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Travis Ishikawa: San Francisco's World Series title 'was unbelievable'
As Travis Ishikawa stood in the visiting dugout inside the Ballpark at Arlington, he was ready to explode. The anticipation was brutal.
Ishikawa’s San Francisco Giants were leading the Texas Rangers, 3-1, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning in the fifth and deciding game of the 2010 World Series.
The Giants’ backup first baseman and 2002 Federal Way High School graduate remembers being very calm watching his closer, Brian Wilson, rock into his windup and uncork a nasty, two-strike slider that froze Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz.
Ishikawa remembers the home plate umpire raising his right hand and the Giants’ dugout exploding. After that, his memory gets a little vague.
“As soon as he got that strikeout, it was how fast can I get to the pitcher’s mound,” Ishikawa said. “It all happened so quickly that I really don’t even remember running out to the mound. All I remember is just jumping around and trying not to get stepped on.”
The Giants had the right to celebrate. The World Series title was San Francisco’s first-ever championship since the team moved from New York in 1958. Ishikawa and his teammates were able to do something that Giant studs like Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Gaylord Perry, Juan Marichal, Will Clark and Barry Bonds never did.
“It means a lot,” Marichal, a Giant from 1960-73, said of the team’s accomplishment. “We couldn’t do it in those days, but I knew these kids could do it. That’s baseball. Sometimes you have a great team and you never win.”
And that is something that wasn’t lost on Ishikawa, who led Federal Way to the Class 4A state title game two years in a row in 2001 and ‘02.
“I was thinking, ‘This is really happening,’” Ishikawa said. “I was asking some guys in the dugout how they were feeling. There were some guys who were holding back some tears. It was unbelievable.”
Ishikawa played in a total of 10 games during the 2010 postseason for the Giants, including one start at first base during Game 4 of the World Series. He finished 2 for 10 at the plate with two runs, a double and an RBI during the playoffs. The Giants swept the Atlanta Braves in the National League Divisional Series and needed six games to put away the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL Championship Series.
“Honestly, it was the most intense baseball I have ever played,” Ishikawa said. “It was so challenging mentally. Every game had so much intensity. Every run was the biggest run we’ve ever scored and every out was the biggest out we’ve ever made. But it was even more exciting than I ever thought it would be.”
Ishikawa credits the home crowd at San Francisco’s AT&T Park with pushing the Giants over the edge, especially the waving of orange towels during the postseason.
“We felt the crowd,” Ishikawa said. “When they first brought out those rags in the sold-out stadium it was one of the coolest things I’ve seen on a baseball field. We were so motivated. I wasn’t even playing and I was pumped up. It was louder than I’ve ever heard in a stadium and it was like that for a full nine innings. It was electrifying.”
The atmosphere surrounding the World Series did affect Ishikawa. But once he stepped in the batter’s box or defensively at first base, it was just like another game, he said.
“There were a couple times during at-bats when I would step out of the box and it felt like I had to use every ounce of strength I had to keep my knees from buckling,” Ishikawa said. “But once I got in the box, I wasn’t as hyped as I thought I would be. When you are a kid thinking about the World Series, it seems like you would be so nervous because all of the hoopla.”
Aside from winning the world championship, this season was a little bit different for Ishikawa. For the first time in his entire baseball career, he was relegated to mostly coming off the bench for the Giants as a late-inning defensive replacement for starter Aubrey Huff and a pinch hitter.
“It was definitely a new situation for me,” Ishikawa said. “Obviously, I didn’t like the idea of not being able to play. But when we broke camp, I understood that my role would be limited.”
Ishikawa’s everyday role was extremely limited during the first half of the Giants’ season. After the first three months of the season, Ishikawa had only gotten two starts at first base. But it was during that time that he developed into a lethal pinch hitter off the bench for manager Bruce Bochy. For the first half of the 2010 season, Ishikawa was leading the Major Leagues as a pinch hitter with a .476 average (10 for 21).
“I just found a routine that worked for me and it was more of a mental mindset,” Ishikawa said. “It was something that I wasn’t used to. But I told myself that if I was going to be a pinch hitter and a defensive replacement, that I was going to be the best pinch hitter and defensive replacement in the league. That was my mindset and goal.”
During the regular season, Ishikawa played 116 games for the Giants. He hit a respectable .266 in 158 at-bats with 42 hits, 11 doubles, three home runs and 22 RBIs.
Ishikawa did get several starts at first base during July and August. During those two months, he got 109 of his at-bats and 17 of his 22 RBIs on the season. In July alone, Ishikawa hit .295 with 14 RBIs, including a grand slam on July 3 against Colorado Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez.
Ishikawa spent a bulk of the 2009 season as San Francisco’s everyday first baseman after an impressive spring training. In 2009, Ishikawa hit .261 with nine home runs and 39 RBIs in 120 regular season games after cementing the starting job in spring training last year, when he hit .302 with seven home runs and 17 RBIs to lead the team.
Ishikawa’s future with the Giants is still unknown at the moment. San Francisco still owns his rights, but has yet to offer him a contract for the 2011 season. Ishikawa signed a $417,000 one-year contract before last season. He has a lifetime batting average of .265 with 15 home runs, 80 RBIs, 30 doubles in 603 at-bats during his four-year Major League career.
“I’m just kind of a year-to-year guy,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Ishikawa was a 21st round draft choice by the Giants out of Federal Way High School in 2002. But he wasn’t the normal 21st rounder. The Giants dished out $955,000 to sign the first baseman. It was the highest bonus awarded for a player drafted after the first round at the time.
He dropped in the draft because he was stern about wanting to go to college if the price wasn’t right. He had signed with Oregon State before the 2002 draft.
Ishikawa is currently living in the Bay Area with his wife, Rochelle, and their three children. He met his wife while playing for the San Jose Giants. She was a dental assistant when he was hit by a pitch in the face in his first game with the Class A team.