It’s Opening Day of Major League Baseball — he said on July 22.
Against the backdrop of that confusion, and amidst a global pandemic, and with cardboard cutouts filling seats, perhaps there’s no better time to crack open a New Age, self-help book:
The Curious Case of Gabe Kapler.
The 2020 baseball season arrives with everything different about the Giants. No Bruce Bochy. No Buster Posey. No fans in the stands. No garlic fries.
And all of us getting to know Kapler, a man hired nearly ten months ago, a man yet to manage a game for the beloved Gigantes, and a dude already morphing through different iterations as a fan base watches.
When he was hired, the Jock Blog addressed the murkiness of it all. To say he was met with mixed reactions in his opening press conference is to say a comedian bombing in a stone-silent nightclub had an “OK night”. A portion of Giants fans swore the team off because of Kapler’s involvement as an administrator overseeing a sexual assault case in the Dodgers farm system. I quoted one fan saying “a part of the Giants spirit died” when Farhan Zaidi hired Kapler.
I went back and looked at that early November Jock Blog, and I included this line near the end, saying Kapler had work to do to win fans over: “Kapler’s behavior and charisma will determine the energy surrounding the team.”
And now, here we are, with a curious case of an evolving Gabe Kapler.
During the pandemic, the following things happened:
— Kapler took up residence in San Francisco’s North Beach, and seemed to make an effort to learn The City.
— Kapler did weekly hits on the afternoon show on KNBR, and slowly but surely gave fans a peek into his love of music, his enjoyment of a good debate and his sometimes comical embrace of baseball gobbledygook.
— Kapler lent himself and his coaching staff to the Junior Giants program, making teaching videos for the kids forced to stay at home from school and playing fields because of COVID-19.
— Kapler broke ground by hiring Alyssa Nakken, the first female baseball coach in MLB history, later installing her as first base coach for the exhibition games in Oakland and San Francisco.
— And then the big one: Kapler put himself in a national spotlight by taking a knee during the national anthem on Monday night in Oakland, later giving an eloquent explanation that he did so to protest racial injustice and police brutality in America.
And all of a sudden, with a career record of 0-0 as Giants manager, Gabe Kapler turned into an interesting dude willing to take a stand, and to take heat, in the evolution of the franchise under Farhan.
We met the new boss, and he definitely wasn’t the same as the old boss.
You wouldn’t believe it, but some fans said they began to dig Kapler’s act. In particular, his anthem kneel, ensuing explanation and calm response to President Trump’s criticism earned him a bevy of praise on social media from Giants fans beginning to dig the cut of Kapler’s jib.
Thing is, all of this Kapler image overhaul wouldn’t last a day in the city of his previous employment. Hard-bitten Philadelphia has little patience for peace, love and harmony when wins and losses are at stake. He went 80-82 and 81-81 in his two seasons, and there was no time for Brotherly Love in the Philly fan base. They still point and laugh at Kapler’s psychobabble, and quote ‘Hamilton’ — not Billy —when they tell us about Kapler the manager: Just you wait.
And they may be right.
But Kapler has a number of things trending in his favor right now. Nobody expects the Giants to be any good, so his win-loss record is under zero pressure. His job security is not on the line, because fans know the Farhan/Joey Bart/Marco Luciano rebuild is a two-to-three year time slot away. Media is not allowed in the clubhouse these days, so any eye-rolling players are not within arm’s reach of a reporter to help poison the well.
He’s riding a wave of mostly good vibes, from the Nakken move, to the reasoned explanation and acceptance of multiple viewpoints on the anthem. And let’s face it: beating the A’s twice in meaningless exhibitions wasn’t that meaningless. If the Giants came out and got smoked, there’d be a different energy. Instead, there was a small smirk of satisfaction from Giants fans that the suddenly-underdog team played with a little pep.
The season starts in L.A., and the Dodgers are about a million times better than the Giants right now. But Giants know that, so the skipper is in the beautiful position of not much to lose.
I can hear my Philly friends chortling right now, but the curious case of Gabe Kapler is slowly becoming an interesting read.