SAN FRANCISCO - The first two steps of Pablo Sandoval's second stint in San Francisco were positive.
Sandoval showed up to AT&T Park on Saturday in decent shape, the kind that will allow him to go straight to the minors instead of spending a few weeks cutting pounds. He also said the right things, apologizing to fans for comments made in the months and year after he left the Giants for supposedly greener pastures.
"I learned my lesson," Sandoval said a few seconds after sitting down with reporters. "I made a lot of mistakes."
Sandoval said he also needed to apologize to former teammates, many of whom have not forgotten a Bleacher Report article from Sandoval's first spring with the Red Sox.
Back then, Sandoval told Scott Miller the decision to leave San Francisco was "not hard at all." On Saturday, he said there was simply a "miscommunication."
Back then, Sandoval said, "I knew early in spring training last year I was going to leave." On Saturday, he claimed that he would have come and said he's "excited, excited to be back … I'm thankful to the Giants."
Back then, Sandoval said he didn't miss his former teammates. "Only Bochy," he told Bleacher Report. "I love Boch. He's like my dad. He's the only guy that I miss. And Hunter Pence. Just those guys." On Saturday, Sandoval said, "If I mentioned a lot of people, it was going to be the whole roster … Hunter was like my brother and Bochy was like my dad."
It will be up to the players and team employees to decide how they really feel three years later. Some, most notably Pence, have been effusive in their praise of the move. Others have been more guarded, and some have grumbled. And make no mistake about it, there are executives at high levels of the organization who do not agree with a reunion. Why do it, then?
"You look at it as a free look at a player who has done some good things in this game and has the talent to hit baseball," manager Bruce Bochy said. "Sometimes a change of scenery can get a player back to the player he was and he was pretty good here. This allows you to take a look and make a call if you think he can help you or not. There's no guarantee."
Bochy called it a "win-win" situation and said this was not a marketing move, but it certainly won't hurt the organization's affiliates. Sandoval will DH for the San Jose Giants on Saturday and join Triple-A Sacramento on Tuesday. He is expected to get at least 40-50 at-bats before the Giants make a decision.
Sandoval said his shoulder, which ended his 2016 season, is healthy, and he has resumed switch-hitting. It has been three years since he has been a productive big leaguer, but he is still just 30 years old.
"I have to prove a lot of things," Sandoval said. "I hope to be back and doing the best (I can)."
The Giants did not guarantee a return to the big leagues, but the coast is clearing up. Eduardo Nuñez, the incumbent at third, is Bobby Evans' best trade chip and could be gone by August 1. Christian Arroyo is on the minor league disabled list. Ryder Jones will play all over the field with Sandoval returning to Sacramento. Jae-gyun Hwang was optioned back to Triple-A on Saturday and faces an uncertain future in the organization.
The history of this organization says that if Sandoval shows anything at all, he will be back at AT&T Park before the season is up. At that point, he'll have to sit down with some teammates and coaches and possibly explain himself. There is more to this than an article written three years ago. It was an open secret that Sandoval was ready to move on, and he had some fun waving goodbye to fans at the 2014 parade. If and when he does return, Sandoval will hope for the best from a fan base that is divided on his return. He did his part to heal some wounds Saturday, signing autographs on his way out of the park.
For now, Sandoval said he's ready for his second chance.
"At the end of the day," he said, "I'm happy to be back."