Dan Giese defied the odds. After toiling in the minor leagues for nine years–a stint interrupted to sell cars, or at least try to–the former low-round draft pick made his major league debut in September with San Francisco at the age of 30. A right-handed pitcher out of the University of San Diego, Giese appeared in eight games for the Giants, going 0-2 with a 4.82 ERA. Giese, who is pursuing a master’s degree in education, recently signed with the New York Yankees as a free agent. David talked to Giese about his long journey to the big leagues, and some of the people he encountered on the way.
Baseball Prospectus: How would you describe the baseball life story of Dan Giese?
Dan Giese: It’s just been a whirlwind. I’m one of those guys that has been traded twice, and I was a 34th-rounder, so I’ve always had to fight for a spot in spring training. It’s been a grind, and finally this year, after nine seasons, I actually made it to the big leagues. I just wanted to face one hitter. That’s all I cared about. If I could face just one hitter in a major league game, I would have reached my dream, and I was able to do that. I pitched nine and two-thirds innings, so I did even more than I dreamed of doing.
BP: I believe that you’re now a free agent?
DG: I was a few days ago, but I actually just signed with the New York Yankees. I’m going to major league camp with them, and they have three spots open on the bottom half of their bullpen. I signed a split deal, and hopefully I’ll be back in the big leagues.
BP: What were your expectations when you signed your first professional contract, in 1999?
DG: You know, it’s funny because I always knew that no matter how well things were going, or how bad they were going, deep down I knew that I was going to make it. It’s just one of those little voices inside your head telling you, “You’re going to do this; you’re going to do this.” That’s what helped me get through the tough times when I pitched well enough to make it, but didn’t.
BP: You were out of baseball briefly a few years ago. What happened?
DG: I’d had a really good year in 2004, and I didn’t get the call, and I was really, really frustrated. It was a big learning experience for me, because the next year, in 2005, I came into camp with a chip on my shoulder, thinking that it should have been me, that type of deal. I wasn’t pitching real well at the start of the season, and my wife was at home, pregnant, and she ended up getting in a car accident. She called me, all frantic, telling me that she gotten into an accident, and I’m gone, plus I’m pitching like crap. So I was like, “Screw this. It isn’t worth it.” So I headed home.
BP: What did you do when you got there?
DG: I was actually finishing school, so I had to get a job, and I ended up selling cars. It was the worst two months of my life! I was probably going to get fired, because I had sold five cars in two months. It was brutal.
BP: How did you get back into pro ball?
DG: After I finished my degree, and we had our child–and the baby was healthy–I decided to call my agent to see if the Phillies would sign me back. I had decided I wanted to play again; I still had that burning desire. The Phillies took me back in and gave me another chance.
DG: Yeah, Russell–he’s a great manager. He knows the game really well, and he carried himself like it’s a major league team. He also tells you straight to your face how things are going to be and what needs to be done; he’ll let you know what his expectations are. So he runs a tight ship, but he does a really good job.
BP: How is Russell when it comes to working with a pitching staff?
DG: He caught one of Nolan Ryan‘s no-hitters, so he had my respect straight from the get-go. He was a catcher, so–he never tells anyone that he caught a Ryan no-hitter; you just hear that through the grapevine, but just having that background gets the respect of the pitchers. You know that he’s going to make good calls.
BP: One of the catchers you threw to a few years ago is A.J. Hinch. How would you describe A.J.?
DG: With A.J., you knew he was going to be front office the day you met him. He dressed the part, he looked the part; he carried himself professionally all the time. He’s just a leader. You know that as soon as you meet him. He’s a great guy.
BP: You spent most of this season with the Giants’ Triple-A team in Fresno. What was it like working with the pitching coach there, Mike Caldwell?
DG: Mike Caldwell is honestly the best pitching coach I’ve ever had. He wasn’t really a big mechanics guy, he just told you–he gave you confidence. No matter how bad of an outing you had, he always had something positive to say. When you’re at the Triple-A or big league level, some mechanical change isn’t going to be a huge thing. You just need positive reinforcement, and that’s what Mike Caldwell would give you.
BP: What was the atmosphere like in the Giants’ clubhouse when you got there in September?
