In a bid to return to the major leagues, third baseman Pablo Sandoval (wearing #38) goes through drills before Tuesday's River Cats game at Raley Field in West Sacramento. Ailene Voisin The Sacramento Bee
In a bid to return to the major leagues, third baseman Pablo Sandoval (wearing #38) goes through drills before Tuesday's River Cats game at Raley Field in West Sacramento. Ailene Voisin The Sacramento Bee

Sacramento River Cats

How will Giants fans welcome back Pablo Sandoval? His River Cats debut gave a hint

By Matt Kawahara

mkawahara@sacbee.com

July 25, 2017 09:16 PM

UPDATED July 26, 2017 11:16 AM

Fans of Pablo Sandoval used to be recognizable by their fluffy hats that looked like panda ears. There were a few of those around a half-full Raley Field on Tuesday night, but the most conspicuous headwear rested atop Israel Gadia, David Hernandez and Ed Sandoval.

The three wore big Styrofoam hats fashioned like Giants World Series rings, down to the embedded stones and etchings on the side. Ed Sandoval wore a blue Pablo Sandoval All-Star jersey. He also had a large Giants flag pulled around his shoulders.

“I didn’t think I’d ever see a Sandoval (on the Giants),” said Ed Sandoval, 37, “let alone somebody who actually did something for the squad.”

Ed Sandoval then proceeded to list many things Pablo Sandoval did while playing for the Giants for seven seasons, recalling the third baseman’s contributions to three World Series teams, his happy-go-lucky demeanor and the time he went over the railing to catch a foul ball while simultaneously blowing a bubble with his chewing gum.

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“I’m a fat Sandoval myself,” Ed Sandoval said. “It gave me hope that one day I can join a softball league.”

Nearly three years have passed since Sandoval secured the final out of the 2014 World Series, his last moment in a Giants uniform before signing an ill-fated free agent deal with the Boston Red Sox. After Boston designated Sandoval for assignment earlier this month, cutting him halfway into a five-year, $95 million contract, the Giants brought him back on a minor-league deal, taking a low-cost flier on a former star.

After two games at High-A San Jose, Sandoval joined the River Cats on Tuesday. The curiosity was enough to bring a few extra fans out to Raley Field on a weeknight. Gil and Lenore Sebastian of Woodland said they bought tickets when they learned Sandoval would be playing.

“I think it’s a good idea; what can it hurt?” Gil, 63, said of re-signing Sandoval. Lenore added the Giants, who began Tuesday 31 1/2 games out of first place, should “try anything at this point. Even though he (Sandoval) left badly, something has to happen.”

Sandoval raised some eyebrows by criticizing the Giants after his departure following the 2014 season. He said the Giants had disrespected his agent and that he would miss nobody in the clubhouse except manager Bruce Bochy and outfielder Hunter Pence. Sandoval apologized for those comments last week – something the Sebastians said they, as fans, did not require.

“You establish a home, you win a couple of World Series rings, and they decide to get rid of you,” Gil Sebastian said. “Of course he’s going to be emotional. Of course he’s going to say some stupid things.”

Indeed, many of the announced 7,247 fans at Raley Field appeared open to welcoming back Sandoval. As Sandoval walked from the clubhouse toward the dugout a half-hour before first pitch, he received a smattering of cheers from a group of fans pressed against the railing along the third-base line. Sandoval disappeared into the dugout for a moment, then re-emerged and went over to sign autographs for about five minutes before jogging onto the field to warm up.

Sandoval’s first two at-bats produced harmless groundouts. It brought his minor-league totals to two hits in 11 at-bats since being released on July 14 by Boston – where he was hitting just .212 this season.

Those numbers had Dennis and Margaret Womble of Davis speaking in reserved terms about the signing while waiting for the gates to open Tuesday afternoon.

“I don’t know if it’s going to pan out,” said Dennis, 70.

“I believe in working in the younger guys and getting them built up,” added Margaret, 64. “Work on some of these young guys and bring them up.”

“But they’re not paying him (Sandoval) a lot of money,” Dennis said. “So we’ll see how he does. I’ll give him a chance.”

Daniel Comer, 18, of Elk Grove, seized the chance to again wear his Panda hat, which he said had been “in my closet somewhere.”

“I kept it – I knew he was coming back,” Comer said. “Everyone loved (Sandoval). He won three World Series with us. So it’s hard not to.”

Panda's comeback trail runs through Raley Field

Recently signed San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval continues his quest to return to the big leagues, playing for the River Cats on Tuesday, July 25, 2017 at Raley Field in West Sacramento.

Jose Luis Villegas The Sacramento Bee