When the San Francisco Giants won the World Series in 2010, IZOD IndyCar Series JR Hildebrand donned his orange and black Giants gear and cheered the team on to victory along with his dog, Indie.
When closer Brian Wilson recorded the final out to capture the team’s first World Series title since 1954, Hildebrand vividly recalls having a “spaz attack” during his solo celebration.
“I’m pretty sure the dog was freaking out because there was nobody there that I could high-five,” Hildebrand recalls. “I eventually ran out into College Avenue screaming about how the Giants won the World Series. I’m sure my neighbors all still think I’m crazy.”
As the Giants return to the Fall Classic tonight against the Detroit Tigers, Hildebrand, a native of the San Francisco Bay Area plans on cheering his team to its second world title in three seasons. He answered a few questions about his love of the team and baseball, and expectations for the upcoming series:
Q. I don’t think people really understand how big of a Giants fan that you really are. While a lot of people claim to be fans of various sports team, you literally follow every single Giants game throughout the season. How did that start?
JR HILDEBRAND: “A big part of that stems from the fact baseball is a sport I played for a long time. Back when the Giants played at Candlestick Park, you had to be real Giants fan to show up at night games because it was freezing cold and you were up in the stands with blankets.
My parents are both born and raised in San Francisco and lived there their whole lives, and I was born there and all of those things combined with the fact that since I was 5 until my junior year in high school I played baseball very seriously. Those are all huge contributing factors.
There was a long period of time where the Giants weren’t a consistent playoff team. Obviously we went through the whole Barry Bonds era where they were a powerful offensive team, but now they’re a team that’s reaching the playoffs by really just being a good solid all-around baseball team.
As my coaches would have called it, they play good small ball; they hit-and-run, they bunt, their fundamentals are really good, they play great defense and they’ve got great pitching. Because it’s not one guy that we’re waiting to get to the plate and there’s a 1-in-4 chance that if he makes contact he’s going to hit the ball over the fence by 200 feet. Because it’s not like that, as a Giants fan, you pay attention to every player, and the young guys coming up through the farm system. They’re a fun team to watch and they’ve shown they have a lot of character through both playoff series, they’ve been cornered and have their backs against the wall and don’t seem to care and just play ball.”
Q. The Giants have had their backs against the wall to make it this far. What’s it been like to sit through the series against the Reds and the Cardinals?
JR HILDEBRAND: “The Cincinnati series was a bigger deal at the time. That was a series that, as Giants fans, we expected to go in there and make a series out of it at least. I thought it was going to be over in four games because we win it 3-1, but then (the Giants) lose two games at home and you’re thinking, ‘Man, let’s just skate through this with a win at least and not get swept.’ But then they go to Game 3 and just eek one out, and then from there the bats wake and they get it up and they get the momentum rolling.
Baseball isn’t a sport you think of as momentum-based, you don’t have (Baltimore Ravens LB) Ray Lewis getting them hyped-up every game to go out and kick everyone’s (butt), because baseball’s not like that usually.
The 2010 Giants … they were super hot coming into the playoffs, and the guys everybody liked; Brian Wilson, Tim Lincecum, they were already kicking butt. So it wasn’t until Game 4 against the Reds that I sat there and went, ‘OK, there’s a few guys here that can do this.’ All of a sudden there are guys that have become leaders just based on the way they’ve played in these games. That’s pretty cool, because watching the games at intently as I have over the last couple (of) months, that’s something that just happened.
And that’s a big part of how they’ve been able to keep it together. I saw this morning that they were the first team to ever win six straight elimination games. That’s a pretty serious effort.”
Q. You had a chance (in 2011) to go to AT&T Park, hang out on the field before a game, meet manager Bruce Bochy, and players Brandon Belt and Javier Lopez, among others. As a fan watching now, does that change your perspective or your connection to the team at all?
JR HILDEBRAND: “Yeah, it does. It was cool to meet a guy like Brandon Belt who is one of the younger guys and is playing awesome. This is his first season in the starting lineup on a regular basis. Being able to meet Bochy was really cool. Within sports, or business, there are some people you meet and within 10 second you realize why they’re as good as they are at what they do. He’s so mellow and laid-back and unemotional, he’s got a quirky sense of humor, but that’s part of what makes him cool. It’s neat to have had the personal experience of getting to meet those guys and to just get a little taste of what those guys are actually like. So that’s definitely cool when you watch and even those three guys when we got down on the field, they weren’t guys you thought were game-changers, but this year they have been.”
Q. The last World Series, you had regrets about not making it to one of the games. This year, is it a situation where there is no way you’re not going to attend one of the games during the series?
JR HILDEBRAND: “I will be going to a game in Detroit. There’s no doubt in my mind that’s going to happen. The last time around I was flying back and forth from the west coast for some racing stuff, and there was one day where I had a shot at flying through Texas on my way back from Indianapolis to catch one of the games. Not only was I going to have to pay a bunch of money to go to the game, but my flights were going to get all screwed up. So I skipped it. I regretted that massively and that’s definitely stuck in the back of my mind since then. It won’t happen this time around.”
Q. What is your prediction for the series?
JR HILDEBRAND: “The Tigers are super, super good. My opinion of the Giants through and through is if their pitchers can perform at the level they’re capable of performing on a regular basis they’re going to have a chance to win. Being a starting pitcher in baseball has to be one of the toughest jobs in sports; you make one wrong decision to the wrong guy all of a sudden you’re down three runs. It’s definitely a high-pressure situation in the playoffs. Screwing up as a starting pitcher – I think – has little to do with succumbing to the pressure as much as it’s just a hard deal to get every pitch right. But if their starting pitching can keep it together and can keep the Tigers within a run for the first six or seven innings, they’re going to have a shot. And, if the series goes to six or seven games, then the depth of the Giants pitching staff will be a point in their favor.”