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A game for young and old

9/1/2011

Baseball can be a game for the young.

Jason Heyward, so impressive as a 20-year-old rookie last year, is now a year older and maybe a year scarier. Like in 2010, he homered in his first at-bat of the season, and there’s no denying his flair for the dramatic.

Baseball can be a game for the old.

Chipper Jones is 38, turns 39 later in April and is coming off knee surgery. He looked great in spring training and went 2-for-4 on Opening Day with a hustle double, and we see that the skills of the 23-year-old rookie who helped the Braves win a World Series so many years ago are still hanging around despite the scars and the cruelties of age.

Ask Miguel Tejada about that.

He’s been a terrific player, an All-Star, a five-time .300 hitter and an MVP. But he’s 36 now, his bat is slowing and many people don’t think he has the range to play shortstop anymore. The Giants took a chance, signing him to replace the departed Juan Uribe. Reports from spring training weren’t good. He threw away a ground ball in the sixth inning Thursday, leading to an unearned run that helped the Dodgers win 2-1. Was it just one bad throw? Is he too old? His legs might not have Chipper’s scars, but they’re still the legs of somebody who has played more than 2,000 major league games, clocking in 150-plus games year after year.

Brandon Belt has played one major league game. He hopes for 2,000 more.

Belt hit .352 in the minor leagues last year, but many believed he should have begun this year in Triple-A, service time and future salary savings and whatnot. The Giants figured, “Hey, this is one of our best 25 guys; let’s play the kid.” He got an infield single his first time up and then came up in the ninth inning, two outs, down one run, a chance to maybe pull off a little Jason Heyward flair.

Jonathan Broxton, he of the 99 mph fastball, was on the mound. My notes went like this:

Breaking ball for strike

90 mph slider, just outside, 1-1

Fouls off slider on outside corner, tough pitch, 1-2

(Orel Hershiser, on TV, says throw fastball out of the zone, see if he chases)

Fastball just away ... Belt takes it (good eye)

Slider at knees, fouls it away

Slider, down and in, barely fouls off, just in front

(Hershiser says the kid has timed the breaking ball)

97 mph fastball, fouled off

Broxton then saws him off, soft liner to third for final out

As the saying goes, it was a good at-bat. Except in the major leagues, good isn’t always good enough.

Opening Day is always a reminder of the churning clock in baseball. Do the old guys have anything left? Do the new guys have what it takes?

Tim Lincecum was once one of the young phenoms. He’s now a grizzled veteran of 26, with two Cy Young awards and now a World Series title under his belt.

Clayton Kershaw just turned 23; he’s ready to bust out and become the next great Dodgers pitcher, following in a long line of storied starters.

And Brandon Belt? The Giants think he can play. I think he can play. Last year, everything the Giants did worked out, a perfect blend of youth, experience and luck (always a little luck in baseball). They called up Buster Posey, and he became an instant star. They picked up veteran Pat Burrell, and he had two great months. They think he has something left and brought him back. They brought in Tejada. We’ll see.

Belt will undoubtedly be thinking of that final at-bat more than that first base hit. Tejada would probably tell the rook to shake it off.

After all, we have 161 more games to play.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter at @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog at @espn_sweet_spot.