DETROIT -- In his home in Venezuela hangs the collage Pablo Sandoval created when his career was in turmoil, when his personal and professional life was not in alignment with his ambitions. Sandoval, like so many others, had read that new-age, self-help book called "The Secret," which encourages its readers to visualize their hopes and dreams in order to make them reality. It was a book that probably proved more successful for its author, Rhonda Byrne, than anybody else, having sold millions of copies. But hey, Sandoval figured its methods were worth a shot.
So he hung up that board, his countenance serving as the centerpiece, surrounded by photos and buzz words that would serve to inspire. "Nice career." That's one of the goals written on the board's left side. And if this seems modest, it is quickly countered by the words on the right: "Hall of Fame." There are other goals, other visions on the board: A private jet, a $100 million contract, pictures of greats like Albert Pujols and Tony Gwynn, a beach on Tahiti and, predictably, pictures of incredibly attractive women. "When he sees that," said Sandoval's agent, Gustavo Vasquez, "is when he has the vision of what he wants to be."
HOT CORNER MVPS
|Mike Lowell||Red Sox||2007|
Well, the board was ambitious, no doubt. Funny thing, though, is that it still somehow fell short of the reality Sandoval has carved out for himself. Because not even Sandoval envisioned what has transpired this past week. The man they call "The Panda" is the 2012 World Series MVP for the champion San Francisco Giants, and this is a fact that will take a moment to settle in, even for Sandoval himself. He has a beautiful piece of hardware to commemorate his three-homer performance against Justin Verlander and the Tigers in Game 1, his .500 average (8-for-16) for the Series, his solid defense at the hot corner. And he has a sense of redemption and contentment just two years after the Giants won one essentially without him. "You know, you learn," Sandoval said. "You learn from the things that happen in your career. You get up and down. You never give up." The Giants never gave up on Sandoval, but they certainly had plenty of opportunities to wonder whether he'd ever ascend to this lofty state. His subpar 2010 season resulted in him getting just 17 postseason plate appearances that year. He was reduced to a spectator role, and he was hounded, constantly, about his ever-growing frame. Sandoval worked hard that winter to drop the carbs, drop the pounds and pick up the pace and intensity of his workouts. He reported to spring camp looking like a new man, and he had a resurgent season. But Sandoval's story does not follow a linear or even logical path. He was focused enough to make that collage and make that commitment to his body in 2011, and yet 2012 has seen his girth grow, his off-field activities come into question and his playing time take a hit by a couple of stints on the disabled list. So, no, we can't provide an absolute explanation for how Sandoval became such an October force, joining a three-homers-in-a-World-Series-game club once reserved for Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Pujols. "I still can't believe that game," Sandoval said with a smile. But we can point to this postseason as proof that when Sandoval's focus is at its height, he more than carries his weight. "He's always going to struggle to keep the weight down," hitting coach Hensley Meulens said. "He knows he needs to get in better shape. But this postseason, that wasn't an issue. He played through it, he played good defense, and he hit the heck out of the ball. He has three or four months now to take care of his body." Sandoval also has three or four months to reflect on this postseason ride, sealed with this satisfying sweep of the American League champs. The Giants hope this is but the beginning. They hope The Panda learned a little bit about himself, about how far his calm presence at the plate took him when he didn't chase, didn't stray from his comfort zone. They hope being a bigger part of this World Series run will inspire him down the line. "He's tasted the wine now," said general manager Brian Sabean, "and he's going to get another ring where he really contributed. The hardware's one thing, but the journey and the involvement he had with this team is what will speak volumes for his career." A national audience saw up close what scouts and coaches have been saying about Sandoval for years. "I liken Pablo Sandoval a lot to Kirby Puckett," said Giants special advisor Will Clark, "in that Kirby was one of the best bad-ball hitters I had ever seen in my generation. In this generation, it's Pablo Sandoval. Probably the easiest way to get Pablo out is to throw it down the middle. If you bounce one, he's going to hit it; if you throw one up by his eyeballs, he's going to tomahawk it. "Some guys are just absolutely gifted, and Pablo is gifted." The trick, of course, is having the work ethic and the focus and the discipline to capitalize on those gifts. That's why Sandoval created that collage -- to serve as a reminder for just how great this life and this career can be. But you won't find the words "World Series MVP" on The Panda's poster board. "We have to fix it now," Vasquez said with a laugh. Or just replace it with a trophy and a ring.