Longtime Giants OF Mac Williamson embracing fresh start with Mariners


Longtime Giants OF Mac Williamson embracing fresh start with Mariners

OAKLAND -- The final at-bat of Mac Williamson's eight years with the San Francisco Giants came late on a Friday night with the team trailing the Arizona Diamondbacks by 16 runs.

Williamson struck out, and as he made the slow walk back to the dugout, he knew what was coming.

"Well," Williamson told himself. "He gone."

A few minutes later, Williamson was designated for assignment a second time. Three weeks later, he's back in the Bay Area, and back in the big leagues, this time as a Seattle Mariner, a team in a similar position offering a similar opportunity. The Mariners are looking for players who can be part of their future, and Williamson has seen pretty regular playing time since being called up June 5. 

It has been a whirlwind month in an emotional season, and as Williamson sat in the Coliseum dugout on Friday, he smiled as he looked down at the Mariners colors on his shirt.

"I catch myself referring to the Giants as 'we' still. 'We' do this or 'we' did that," he said. "I think there will always be a part of me that's a Giant. A lot of people get to play for multiple organizations, that's part of the game, and I'm excited about the new opportunity."

Few young Giants in recent years have been talked about more than Williamson, who possessed the talent to end a decades-long drought of homegrown outfield production but never fully broke through. When he got his first real chance last year, Williamson was derailed by a poorly located bullpen mound. This year, he again got an opportunity, but it was short-lived. When Williamson hit .118 through 15 games, the Giants let him go for a second time in three months. 

"It wasn't a surprise to me, honestly," Williamson said. "I would have liked to have had a longer opportunity to play, but it wasn't like I was hitting .200 and just struggling a little bit. I had two really bad games and was hitting barely over .100.

”I think that while they are trying to find pieces for the future, they're also trying to do Boch justice by giving him the best possible team that they can right now to win as many games as they can to finish up a tremendous career. He deserves that and has earned that respect, and I wasn't helping the team."

While the move wasn't a surprise, it still carried some punch. When Williamson was DFA'd at the end of the spring, he knew the Giants had done it late enough that he likely would get through waivers and stay with the organization. The second time, he knew he would elect to become a free agent. Williamson and his agent sorted through several offers after the cord was cut, ultimately choosing the opportunity with the Mariners. 

He arrived in Tacoma around 2:30 a.m. on a Tuesday night, and the next day went to the Triple-A park to take batting practice. After just one round in the cage, Williamson was pulled aside and told the big league club needed him because of injuries in their outfield and the Jay Bruce trade.

A few hours later, Williamson was sitting in the dugout in Seattle. When the Mariners started pouring it on in a blowout, he was asked if he wanted to pinch-hit. 

"I didn't have anything to lose," he said. "After a long at-bat, I ended up hitting a home run. It was kind of surreal."

Williamson's time with the Mariners has in a way mirrored his season with the Giants. He homered in his first game back from Triple-A last month but then struggled to get going. The first homer with the Mariners was a nice moment, but Williamson has just three hits in 22 at-bats with his second team.

Still, he said has felt better at the plate of late, and the Mariners have continued to give him plenty of at-bats. He's starting in left field against the A's on Friday night. 

Perhaps the breakthrough will come in Seattle, or the next stop or the one after that. Perhaps Williamson, 28, will never get there. He never quite did with the Giants. The two sides are headed in different directions, and while Williamson is sad about the way it all ended, he knows it was time.

Williamson has plenty of friends still with the Giants -- he smiled as he talked of watching Tyler Beede's outing Tuesday night -- but he has found a comfort zone in Seattle, home to former Giants like Cory Gearrin and Hunter Strickland, as well as other players Williamson has known throughout his career. 

"That was an emotional time for me, but once it was over, I was kind of able to look at the picture a little clearer and realize there would be another opportunity with a new organization and it might work out for everybody," he said of getting DFA'd a second time. "Multiple people told me that a fresh start would do me good. I talked to a bunch of people who have been in similar situations where they struggled with one organization, the organization that they came up with.

"I think there's inherent pressure to perform for the organization that gave you a chance and molded you to who you are. You want to perform for them, you want to pay them back. I definitely wanted to do that [with the Giants]. Now that I'm here in Seattle I think they've given me an opportunity to grow and continue to grow and flourish. Hopefully I can do that."

