Justin Fitzgerald was a San Francisco Giants fan. He was one his whole life. His dad was born and raised a Giants fan, too. He remembers going to Candlestick Park as a kid to see Will “The Thrill” Clark. He was at AT&T Park to watch Barry Bonds hit the 700th home run of his career.
Fitzgerald, 23, isn’t a San Francisco Giants fan any longer.
Instead, he’s pitching for the organization he grew up rooting for.
Fitzgerald was taken in the 11th round (No. 327 overall) by San Francisco in June’s Major League Baseball Draft. The UC Davis product has spent the past month and a half at the Giants‘ spring training home in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“There’s going to be a lot of motivation no matter where I’m pitching,” Fitzgerald said after making his final spring training appearance on Saturday, “but maybe I’m trying that much harder to make the big league club to be a San Francisco Giant.“
Fitzgerald will begin this season with the Augusta (Ga.) GreenJackets, the Giants‘ Low-A affiliate. He felt he might have been on the bubble to start the season a lever higher with High-A San Jose, but assumed he was going to be with Augusta from the start of spring training.
“That’s just how it is when you’re a first-year guy in your first spring training,” he said.
Although his Augusta assignment is technically below that of a San Jose one, Fitzgerald could be in a better situation by beginning the year with the GreenJackets.
Fitzgerald would have been one of the last arms to make the San Jose club, making it difficult to earn late-inning appearances early on; instead, he should be Augusta’s closer, just like he was for the Aggies when they earned a NCAA Tournament berth last season.
“All spring training, I’ve been put in eighth- and ninth-inning situations,” Fitzgerald said. “It looks like I’m going to be a late-inning guy.“
All eight of Fitzgerald’s spring training appearances came in the eighth or ninth innings.
“It’s pretty cool to see that,” he said. “It’s nice to know they trust me in those situations.“
Fitzgerald got his first professional taste of pitching in save situations last season. After being drafted, he reported to the Arizona League. He was then quickly promoted to Short-Season Salem-Keizer (Ore.), where he converted five of his six save chances.
In order to reach the big leagues, Fitzgerald will next need to advance through Augusta and San Jose in hopes of reaching Double-A Connecticut and then Triple-A Fresno en route to the Giants‘ bullpen.
Saying this task isn’t going to be easy would be an understatement, and the lifestyle changes that have come Fitzgerald’s way are proof of that.
“It’s definitely different,” Fitzgerald said. “You’re far away from your family – I’m going to be clear across the country. Your eating habits change, too. Games start at 7:30 p.m., so you’re not eating dinner until 10:30 at night.… I’m not going to school anymore. I’m just straight up playing baseball. It’s my job.“
Fitzgerald’s job isn’t paying him too well, especially while he’s been with the Giants in Scottsdale.
“You’re making $18 or $20 a day out here in spring training,” he said. “You’re pretty much paying for yourself to play baseball here early in your career.“
Fitzgerald knows things could pay off in the future, though – both financially and in terms of reaching his ultimate goal: to make it to the major leagues and pitch for his San Francisco Giants.
“I went to a conditioning camp at AT&T Park this offseason,” Fitzgerald said. “I was able to see the clubhouse, appreciate what those guys get.“
Those guys get to wear black and orange caps and jerseys spelling out “GIANTS” across their chests to the ballpark everyday – just like Fitzgerald has this spring, just like he has his whole life.
ADAM LOBERSTEIN wants you to know he wrote this column as an Oakland Athletics fan, born and raised. Only for you, Fitzy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.