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Bocock's ascent reminiscent of Speier

Bocock's ascent reminiscent of Speier

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- To Giants fans with long memories and thinning hair, Brian Bocock's possible ascent to the Opening Day shortstop's role looks strikingly familiar.

Bocock, 23, knows nothing about Chris Speier. But Bocock, the leading candidate to replace Omar Vizquel temporarily, has a chance to provide a spark to the Giants from a key infield position, just as Speier did 37 years ago.

The parallels are unmistakable.

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A non-roster invitee who played collegiately at Stetson University, Bocock has impressed the Giants with his sharp defense. His scant professional experience, encompassing two Minor League seasons and zero games played above Class A, belies his highly developed skill. Sunday, he charged Robb Quinlan's slow ninth-inning chopper over the mound and, with his body virtually horizontal, unleashed an accurate throw to first that was just a beat too late.

"Range, arm, everything -- he's a Major League shortstop," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

A non-roster invitee who played collegiately at the University of California-Santa Barbara, the quick, cannon-armed Speier proved essential to the Giants. They needed a more athletic shortstop to handle the accelerated ground balls zipping across the AstroTurf that was installed at Candlestick Park in 1970. It didn't matter that Speier had played only one Minor League season, batting .283 at Double-A Amarillo in 1970.

"It was one of those things that didn't happen often," said former second baseman Tito Fuentes of his double-play partner's sudden rise. "Nobody ever heard about what he did in the Minors."

The respective situations aren't entirely identical. With Vizquel due to return from left knee surgery possibly before mid-April, Bocock might spend just a week or two with the Giants before returning to the Minors. By contrast, Speier took ownership of shortstop, playing 157 games for the 1971 National League West champions and averaging 148 games through his first six seasons before San Francisco traded him to Montreal in 1977.

Vizquel's torn meniscus and Kevin Frandsen's erratic performance at shortstop in early Cactus League games gave Bocock his chance. Speier simply beat out Hal Lanier, the Giants' regular shortstop from 1967-70. Charlie Fox, then the Giants' manager, often referred to Speier as the most valuable player on a team that included Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Bobby Bonds.

Bocock, batting .182 this spring, is still growing offensively. Speier, who proceeded to become a three-time All-Star with the Giants, hit .264 in the first half of the '71 season before finishing at .235.

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Then the similarities re-emerge. Bocock exudes a 10-year veteran's confidence. Speier, then 20, arrived in camp believing that claiming the starting job was his destiny.

"If they're putting me out there, they believe in me and that gives me the confidence to play hard and do what I've been doing," said Bocock, who has played more exhibition innings at shortstop (103) than the four other Giants who have manned the position (101).

Speier, now Dusty Baker's third-base coach with the Cincinnati Reds, actually called Fox to plead for a look in Spring Training.

"Just invite me to camp. I know I'm better than what you have and I'll be your Opening Day shortstop," Speier said he told Fox. "I just wanted to get a shot and I knew they were looking to make a change. I was young and cocky and it worked out."

Although Bocock maintains a rookie's respectful attitude in the clubhouse, he knows he must continue to assert himself on the field.

"It's the same game I've been playing all my life. It's just a little more magnified," he said. Citing elements such as heightened media attention and bigger crowds, Bocock added, "I've been telling myself, 'Don't worry about everything else. Worry about what's between the lines.'"

Nor did Speier ever allow himself to feel subordinate, as a non-roster player might.

"In my mind, I knew I belonged and I didn't think I needed to go to Triple-A to prove myself," said Speier, who ultimately played 19 big league seasons. "I happened to be in the right place at the right time.

"Just like this situation with this kid."

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

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