It’s becoming common to see crossover, but Joc Pederson still stands out. At 748 games, he trails only Dusty Baker (1,117) for most games with the Los Angeles Dodgers before making his debut with the San Francisco Giants.
Pederson is from Palo Alto and had already played nearly 100 games against the Giants when he signed a one-year, $6 million deal in March. He knew them well, and he said there have been no real surprises about the organization now that he knows the inner workings.
“It’s a lot of good guys, a really good clubhouse. I love being here,” Pederson said. “It’s a great group of guys, but I think I had a pretty good idea of that just by playing them so much and seeing the culture they did have.”
Pederson has been a huge part of that culture this season, but also the Giants’ best hitter. With 17 homers and .848 OPS, he has made his second All-Star team.
The Giants knew Pederson would crush right-handed pitching, but when they signed him, there was some curiosity about how he would fit. He came with the bat flips and pearls and a general sense of flair that doesn’t often accompany the Orange and Black, but teammates rave about Pederson’s work behind the scenes and in the clubhouse.
Tonight, Pederson will represent the Giants by starting in the All-Star Game. His teammates will be watching, and many spent weeks talking about how they hoped this would happen for a player who has been the perfect fit. Here’s what they said about Pederson’s impact in the first half and what they’ve learned about him after so many years of watching him on the other side:
First baseman Brandon Belt: “Yeah, I thought he was going to be a lot more douchey just from watching him from across the field for so long. I’m kidding, he's been great. He really fits in this clubhouse perfectly. He's a great personality, a good teammate. If you were to go out and build someone to fit in this clubhouse, I think it would probably be him.
“He just kind of fits in perfectly. He's goofy, a little bit, and he likes to have fun, and I think that kind of brings an element to our team that is needed at times, for sure. He keeps it light. I try to do the same thing, but that's just who he is. He likes to have fun and I think that makes other people like to have fun as well.
"And just sitting there talking to him about hitting in general, I think we have a lot of the same philosophies. You know, I like to think of myself as a hitting genius and if he's thinking the same, that means he's a hitting genius as well. But no, he absolutely has a high baseball IQ. He's a really good ballplayer."
President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi: "Some of this probably just comes from his maturity and investment as a player, but when he first came up in 2015, he was 22 years old [and] I think most of our conversations were banter, joking around, talking about fantasy football. We've had more conversations this year just about the team, what he's seeing, what he thinks we need, what he's seeing around the game. He's really a student of the game in a way that maybe people don't realize because they kind of see his facetious public persona a little bit more.
“That's been fun. He really cares about the game, he cares about this team, he follows things around baseball, the trade market. I mean, a lot of times when we make a move, whether it's a waiver claim [or something else], I get a message from him before we announce anything. I think he's kind of just doing it like, 'I knew before you think I did.'"
Manager Gabe Kapler: “He’s way more thoughtful than he was when he was younger. I think he really understands the way the game works, he understands game strategy very well. He is a pro, in that I think he wants to have a chance to face lefties and play every day, but he’s learned that that might not be best for even him. Even leaving aside what’s best for the team [it’s] getting him off his feet, giving him a little bit of a blow, avoiding the nastiest lefties in the league -- man, I think he really buys into that and gets that and we’re seeing the results of it.
“It’s not to say that he wouldn’t have great numbers if he was in there against [Arizona Diamondbacks' Joe] Mantiply when he came into the game or starting against [Los Angeles’ Julio] Urias or whoever, I just think he understands that part of the reason he’s collected the numbers that he’s collected so far is that he’s been put in a good position to succeed. And he appreciates and buys into that and that goes a long way for a coaching staff.”
Shortstop Brandon Crawford: "I think what you see is what you get with Joc. I had a pretty good idea of how he was just playing against him when he was in L.A. The first time we ever talked off of the field was both of our first All-Star Game in 2015, and he was exactly how you would expect. Nothing has really surprised me.
“I just think he does such a great job of being the same guy no matter what's going on. Obviously he's having a good year so it's easy to be in a good mood, but I think he would be like that no matter how he's doing.”
Hitting coach Justin Viele: "I was in L.A., but I was never really around him, so I didn't know the person, know the baseball player. I just knew that he hit a bunch of homers and took big, aggressive swings. I definitely didn't think he had the IQ on the field and the instincts that he has, and he's just a straight winner. He is obsessed with winning. He makes me want to win more, he makes me want to watch the game a little bit closer and in more detail. He's on everything: Catcher pop times, catchers blocking pitches, outfielders throwing to the right bases. He's on all the little things like that and that's really cool. That just shows you that he's a winner.”
