Love drives Lincecum’s comeback to the big league

Tim Parsons /Tahoe Ontage

Tim Lincecum overcame a shaky start in Reno to post a solid, 95-pitch performance.
Tim Parsons/ Tahoe Onstage

Tim Lincecum’s big-league career isn’t finished, but it’s not quite ready to resume.

The former San Francisco Giants pitcher settled down after a rough start to turn in a solid performance on June 7 before 10,185 fans, the third largest crowd ever in the Reno Aces stadium. While he was expected to pitch for the Los Angeles Angels in Cleveland on Sunday, he instead was in Salt Lake City for his third start with the Bees, the Angels’ Triple-A team.

“I think I’m going to ask for … one more start in Salt Lake, I think on Sunday, and then hopefully from there make a decision,” Lincecum told a group of reporters after the game. “I’ve had some good innings here and I’m gonna have some bad innings. I am approaching this as my spring training and trying to take all the positives that I can.”

Sparks residents Michael and Mary Day were in the Angels stadium when they learned Tim Lincecum was going to pitch in Reno.

Sparks residents Michael and Mary Day were in the Angels stadium when they learned Tim Lincecum was going to pitch in Reno.

Lincecum, who is on the mend from hip surgery, was let go by the Giants in the offseason. The Angels signed him to a one-year, $2.5 million contract.

“I’m not used to being away from the game this long, but with this opportunity that’s been laid in front of me, I am trying to take full advantage of it just to get back and help that team,” Lincecum said about his imminent call-up to the majors.

The stadium was abuzz with the appearance of the three-time World Series champion and more people were wearing Giants orange and black than the home team’s blue and red.

Fred Raia, a baseball coach at Valley Christian High School in San Jose, arrived early and waited for Lincecum from a good vantage point above the visitors’ bullpen.

“He has meant so much to the Bay Area, the Giants and their fans,” Raia said. “He came up a scrawny kid in 2007 and turned the franchise around. Timmy is in the hearts and minds of Giants fans. We are all wishing him well and hope he fulfills his dream of returning to the major leagues. I know that in everyone’s heart of hearts they are hoping he’ll be a Giant again.”

Christie Dunbar and her sons Matthew and Ryan also waited near the bullpen. Dunbar wore a Lincecum Giants jersey and a No. 55 tattoo on her ankle. Matthew wore an Angels jersey. “I was a Vladimir Guerrero fan,” he explained.

“Matthew has been tormenting me for years, saying we’re going to get Timmy. He used to say, ‘Why don’t you just give him to us,’ ” his mother said, anguished yet impressed by her son’s foreshadowing.

Mary and Michael Day of Sparks also donned Lincecum shirts.

“We bought tickets to see him probably before anybody else,” Mary Day said. “We were at an Angels-O’s game the day (May 20) it was announced.”

By 10 a.m., the game was almost sold out. A ticket clerk had a handful of $34 seats beneath skybox suites and several hundred general admission seats for the outfield lawn. “Basically, Tim Lincecum is pitching and a lot of people want to see him, that’s all I know,” the clerk explained.

Lincecum fanIt also was Education Day, and more than 2,000 school-age kids already had tickets to the 11:30 a.m. game. SpongeBob SquarePants was among the loudest cheers of the day, thanks to the energetic youngsters.

Mark Hoff traveled 518 miles with his daughter Cassidy, 18, to watch Lincecum pitch for their hometown Salt Lake Bees. With the Bees on a two-week road trip, they didn’t expect to see the famed pitcher take the mound in Utah. Hoff was wearing a St. Louis Cardinals T-shirt, but said Cassidy “turned traitor on me” and became a Giants fan.

“She wanted to watch him pitch and is hoping to get his autograph,” Hoff said.

Fans gawked at the sight of Lincecum as he warmed up in the minor league park. He wore a yellow and black Bees uniform with, say hey, number 24. His hair is longer than it was last season, but it’s not shoulder length as it was when he won a pair of Cy Young awards. It warmed spectators’ hearts to see Timmy’s orange glove.

Lincecum was asked if he was bitter that he was released by the Giants.

“No and yes. It was like being married to somebody for 10 years and you’ve got to move on,” he said. “The relationship ends. It could get rekindled later but I’ve got to move on to where I’m at and this is where my feet are right now.”

Greeted by a standing ovation, he walked to the hill, but started out like a rusty pitcher. He also had a shaky start in his first appearance with the Bees last week in Tacoma, Washington, his hometown state. On Tuesday, a fielding error and two walks compounded matters, and Lincecum gave up four runs in the first inning, two of them earned. He took the loss, his second with the Bees, in an 11-2 game.

But he was solid the rest of the way. He gave up three hits, two walks, struck out six and just the two earned runs through five innings. He tossed 95 pitches, some of them reaching 90 mph, and he retired 14 of the last 15 hitters he faced.

“He was just trying to get his feet back underneath him,” said Lincecum’s catcher, Erik Kratz. “He was trying to do what he always does — throw strikes and attack hitters.”

The hulking Kratz, at 6-foot-4, was a contrast to the 170-pound Lincecum, but an ideal batterymate. He’s a 35-year-old veteran who spent time last year with the Phillies and Royals.

“He improved,” Kratz said. “He was able to command both sides of the plate and he gave himself a chance to stay in the at-bats. He got ahead (in the count) and he finished the guys.”

Lincecum agreed.

“I’m a rhythmic guy, so when I find that, it definitely works to my benefit,” he said. “Me and Kratz were working real good from the second inning on. It helped when I started hitting my spots better and putting the guys on the defense.

“The first inning was rough, just like the game in Tacoma. I just need to start trusting my stuff from the get-go. Obviously, this was only my third outing — the extended (simulated game) and the two outings. As the games go on, I’ll start pitching a little bit more. I need to lock on earlier. I put myself in a hole with 41 pitches (in the first inning) but bounced back and made better pitches from then on. So, I am excited about that.”

Lincecum seems destined to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. He led the National League in strikeouts three times, pitched two no-hitters, won two Cy Young Awards and has three World Series rings. But he turns just 33 next week and has plenty of passion remaining.

“I’ve always played it for the love of the game,” he said. “Growing up, it’s always a dream, and to get out there is to have that dream come true. You never want to see that end. I’m not different from anybody else.”

– Randy Hashagen contributed to this story.
Related story: Ultimate Giants fan ribs Dodgers during Lincecum appearance.

The Bees battery: Erik Kratz and Tim Lincecum. Tim Parsons

The Bees battery: Erik Kratz and Tim Lincecum.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

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Fans try to get an autograph before Lincecum enters the game.

Lincecum 5Lincecum 4

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Christie Dunbar and her sons drove to Reno from Elk Grove, California, to see Tim Lincecum pitch.

And she drove 55 the whole way,

And she drove 55 the whole way.

Lincecum makes a nice defensive play to record the final out in the fifth inning.

Lincecum makes a nice defensive play to record the final out in the fifth inning.

Lincecum chats with Bees left fielder Sherman Johnson in the dugout. "It’s refreshing, to say the least, because it’s a different style of baseball that’s being played down here," Lincecum said after the game. "I think it’s a lot more heartfelt, so you feel that in the dugout."

Lincecum chats with Bees left fielder Sherman Johnson in the dugout. “It’s refreshing, to say the least, because it’s a different style of baseball that’s being played down here,” Lincecum said after the game. “I think it’s a lot more heartfelt, so you feel that in the dugout.”

Tim Parsons

For one special afternoon in Reno, Tim Lincecum was the toast of the town.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

About Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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