DG: There were good days and bad days. When we’d lose there’d be no stereo on, no TV on. Everyone was kind of down. But we had good days, too. We took a series from the Dodgers at home, two out of three, and that was big. We were in the cellar, so we knew we weren’t making the playoffs, but it was still huge. And there was a lot of anticipation building up to Barry Bonds‘ last game, so it was neat to be a part of that.
BP: Did you find all the attention directed towards Bonds to be a distraction?
DG: No, it wasn’t a distraction. It was a veteran group of guys and Barry was really respectful about it. He didn’t want it to be all about that. It was about winning, even though it really was bigger than the game–it being his last game as a member of the Giants. He was real respectful about that and never wanted the guys to do anything differently than just play the game the way it was meant to be played.
BP: Can you talk a little about your big league debut?
DG: Man, I couldn’t believe it. I think we were down by one run–Barry Zito had just thrown seven innings–and I thought there’s no way Bochy is going to put me in this game. Not when we’re playing the Dodgers and it’s a sell-out crowd. Then it’s, “Giese, down in the bullpen!” I was like, “Holy crap!” So I’m throwing, and I can’t even feel myself, my hands, anything. My heart is pouncing out of my jersey. I’m trying to warm up, and the bullpens in San Francisco are on the sidelines, so if you make a bad throw they have to stop the game. So I’m trying to just not stop the game. But once I got out there, into the game, shoot, I had replayed that moment in my head a million times as a kid, just throwing the tennis ball off the side of the house. So I wasn’t nervous at all, to be honest with you. I actually ended up throwing two innings–two good innings–and it went very well.
BP: The first batter you faced was Shea Hillenbrand.
DG: I threw one pitch to him–a fastball away–and he flew out to center. Right when it came off his bat, I was like, “Oh boy,” but then he kind of threw his head down like he knew he got off the end of the bat. Getting that first out in my major league debut was huge, and it was just one pitch, so it was a good feeling. The next batter was David Wells, and I got my first strikeout. Ryan Klesko told me from the dugout afterwards that it didn’t count though, because it was only David Wells!
BP: What kind of pitcher are you?
DG: I’m a strike thrower. I’m not going to come in and blow it by anybody. I’m more of a low 90s guy. I think that I’ve succeeded because when managers put me into games they see me throwing strikes. I don’t walk a lot of guys. That’s the best way to (tick) a manager off–walking guys. For the most part, I think I’ve stuck around, having a role in the bullpen, because I can come in and throw strikes.
BP: Did you get the rookie treatment in September?
DG: Oh yeah. We were in Arizona playing the Diamondbacks, and after one of the games I had to dress up as Wonder Woman. We had to go into this restaurant to eat, and I was the first one to go in. It was this real nice place, and the guy goes to me, “You can’t come in dressed like that!” And then Steve Kline, one of our veteran pitchers, goes in and tells him what’s going on. So then the guy is, “Oh, you guys can all come in!” We were all dressed up in drag, and whatever else, but they knew that we were going to come in and buy a bunch of drinks and whatever. But it was still pretty embarrassing.
BP: Who have you learned the most from in the game of baseball?
DG: Boy, that’s a great question. I’d say it would have to be a guy named Tom House, who was a pitching coach for the Texas Rangers when Nolan Ryan was there. I’ve worked out with him a number of off-seasons, and he’s taught me the mental side of the game, the emotional side of the game, strength training–all of the factors that you have to work on to become a major league pitcher. Without him, I definitely would not have made it to the big leagues.
BP: Getting there obviously means a lot to you.
DG: I was a 34th-round pitcher, so I’ve been a guy who has had to dance around in the shower to get wet his whole life. I’ve just been a fungo with ears. So I’m just happy to have made it to the big leagues. I simply had to work harder at it than anyone else, because I don’t have the natural ability that most guys do.
BP: Last question: Why do kids play baseball–why do you play baseball?
DG: I think it’s one of those games where you’re growing up and your dad asks if you’d like to go out and play catch in the backyard. You’re out playing whiffle ball with the kids in the neighborhood. It really becomes a family game. That’s how I started playing. I was playing inside of my house, running around like I’m playing in the big leagues, sliding on the carpet. That’s how I fell in love with the game.