CHICAGO -- Brandon Belt's clubhouse proclamations have become legendary over the years, and he doesn't limit himself to the diamond, where he is, of course, the best hitter, fastest runner, and best pitching option for the Giants.
Belt has long insisted that he was the fastest swimmer in Nacogdoches, the small Texas town he grew up in. He has at times claimed to be his hometown's star in every sport, including soccer, which is particularly notable since Nacogdoches is also home to Clint Dempsey, a veteran of three World Cups.
It surely came as absolutely no surprise, then, when Belt proclaimed that he was the captain of the team as players joked around on the flight to Chicago and the bus ride to their downtown hotel. Baseball players being baseball players, it was also no surprise when Evan Longoria got to Belt's jersey early Friday morning and put a 'C' on it with electrical tape.
It was a surprise when that jersey made it out onto the field during a 6-1 win over the Cubs.
Belt wore the captain's mark proudly and he more than backed it up, reaching base four times, scoring the tying run, and adding an insurance two-run homer. If you play like that, well, nobody is going to tell you you're not the captain.
"You know, somebody has got to step up, and when you're the alpha male on the team it's got to be you," Belt said. "I put the 'C' on my chest and I went to work today, and thankfully it worked out."
Wearing the captain's mark out to the field was not difficult, and Belt is better equipped than any player in the clubhouse to keep a straight face throughout a day like this one. He has struggled with that just once over his long career in orange and black, as hitting Splash Hit No. 69 got the best of him.
Belt wore the 'C' proudly throughout the game, which was close early but turned into a blowout after Longoria and Belt went deep, and afterward he was just as sharp. A few highlights:
"There's a chance it was self-proclaimed. Actually it was. You know, like I said, people just get in line when they know."
"I was not going to wear it, but everybody thought that I should, so being the leader that I am, I stepped up and did it."
"It was trying to fall off the entire game, I don't know if it was just sweat or because I was running too fast. Whatever it was, I'm not really sure, but it was not easy to keep that thing on."
"It really just started on the plane the other day. I just felt like in my heart I had been the captain all year, so I just told everybody to let me get off the plane first since I was the team captain. And they did. When people know that you're the guy, they don't say anything, they just do it."
This is the Belt who has cracked up the clubhouse since he was a rookie, but there's a serious aspect here. This is also a player who crumpled behind the plate in Anaheim in June and thought his season, and potentially his Giants career, might be over.
Belt sought multiple opinions and was told he could rehab the injury, and since he has returned he has been the team's best hitter. The homer on Friday was his 22nd, and it raised his OPS to .913, the second-highest mark of his career.
When Belt is going this way at the plate -- and throwing in Gold Glove-level defense -- the Giants are a much more dangerous team, and right now they also appear to be an extremely confident group, for good reason. The win pushed them to 91-50 and extended their NL West lead to three games.
You could say nobody saw this was coming, but that's not quite true. The Giants themselves met in the spring and talked about making the playoffs and chasing a division crown. Six months ago, that seemed as ludicrous as Belt winning the 100-meter individual medley in a Nacogdoches pool, but now they're potentially just a couple of weeks from that celebration.
The journey here has been a serious one between the lines, but behind closed doors the Giants have had plenty of fun, with veterans like Belt and Brandon Crawford saying this is one of the best clubhouses they've seen. That was clear Friday as everyone lined up behind The Captain.
Well, nearly everybody. Manager Gabe Kapler, a man who could eat steak and eggs three meals a day, would only go so far as calling Belt the "captain of something."
"I think he could have done a better job with the tape," Kapler said, smiling. "It was sort of bootlegged."