SAN FRANCISCO -- Pablo Sandoval burned his share of bridges when he left the Giants for the Red Sox in 2014, but his conversation with his manager that offseason carried a different kind of emotion.
Sandoval still remembers how hard it was to tell Bochy he was leaving. He told Bochy he would miss him. Bochy responded by telling Sandoval he wished he was returning.
"He said, 'Enjoy your moment. This is the time you've been waiting for,'" Sandoval recalled recently.
Three years later, Bochy was there waiting when Sandoval decided to come back.
Sandoval's career with the Giants will go down as one of the more interesting in franchise history, full of highs (All-Star appearances, World Series titles, a performance that dropped Justin Verlander's jaw) and lows (getting benched, repeatedly dealing with weight issues, downtimes on the field and that exit to Boston), but through it all, he has had his manager in his corner.
He views Bochy as someone who has always been fair with him and has always communicated with him in the right way, and tonight he'll honor his longtime manager.
Sandoval has chosen to recognize Bochy at the Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards. Now in its fifth year, the Game Changer Awards honor coaches who have had a noteworthy impact on the lives of some of the biggest stars in the Bay Area.
For Sandoval, this relationship goes beyond a player and coach.
"I tell him, 'You're my father.' I always tell him that," Sandoval said. "I love him and I wish him a nice end to his career, and I wish that I can be there when he retires. I want him to be my manager when I retire from baseball."
Four years ago, it didn't appear that was possible.
In his first spring with the Red Sox, Sandoval gave a stunning interview with Bleacher Report in which he said it was "not hard at all" to leave the team that signed him out of Venezuela and questioned the way the Giants treated him. The most eye-opening quote came when Sandoval was asked if he missed the Giants.
"Only Bochy," he said at the time. "I love Boch. He's like my dad. He's the only guy that I miss. And Hunter Pence. Just those guys."
The quotes made waves in his old clubhouse, and when Sandoval found himself looking for a job just two and a half seasons into that massive contract, a reunion seemed unlikely. There were players who were not ready to welcome him back, and executives high up in the organization who were not on board with the move. Sandoval knew that, and on his first day back, he walked into Bochy's office and told him he knew what he had to do.
"I came to Bochy and said, 'You know what, I need to apologize to you,'" Sandoval said
The redemption tour quickly gained steam. Sandoval moved past those comments quickly, again bringing energy to a clubhouse that needed it and earning a role as a valuable reserve. When he pitched a perfect inning against the Dodgers last April, Sandoval was all the way back to his former status as a favorite of much of the fan base. Bochy was looking for a way to shake things up in the midst of a blowout that day. He knew exactly which player to send to the mound.
From his first day in Bochy's clubhouse, Sandoval has stood out because of his energy and enthusiasm for the game. Bochy says it is infectious, and something that has never waned through two tours with the Giants.
"That's what I love about Pablo, his passion for the game," Bochy said. "To me, that can be a difference-maker for a club, it really can. Chemistry is such an important part of the game, too. We're always looking at the talent, but the talent can come together and gel if you have the right guys in the clubhouse. You get guys to enjoy the game and just play the game for the love of it, and that's the type of player that he is. There have been times that he's been on the DL and players miss him. They miss him in the dugout, they miss him around the clubhouse."
Bochy said that repeatedly down the stretch last season, when Sandoval was sidelined by a major hamstring injury. With his team on an 11-game losing streak, Bochy sat in his office one Friday last September and wondered aloud what he was supposed to do.
The Giants simply did not have the talent to compete with the teams Bochy was seeing every night. As he talked through solutions, Sandoval walked into his office, a wrap on his injured leg but a bat in his hand. He smacked the bat against a door and promised his manager that the Giants would win that night.
"We miss him," Bochy said, a few hours before the Giants edged the Rockies to snap the streak.
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Sandoval felt the same way about Bochy when he was gone, and he said the manager was one of the main reasons he returned to San Francisco. Sandoval credits Bochy for helping him be himself in the big leagues, constantly reminding him to have fun, but also to respect the game and play it the right way. In the down times, Bochy has always been there with a lesson. In the good times, Sandoval looks at his manager and simply sees an approving smile.
"I try to remind myself how difficult the game is, and when a guy is going through a tough patch, that's when they need you," Bochy said. "That's when they need support. If you make an impact on a player that's struggling and you can help them, that's what it's about. That's what the game is about."