Rowand aims to bring winning to Giants

Rowand aims to bring winning to Giants

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Maybe Aaron Rowand always was meant to be a Giant. After all, the first Major League game he attended was a Giants-Dodgers encounter at Los Angeles. Incidentally, Rowand recalled, Candy Maldonado homered for San Francisco.

Perhaps Rowand can serve as the Giants' conduit to winning, which would be a welcome change for a club that has endured three straight sub-.500 seasons. Consider this possible omen: The last time he played extensively at Scottsdale Stadium, the Giants' Spring Training home, he participated on a Mickey Mantle League squad of 15- and 16-year-olds that won the national title.

"Kind of weird that it's come full circle," said Rowand's father, Bob.

But can Rowand bring the Giants closer to baseball's ultimate prize, the World Series title that has eluded them since 1954? Probably not this year in the balanced, pitching-heavy National League West. Then again, Rowand and his White Sox teammates faced a similar challenge in 2005, when they overcame their status as preseason also-rans to capture the Fall Classic.

"And we had a terrible Spring Training," Rowand said, drawing a comparison to the Giants' current Cactus League struggles. "Funny how that works."

Rowand can be extremely funny in the clubhouse.

"I'm kind of a people person, I think, because I talk too much," he said.

But his sense of humor takes a back seat to business on the field, where competing becomes his focus and victory becomes his goal.

That's why the Giants signed Rowand to a five-year, $60 million contract as a free agent in December. The 30-year-old center fielder wins plenty of accolades for his multifaceted performance, but he'd rather just win, period.

The Giants already realize this. Whether he's organizing bowling outings or dispensing advice to rookies, Rowand preoccupies himself with building a team's bonds -- a precursor to winning.

"I just think he's changed the energy," left fielder Dave Roberts said. "That's the one thing he brings every single day, and I think it's contagious. Guys will feed off that. That consistency is huge. His ability to make people better is a huge attribute. Anybody can get up for a big series. When you have a midweek game against a non-rival, you need that energy."

Rowand's energy remained high last season with the Phillies. He batted .309 and established personal bests in numerous categories, including games (161), runs (105), hits (189), doubles (45), home runs (27), RBIs (89) and on-base percentage (.374).

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The Giants will be satisfied if Rowand merely approaches those numbers for them. San Francisco's AT&T Park, his new home, has a way of muting even the best hitters.

"We're not looking for Aaron to carry the ballclub. He's part of the equation in the lineup," said manager Bruce Bochy, who plans on batting Rowand fifth in the order but has indicated he could move the right-handed hitter among multiple spots. That will depend on matchups with opposing pitchers or how Rowand might best fit in the lineup at a particular time.

With more than 200 career at-bats at every spot in the order except cleanup and, of course, ninth, Rowand fits anywhere. Bochy won't move Rowand like a chess piece, though. "I don't want that to be a distraction," the skipper said.

One aspect of Rowand's game that AT&T Park could enhance is his defense, which earned him a 2007 Gold Glove Award. The park's sprawling outfield dimensions should allow Rowand, whose .902 career zone rating is the best among active center fielders, to roam more freely. Even the ultra-aggressive Rowand, who gained celebrity by crashing into the fence at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park while making a catch, might have trouble darting far enough to encounter the barrier at AT&T.

"There's a lot of ground out there to cover, and he's a perfect guy to do that," infielder Rich Aurilia said.

A .286 hitter over seven Major League seasons, Rowand never was the focal point of either the White Sox or Phillies, his previous teams. He's bound to endure more scrutiny by being the Giants' primary offseason acquisition and signing his lucrative contract. But Rowand, who's tempered by having played in home cities with demanding fans, seems impervious to pressure, regardless of the source.

"I'm not trying to be something that I'm not," Rowand said. "My goal is to keep grinding away like I always have and not change anything."

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