Klesko believes in Giants' chances

Klesko believes in Giants' playoff chances

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Most observers expect the Giants to miss the postseason for the fourth year in a row, but don't tell that to Ryan Klesko.

The 14-year veteran affirmed that he wouldn't have signed with San Francisco as a free agent unless he believed it could capture the National League West.

"If you go to a team that you don't think has the potential to win, that's a year wasted," Klesko said.

Make no mistake: Klesko's all about winning. With 272 career home runs, he's approaching the nice, round number of 300, but individual achievement is a mere afterthought. The World Series ring he earned with Atlanta in 1995 isn't enough for the first baseman-left fielder.

"Personal goals are nice, but I try not to set myself up for that," said Klesko, who lifted his Cactus League batting average to .393 with a pair of singles Saturday in the Giants' 3-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs.

"If I say I'm going to hit 30 home runs and I hit 25, is that bad? Or if I say I'm going to drive in 100 and I drive in 90, is that bad? What happened a couple of years where I had great years and we were in last place? It was miserable. It's hard to go to the park like that ... What's the difference if I hit 280 or 300 home runs? I'd rather have another one of those World Series rings on my hands."

Ascending through Atlanta's organization as the Braves were morphing into a perennial powerhouse helped Klesko learn to cherish team success. Hank Aaron, the all-time home run king, was a club executive. Fellow Hall of Famer Willie Stargell was a Braves coach. Klesko recalled two other Hall of Fame legends, Warren Spahn and Eddie Mathews, dropping by to share wisdom.

"When they spoke, you listened," Klesko said. "It definitely instilled excellence and a mind-set that we were going to go out there and do it."

Thus, Klesko refused to join a team that wasn't committed to winning as he approached free agency last offseason. He checked out the Giants as much as they evaluated him, paying close attention to their player moves. He noticed that they hired Bruce Bochy, who managed him from 2000-06 in San Diego. He saw that they re-signed Ray Durham and Pedro Feliz, who combined for 48 home runs and 191 RBIs last season. He noticed that they agreed to a one-year deal with Barry Bonds, still one of the game's premier sluggers. He read that they added proven veterans Rich Aurilia, Bengie Molina and Dave Roberts.

Klesko was sold. He signed with the Giants last Dec. 19. Again, it was all about seeking a chance to win.

"I wanted to see what was going to happen," said Klesko, 35.

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A lot could happen this season with Klesko, who easily could accumulate more than 300 at-bats. He'll be Bochy's leading option at first base when Aurilia fills in at other infield spots, and he'll often spell Bonds, who's likely to need frequent rest.

Although Klesko averaged 138 games per season between 1996-2005 with Atlanta and San Diego, he insisted that occupying a bench spot won't be a huge adjustment.

"I go out there expecting to play, whether you're going to get one at-bat or four at-bats," he said.

Bochy has discussed Klesko's role with him.

"He knows what we're looking at here," Bochy said.

Suffice it to say that Klesko he wouldn't have signed with the Giants if they still played at Candlestick Park. A .280 lifetime hitter, Klesko batted .188 (12-for-64) with only four extra-base hits at the infamous 'Stick.

"I never could see the ball there," he said. "It wasn't the wind or cold; it was the backdrop. It was almost like I'd lose the ball. I'd swing and miss in batting practice. I talked to a lot of left-handed hitters who didn't see the ball well there."

Klesko's closer to making his injuries another bad memory. The strained muscle in his left side that shelved him for a week in early March delayed his preparation, but he has compensated recently by playing virtually every day. He's still strengthening his left shoulder, which required surgery that limited him to six games last season.

"It hasn't hampered my swing at all," Klesko said.

The Giants hope that nothing will.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.