Right-hander John Brebbia: "Playing against him, I came to essentially dislike Joc, purely because my relationship with him was that I had to pitch to him and he's a very good hitter. But he's just this big, nice, happy guy -- that happens to rake. I don't want to say I'm surprised or unsurprised because I never really put any thought to what his personality was like, but it was a really funny perspective for me to get.
“I went from, ‘I hate this guy, I really don't want to deal with this guy, he's a good hitter’ to now I actually know who he is. He's our good hitter now. And I've gotten to know his personality and it's like, 'Oh, yeah he's great.' He's just happy. He's always kind of in a good mood. Sure, he's mad if he gets out and no one likes losing, but he has a steady, positive presence. Whether we're going through good patches or bad patches, he always seems to be the same. From a veteran leadership standpoint, that means a lot."
Outfielder Darin Ruf: “When you played against him he seemed very chill, very Cali, very relaxed, kind of fun, and that's kind of the way he is. The person who you play against is the person you get. He's a very solid teammate, very encouraging. Obviously he's really talented, but I think he has a ton of baseball smarts too.
“He spoke up in one of our hitters meetings recently about the importance of baserunning. Obviously we all know about that, but it was just to highlight that we're not hitting as many homers this year as last year, so we have to focus on the little things to try to score more runs and be more competitive in games.”
Outfielder Austin Slater: "I think what the fans see is a lot of what we see in here. He's very genuine and authentic, so it's just been a ton of fun to play with him. He brings a lot of energy, keeps it light. Sometimes you see that on the field and you're like, 'Maybe they're not the same in the clubhouse,' but he's Joc through and through."
Outfielder LaMonte Wade Jr.: "You always watched him and you always knew that he played a different style of baseball, having fun and stuff like that, and everything that you saw is the same as what we see here. He has a lot of fun, but he also does take the job very seriously and he works hard at it. But he does like to have a lot of fun, which is what you need in the clubhouse.
“He's been a really good teammate, someone who is going to make you laugh but is also a guy that you can pick his brain. He's played for a while and knows what he's doing, so he has some good advice that he shares with a lot of people.”
Catcher Curt Casali: "I remember I played against him in the minor leagues when he was with Chattanooga and I was with Montgomery [in Double-A], and I thought he swung the hardest I had ever seen anybody swing in my entire life. It scared me how hard he swung, so I always wanted to kind of get to know him just because I admired him and how he played.
“He's a pro. He does it in a different way, he wears his uniform a little bit differently, he doesn't own a comb, but he takes the game seriously and I appreciate how he goes about his work. He kind of puts off the vibe of goofball -- and he definitely is -- but he can separate it."
Right-hander Logan Webb: “Personally, I hated facing him. Every time I would either go 3-0 or he would hit the first pitch very hard somewhere. He brings a special vibe to a clubhouse. It’s very unorthodox, obviously, as you can see, he’s got the bleached blonde hair. But for me it’s been cool to see how calm he is all the time. No situation fazes him. We saw that in the playoffs every year, he’s always calm. He’s a big-time player in big-time moments and it’s really cool for me to see every day. It’s fun to watch. Now that I see him in person and I’ve gotten to know him, those big moments in the playoffs make sense.”
Right-hander Alex Cobb: "Obviously he's a pretty big personality within the game and you watch him from afar and see what he's done, and he's always in the spotlight, whether it was Home Run Derbies early on and then the World Series. I have friends in different clubhouses that he's been in, mostly in Atlanta last year, and they've really credited him with changing the culture in the clubhouse and bringing the club together. You don't really understand how that is possible for somebody to have that type of impact and then you get to play with him and you see what type of contagious personality he has.
“In every room he goes into, people are laughing, whether it's with him or at him. He's just a fun personality to be around and just a wonderful teammate. I don't think he gets the credit for how baseball-savvy he is. He understands the game really well. He kind of puts on this big, dumb, hard-hitting, left-fielder [persona] that just swings hard and that's it, but he actually has a really good understanding of baseball smarts and how to play the game.
“What he did in the first half was incredible to watch. It was electric, and it's a huge reason why we're still in the position that we're in and within striking distance."