Pablo Sandoval is the big-league equivalent of the neighborhood kid you can't help but like, even when he's trampling your hydrangeas while searching for the Wiffle ball he fouled into your yard.
Sandoval can exasperate with the best of them, but there's something so endearing and infectious about him, in good times and bad, that mustering up any sort of legitimate disdain for the guy is virtually impossible.
He's got discipline issues, at home plate and every other plate, and that's a problem for those of us who'd like to think getting paid gobs of glue to play a game is incentive enough to maintain a certain level of fitness and professional pride.
He's got an agent who appears beyond clueless as to the lengthy history of discipline issues, ignoring the past while making ludicrous demands regarding the uncertain future, and that's a problem for most of us, too. How can we consider Pablo anything less than guilty of jackassery by association?
And then there's the slump. The timing couldn't have been worse, having come on the heels of the aforementioned jackassery, and with the slump came a baffling set of circumstances: He's in great shape, relatively speaking. And we thought only Fat Panda stunk. Fit Panda typically rakes.
All this bad mojo would get a lot of athletes booed off the field, torn up in the press, savaged on message boards. Not so much with Pablo, though, and it's a fascinating dynamic to behold.
Why? Because Sandoval, above all, has an unquantifiable ability to make us do something we all love to do but probably don't do enough: smile.
He blows bubbles while fielding grounders. Smile. He does a ridiculous little dance to kick off every at-bat. Smile. He can pick a one-hop fastball out of the dirt and drill it cleanly into right-center field — one pitch after swinging at and missing a pitch at his eyes. Smile. He can scoot from first to home as a ball rattles around in the left-field corner, belly flop safely across the plate, sit up in the resultant cloud of dust ... and, exhausted, smile right along with us.
It's why his teammates love him to death. It's why fans and media give him a bit of a pass. It's why we were all so dang happy to see him start to break out of the slump at about the same time Brandon Belt got hurt.
It wasn't just because the Giants needed it so badly. It's because, deep down, we know the neighborhood kid doesn't mean to wreck our flowers any more than we want our flowers to get wrecked.
We just want him to find the Wiffle ball and go back to having fun.