Panda Sighting in Fresno

By: Ellen Ward

Despite a good overall record, the defending World Champions have had a rough start to the 2011 season. They have lost key players to injuries, several of which have come through Fresno on rehab stints before returning to the Majors. After losing 30 pounds and finding his swing again in the off-season, the last place Pablo Sandoval thought he would end up would be on the disabled list. Just a month into the season, Sandoval fractured his right hand sliding into second base in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and later received surgery to repair the broken bone. Sandoval used his recovery time wisely; working out constantly, and even took ground balls with his left hand.

Signing with the Giants in 2003, Sandoval quickly rose through the various levels within the organization. The Giants promoted him straight to the Majors from Double-A Connecticut, bypassing Triple-A Fresno completely. The infielder made his Major League debut with the Giants in 2008 after splitting time between High-A San Jose and Double-A Connecticut. Sandoval became an instant fan favorite, batting .345 in 2008 and quickly emerged as a key hitter in the lineup. He received his quirky nickname, Kung Fu Panda, from pitcher Barry Zito, on September 19th, 2008, when he jumped over a tag from catcher Danny Ardoin, against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Sandoval continued to dominate in 2009, batting .330 with 25 home runs, but fell off to just .268 with 13 home runs in 2010. In order to return to his earlier form, Sandoval took advantage of the 2010 off-season, losing 30 pounds over a three-month span. Before breaking his hand, Sandoval was batting .313, and led the team with five home runs in 24 games.

Now, Sandoval is finding his way back to San Francisco after being gone for five weeks. He is scheduled to start his rehab with San Jose before heading to Fresno for the first time in his major league career sometime this weekend. According to various Bay Area reporters the Giants would like him to play in at least five games before returning to San Francisco.

With this being Sandoval’s first time in Fresno, the community is already buzzing about the famous Kung Fu Panda’s debut at Chukchansi Park. To catch a glimpse of the Panda in action, be sure to get your tickets before they’re all gone. And don’t forget to pick up a fuzzy panda hat— you wouldn’t want to miss out on all the fun!

(Photo Credit: top: Lenny Ignelzi/AP; bottom: Associated Press)

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