Rookie Matt Duffy wins 2015 Willie Mac Award


Rookie Matt Duffy wins 2015 Willie Mac Award

SAN FRANCISCO — Matt Duffy will surely be announced as a Rookie of the Year finalist next month. Award season started early for the young third baseman on Friday night.

Duffy is the 2015 winner of the Willie Mac Award, given annually to the most inspirational player on the team. The award, named for Hall of Famer Willie McCovey, is voted on by players, coaches, training staff and fans. Duffy is the first rookie to win in the 35-year history of the award.

"I couldn't be more honored to have my name alongside several of the past winners tonight," Duffy said during the ceremony. "I'd like to thank the Giants organization, the coaching staff, my teammates, my family and all the coaches who taught me how to play the game the right way. They taught me that if you put in the time and the preparation, good things will come."

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After giving a short speech and taking a picture with past winners, Duffy got a big hug from his dad, Tom, who recorded the ceremony with a camcorder and lovingly spent most of his night recording his son's every move. Duffy's mom and sister are traveling in Europe right now, but his sister texted him a "wish we could be there" message early Friday. That confused Matt, who didn't know he had won the Willie Mac Award and wondered why they would want to be at a late-season game against the Rockies.

Winning came as a shock to Duffy, who listed Javier Lopez, Brandon Crawford, Tim Hudson and Jeremy Affeldt among the many players who were deserving of the honor. Why did Duffy win?

"I'm going to turn it around and give the credit to the veterans," he said. "They've made my transition so much easier when they're as welcoming as they are. It really allows you to relax and play hard and play the game the way you were taught. I don't have a family but a lot of these guys do and they spend more time with us than their families sometimes. For them to recognize me is special."

Duffy, a surprise contributor down the stretch last season, wasn’t even expected to make the club out of spring training. But the Giants had little choice after Duffy dominated the Cactus League and worked hard every day to learn how to handle third (he came up as a shortstop), first and even the outfield. He made the opening day roster and hit so well in April and May that management again had no choice but to demote the struggling Casey McGehee and give Duffy a full-time job. 

He hasn’t looked back since and has barely even taken a day off. Duffy leads the National League with 116 consecutive starts, a streak that is expected to carry into next season. The longtime National League iron man, Hunter Pence, believes Duffy’s durability has been one of his best traits.

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“He’s definitely got that grit,” Pence said. “It’s tough to do. It’s very valuable to have the ability to do that. You don’t find everyday big leaguers in the middle of the lineup very often. That’s been one of the bright spots of this year, the emergence of Matt Duffy.”

Duffy has been much more than just an everyday player, however. He’s been an everyday force. He leads the National League with 89 hits since the All-Star break and his 46 extra base hits are the most by a Giants rookie since Chili Davis had 52 in 1982. Entering play Friday, the 24-year-old had a .298 average, 12 homers, 76 RBI, 12 stolen bases and a .770 OPS. He is second among NL rookies and 11th in the National League with 4.9 wins above replacement.

Throughout, Duffy has shown the toughness that made him such a clubhouse favorite from the moment he was called up last August. He played through an ankle injury for several days when the Giants didn’t have a backup infielder and couldn’t afford another injury, and when Kenley Jansen buzzed him with a high fastball on Wednesday night, Duffy responded by smacking a single up the middle and then immediately stealing second base. 

"It's how he plays, every pitch, every at-bat, the way he runs the bases the way he plays defense," Bruce Bochy said, listing off Duffy's attributes. "He hasn't had a break in a while. He has all (his teammates') respect."

Duffy is the sixth current Giant to win the Willie Mac Award, joining Matt Cain (2009), Ryan Vogelsong (2011), Buster Posey (2012), Pence (2013) and Madison Bumgarner (2014). He watched former winners come in from an outfield gate and realize the magnitude of the award.

"As they were introducing everybody, I didn't realize the company I was in," he said. "I got to pause and think about that. It was pretty cool. I'm extremely honored."

Joey Bart impresses Bruce Bochy in first few weeks of spring training

Joey Bart impresses Bruce Bochy in first few weeks of spring training

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- When the Giants announced their minor league coaches a few weeks ago, it certainly seemed no accident that longtime big league staffer Bill Hayes was the new manager of the San Jose Giants.

Joey Bart, the top catching prospect in the minors, will begin the season with San Jose. 

"I know we wanted to make sure we had a catching guy with him, so this worked out great," manager Bruce Bochy said. "Billy will be a great mentor .... to have him day in and day out will be helpful with his progress. That's going to be nice for Joey."

Hayes has been a roving catching instructor in the minors since being let go as first base coach. He previously was Bochy's bullpen catcher and is about to start his 20th season with the organization. 

Bart is in his first full professional season, and thus far has mostly kept his head down. There has been some ribbing from veterans -- they made Bart hit first against Madison Bumgarner in live BP in case Bumgarner felt like buzzing someone -- but Bochy praised the 22-year-old for the way he has handled his first big league camp

"He's an eager learner," Bochy said. "You watch him and he listens and wants to take in everything ... I love the way he's carrying himself."

Bochy has had his first extended look at Bart this spring. 

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"Very good mechanics. He has a strong arm and I think he has a good setup behind the plate," Bochy said. "He's a physical guy and you see the size of him, so there's no question he's going to be able to handle the workload behind the plate for a long season. And the power, it's impressive, you know."

Bart hit 13 homers in 45 minor league games last year. He has shown that pop in BP, particularly when going the opposite way, and he should soon get a crack at showing it in games. Bochy said he'll throw Bart into some early Cactus League games. The Giants kick off the exhibition season Saturday.

Giants' Kieran Lovegrove stands against racism in Black History Month shoes


Giants' Kieran Lovegrove stands against racism in Black History Month shoes

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- South African-born reliever Kieran Lovegrove is a new name to the Giants' organization -- he could even be a name you've never heard of. I'm not one of those people.

However, this was the first time I met Lovegrove in person. 

Despite spending many years following each other's careers on social media, I was never given the opportunity to interview the young pitcher. But when he posted a photo of some unique shoes recently, I was curious. Not only were these beauties, well beautiful, but they had a very special message behind them:

On the inner-tongue of the Converse shoes, "Equality" in yellow is printed with "BHM" on the front. "BHM" is also engraved on the side of the colorful shoes. 

Every year, Lovegrove tries to get one of the Black History Month pairs.

"Really, it's me wanting to continue to stand against racism," Lovegrove told NBC Sports Bay Area. "Especially as it exists today, it's just gotten so divisive against people -- that's all it is -- to show solidarity."

The 24-year-old reliever was modest saying the message may not "be much," since it's a pair of shoes, but it starts a conversation.

"Fashion is a way that you can stand for something without your words being misconstrued," he said. 

Four years ago, a teammate of Lovegrove's convinced him to get a pair of Jordan's. He was unsure about them at first, but ultimately he became the new owner of Spike Lee 40's, the Black History Month edition. After receiving numerous compliments, he wanted to continue showing his support whether in the form of a shoe, or otherwise.

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"Not that I need more shoes," he laughed.

He's running out of room in his closet, and with his girlfriend moving to the area in May, it's imperative he makes room. But until then, he has no problem with his kicks taking up space -- especially when it sends such a powerful message.

"I'll celebrate the accomplishments of great black men and women in history overall."