Bay Bridge Series between Giants, A's recently has been neck-and-neck

Bay Bridge Series between Giants, A's recently has been neck-and-neck

No matter how you feel about interleague play, it's hard to find much fault with the yearly home-and-home series between the Giants and A's. 

Fans from both sides pack the ballparks, particularly in Oakland. For years, when Oracle Park sold out every night, that was the best chance that Giants fans in the East Bay had of seeing their team up close, and it remains a much closer trip. There's a lot more media for those games, and I can say from personal experience that I've always loved having the opportunity to watch someone like Matt Chapman in person for three days. 

The games are generally good, too. Two of last year's four games were decided by a run, and a third game saw the Giants score five runs in the eighth to claw back, only to watch the A's pull away with two more in the top of the ninth. A year earlier, three of the six meetings were one-run games, including a pair of walk-offs. 

The Bay Bridge Series now includes an art show and a trophy, and it even gave us one of the best GIFs in franchise history:

The 2020 season was halted a couple of weeks before the Giants and A's were to return home for their yearly exhibition series that gets both sides ready for the season, and it's hard to tell what the plan will be when the sport returns. The original proposal from MLB called for the Giants to play just the NL West and AL West this season, so they expected to see a lot of the A's. If MLB decides to play just 50 games or so, that would drastically change the schedule, and perhaps the Giants would just play games within their division.

We don't know when the Bay Bridge Series will resume, but on NBC Sports Bay Area, a version will air tonight. We've been simulating the whole season and tonight's matchup is the Giants and the A's, with Kruk and Kuip on the call at 5 p.m. 

[RELATED: How 2019 Giants would've looked in shortened MLB season]

Hopefully it's a close game, and history tells us it will be. If you extend the sample beyond the two seasons mentioned above, you find a remarkably close back-and-forth. Since the A's swept the 1989 World Series, the two Bay Area franchises have squared off 124 times in the regular season, with Oakland holding a 64-60 edge. The A's have outscored the Giants by 14 total runs over the last 30 years. 

You might think the last decade would be different given the three titles and all the success the Giants have had, but it's been even closer in recent years. They've played 50 times since the start of 2010 and won 25 games each. The Giants have outscored the A's 225-224 in their interleague matchups over the past decade. It's a matchup that's as close as it gets, and hopefully it's one we're watching again soon. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Justin Viele explains what Giants hitting coaches are focused on

Justin Viele explains what Giants hitting coaches are focused on

Justin Viele was a shortstop at Santa Clara University as the Giants were taking over the even years, and he took advantage of his school's location. Viele and friends would hop on Caltrain a few times every year and head straight to Oracle Park, the home of his future employer. 

The ballpark will look different when Viele finally walks through as the co-hitting coach. The fences are coming in, a boost not just to the hitters but to the men -- Viele, Donnie Ecker and Dustin Lind -- tasked with getting the most out of them. That's not their focus, though. 

On this week's Giants Insider Podcast, Viele said the focus remains on what hitters can control. The ballpark is still going to heavily favor pitchers, and the new staff will continue to preach having a proper swing and controlling the strike zone. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

"If the ball doesn't carry but we hit it really hard, in the expected numbers that really looks good," he said. "It doesn't look good in the batting average, but the expected numbers look good because you're hitting the ball hard. That's really what we can control. Swing at the right pitches and hit the ball hard."

The hope is that a solid approach leads to more success over time, and even if the Giants get Oracle'd, they still hope to hammer teams offensively on the road. They were much improved last season, but over this three-year dip, they rank 23rd in runs scored away from home, 27th in road homers, and 28th in road wRC+. The new staff is trying to teach a better approach, and Viele summed it up neatly. 

"We like to break it up into three different bullet points," he said. "It's (first), how well are you moving. That's so many things. Some people say it's dancing with the pitcher, it's the timing, how you pick up your leg, how you move forward, all these different things. Do you have a big swipe act? Do you have a big jump forward? Are you controlled? All these different things, but ultimately it's how well are you moving. Can we make you move better?"

The second focus is on the bat and what it's doing as it comes through the zone. 

[RELATED: Justin Viele recalls Yaz calling his shot]

"How adjustable is your path, are you able to get on plane with multiple pitches," Viele said. 

Finally, what are you swinging at?

"How prepared are you to face that certain pitcher, how is he going to attack you and how are you going to beat him. How is he going to win," Viele said. "It's understanding those three things: How well you're moving, the bat path, and then the game-planning portion of it."