It wasn’t an escape. Not according to Tim Lincecum, although some might view it exactly as that. He simply headed north, back to the state of Washington and away from the state of hysteria in which, metaphorically, he had found himself.
“It was like going home for the weekend for most people,” said Lincecum of his ... well, maybe retreat is too strong a word. Let’s say escape from the world of questions, notepads and, yes, baseball.
“I got away from the job,” Lincecum said. “Home with my friends and family.”
Home to his new high-rise condo in Seattle with a view of the Cascades. Home to where he grew up and went to the University of Washington. And for a few weeks, his life was his own.
If that can be said of a young man who in November was pitching the Giants to their first World Series win in the 52 years since coming to San Francisco and earning the Babe Ruth Award as postseason MVP from the baseball writers.
Who in December, wearing a tux and spraying Champagne, was on the cover of Sports illustrated, with the headline, “Time To Get Your Freak On.”
Who in February — along with such icons as Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Arnold Palmer — was named by GQ magazine as one of the 25 coolest athletes of all time.
Who in March received a huge spread in T, the New York Times Style magazine, where Timmy disclosed his individuality — we knew the man with his windup and shoulder-length hair had a style of his own — saying, “Most pitchers on game days are like, ‘Leave me alone,’ but I’m like, ‘Guys you can talk to me, we can listen to music.’”
Lincecum, 26, came to Scottsdale, Ariz., and spring training almost doomed by expectations. Two Cy Young Awards and then the victory in the series clincher? Now comes the inevitable, “What have you done lately?”
Pitch well in exhibition games, might be one answer, after a somewhat ragged first start of the spring. Express satisfaction that with Buster Posey, Rookie of the Year; Cody Ross, unexpected postseason hero; Andres Torres, who took years to become an overnight success; Brian Wilson, who has the best beard since Abe Lincoln; and Matt Cain, Mr. Reliable, the media didn’t have to focus on Tim.
Which, of course, it did anyway.
Tim has four pitches and a singular understanding of what journalists need to do when they catch him at his locker.
“They have to ask about every grain of rice, every grain of sand,” Lincecum said. He makes the comment without a hint of bitterness.
“It’s the nature of the beast,” Lincecum said. “It comes with the territory.”
So does a $13 million salary in the second year of a two-year contract, money that, other than a condo and the Mercedes S he drives, is used on few luxuries. GQ might judge him cool, but he wouldn’t be in the pages of the mag for his attire. Remember, Seattle is the home of grunge, and let it go at that.
For the first Cy Young, in 2008, he all but skateboarded down to the AT&T Park news conference, knit cap over the hair — now as much a trademark as his pitching delivery. If he doesn’t take himself seriously, there’s a reason.
“It’s a humbling game,” Lincecum said of baseball. He had his bad stretches last season, especially August, and the skeptics said that little body (5-foot-11, 163 pounds) winding up to throw those big pitches was finally coming apart.
Not at all. Lincecum was competent once more when needed — September, October and that memorable first day of November in Arlington, Texas.
“When you feel like things are going your way, and you start reading your own stuff,” Lincecum said of publicity, “it just comes back at you and bites you in the rear. So you learn to be on an even keel, not to get too excited about good things and not to get too down on the others.”
Michael Hailey, the deputy editor of GQ, was asked how someone as young as Lincecum could join Michael Jordan, Gary Player and Bjorn Borg, among others, as one of the publication’s 25 coolest athletes of all time.
“There are certain guys who might not be the greatest athlete on the field,” Hailey said, “but there’s something about them that makes you look at them and say, ‘Cool.’ In Tim’s case, he embodies both.”
Indeed. And there’s no escaping that fact.
The San Francisco Examiner will profile a series of Giants players leading up to the season opener against the Dodgers on March 31.
Pitcher Tim Lincecum
Outfielder Cody Ross
First baseman Aubrey Huff
Shortstop Miguel Tejada
Pitcher Barry Zito
Catcher Buster Posey