SAN FRANCISCO – Angel Pagan pulls up a chair next to pitcher Santiago Casilla to offer support, as both a thoughtful teammate and an interpreter.
He even interjects his own thoughts from time to time, calling Casilla’s long journey to consistent closer “brave.”
The San Francisco Giants’ friendly new center fielder from Puerto Rico has been as reliable in the clubhouse as he has on the diamond in the first half.
And Pagan, who turned 31 on Monday, loves every minute of it. He looks back and considers his brief stint studying English at a Miami community college among the best decisions he has made, and it didn’t have to do with baseball.
Yet it sure has helped him to communicate during his athletic career, and aided so many others along the way, too.
“That’s part of being a teammate,” Pagan said. “I’m here for my teammates. If I were in Puerto Rico, I’d do it in Spanish. That’s the good thing about speaking both languages. It’s fun.”
While spending the past four seasons with the New York Mets, Pagan helped Ruben Tejada and, in 2009, Wilson Valdez before he departed. Phillies pitcher Raul Valdes is another former Pagan pupil during their time together, and Pagan even recalls fondly his dealings with Jose Reyes when they were minor leaguers – and Reyes now speaks English with confidence while playing in Miami.
“Anybody who needed my help,” Pagan said. “We didn’t have anyone to translate.”
Pagan’s presence in the clubhouse has brought so much to the Giants (45-35), who emerged from their off day Monday in Washington with a 1½-game lead over the slumping Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West.
Pagan, who received a $4.85 million, one-year contract in January to avoid arbitration, has helped lessen the sting of losing Andres Torres – another popular face with teammates and fans.
Torres went to the Mets along with reliever Ramon Ramirez in the December winter meetings trade that brought Pagan to the Bay Area.
“He cares about us,” All-Star third baseman Pablo Sandoval said of Pagan. “That’s a good thing when a new guy comes here. We made a relationship, like a family. … When he came here, that’s the first thing he did is help Melky (Cabrera) and the guys around him.”
Pagan is hitting .292 with five homers, four triples, 14 doubles and 31 RBIs as San Francisco nears the All-Star break looking like the favorite to win the NL West. That’s after the Giants missed the playoffs a year ago following their improbable run to the 2010 World Series championship.
The new-look outfield of Pagan, Cabrera and Gregor Blanco is a big reason. With Cabrera and Blanco also new to the club, Pagan’s influence and commitment to easing their transition has been a key part of how well things are going.
“He enjoys it,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “The time he spent in New York helps him deal with the media. That’s what it’s about. He wants to help out anywhere.”