By Blake Long/Special to the Journal
SAN FRANCISCO – It’s a play some Major League Baseball fans called dirty – Florida Marlins’ outfielder Scott Cousins collided May 25 with San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey in a play at the plate.
Cousins scored on the play after knocking the ball out of Posey’s mitt, but Posey suffered the brunt of the blow. The reigning National League Rookie of the Year left the game with torn ligaments in his left ankle and a fractured fibula in the left leg.
The defending World Series champions turned to New Albany native Eli Whiteside to fill their void behind the plate.
“It’s a big loss for the team and tough for him being a young player,” Whiteside said of Posey’s injury. “But we had to face reality and move on.”
After Posey landed on the disabled list, Whiteside started 26 of the Giants’ remaining 41 games behind the plate before the All-Star break, with Chris Stewart seeing the remaining action.
Entering the second half of the season with a four-game series at San Diego, Whiteside needed only 13 appearances to set a career high in his third year with the Giants. He feels his approach has not changed with the increased playing time and has handled the situation well.
“I think I’ve done a pretty good job in a tough situation,” Whiteside said. “I’ve always prepared as if I was the everyday starter, even in a backup role. That’s helped a lot.”
Answering the call
San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy knows the importance and value of catchers, being a former catcher himself. He also knew somebody would have to step up if his Giants were to continue to compete for a playoff position.
“Hopefully the other guys will step up,” Bochy told MLB.com after Posey’s season-ending injury. “They need to turn up the volume on their play.”
Whiteside answered the call of his manager. Since May 26, the former New Albany High and Delta State University product has upped his batting average 50-plus points to .248.
The right hander has a .328 on-base percentage and adds 10 extra base hits, three of which are home runs. Behind the plate, he’s caught seven runners stealing.
The increase in production comes as no surprise to a former coach of Whiteside’s.
“He is the hardest working player I have ever seen,” said ICC softball coach Andy Kirk, who coached Whiteside at both New Albany and Delta State. “He deserves everything he’s getting.”
“I’ll come in early and get some swings off a tee and in the cage,” Whiteside said of his pregame routine. “I’ll get the opposing lineup and head to the video room or grab scouting reports.
“Then I head out for batting practice and get ready for the game.”
San Francisco began the second half of the season three games ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks for first place in the NL West. Rumors are circulating of a possible trade to land another bat for the Giants lineup.
One addition made before the break was that of Nettleton native Bill Hall, a utility man who signed a contract with the Giants on June 11 after being released by Houston.
Rivals now teammates
It’s only the fifth time in MLB history that two northeast Mississippians have been on the same team’s active roster, the last coming in 2008 when Hall joined Saltillo’s Tim Dillard in Milwaukee.
“It was nice to see him come over,” said Whiteside, who along with his wife and son still call New Albany home. “I grew up playing against him in Legion ball. It’s good to have somebody from the same area.”
Whether the Giants get more help or not, the goal is still the same for Whiteside and his team.
“Get back to the playoffs,” Whiteside said. “If we can just get in, we have a shot to win and I think we proved that last year.
“With the pitching staff we have, I don’t think anybody wants to play us in a 5- to 7-game series.”