Dubón trying to prove he belongs in center for Giants

© Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — Oh yes, center field. John Fogerty sang about it: “Put me in, coach, I’m ready to play.” Willie Mays virtually owned it. Now Mauricio Dubón is trying to prove he belongs there.

At least when he’s not playing shortstop. Or second base.

The man is versatile, which we have learned is one of the baseball virtues favored by Giants president Farhan Zaidi. And surely one of the reasons last summer Zaidi obtained Dubón in trade from Milwaukee.

Even if Dubón was mostly an infielder.

Now, as Dubón pointed out Sunday morning via Zoom, which these pandemic days is about as close as a ballplayer and journalist will get, he is trying to forget everything he knows about fielding grounders as he tries to learn everything about catching flies.

Although as Mays and other stars told us, catching the ball is easy — excluding that historic grab in the 1954 World Series. It’s knowing what to do after the catch that's the hard part.

Mays and those who took over in center for the Giants, Bobby Bonds, Chili Davis, even Brett Butler or Angel Pagan, were starters. The position was theirs.

The people now running the Giants apparently want it to be Dubón’s. Apparently. Then again, at any time he could take over at short or second.

Dubón was born and, until about age 15, grew up in Honduras. Then he struck up a friendship with a kid from Sacramento, Ben Ritchie, who was as in love with baseball as was Dubón. Ben’s parents invited Dubón to live with them so he could advance his career.

Dubón was hardly a phenom, not getting taken by the Red Sox until the 26th round of the 2013 draft. He then wobbled around the Boston system until in 2016, when he was traded to the Brewers and allowed to wobble in the Milwaukee system.

The wobbling stopped in 2019, when the Giants traded for Dubón. Quickly enough he impressed, getting a home run off Clayton Kershaw in Los Angeles in one of his first major league games.

“Listening to the boos out of Dodger Stadium,” Dubón said that night. “It was fun, really fun.”

One presumes listening to veteran big leaguers explain the nuances of playing outfield is more pertinent for Dubón.

In a few days he will be 26, an old age for a someone who in effect is a rookie.

“I’m just going to be a center fielder,” he said. “I need to pick someone’s brains and emulate them.”

Need it be said, Mays would be the obvious choice, and Dubón also has spoken to players from his previous organization, Milwaukee, including former outfielder Quintin Berry.

“He told me, ‘Just catch the ball,’ it doesn’t matter how. I’m feeling comfortable. I’m excited to be out there. I’ve always been confident in my ability.”

Young players were at a particular disadvantage during the shutdown for COVID-19, unable to use team facilities, a special hardship for someone living on the 19th floor of a Miami high-rise.

“I had to improvise,” said Dubón. “I went to Ace Hardware, bought pipes and ordered a net from Amazon (to construct a batting cage). Bought dumbbells, set up a gym on the balcony. Worked out. The Giants sent me a workout schedule.”

Will it all work out for Dubón and the Giants? In late February, when the world was normal and spring training was in Arizona, one baseball writer down there, quoting a scout, insisted the Giants were one of the worst teams he’d seen. And Buster Posey still was on the roster.

But the guys in uniform are unconcerned with forecasts, dire or even less so.

“I think we’re going to be pretty good,” Dubón countered — as would be expected. “There are some really good guys out here.”

The Giants can only hope Dubón is one of them.