Hailing from Venezuela, San Francisco Giants outfielder Gregor Blanco played an integral role in the 2012 and 2014 World Series victories. In 2015, he continues to lift the team with outstanding defense and timely hitting. Known for his small-ball approach and versatility, Blanco is the team’s most dependable backup, but he’s no ordinary backup: He often starts, he’s a disciplined hitter and bunter, a speedy runner and plays all three outfield positions at the highest level. In 2012 he made history with an unbelievable diving catch in deep centerfield to preserve Matt Cain’s perfect game, sprinting all the way from right field where he was positioned. Giants fans have watched him play more than 80 percent of games in each of his three years in San Francisco, and he'll continue to don orange and black through 2017.
Gregor Blanco is sitting casually in the dugout, still a few hours before the crowds show up and competition starts. The outfielder is all smiles, pointing and waving to just about everyone who walks by. For Blanco, baseball is an incredibly passionate game and the outfielder has thrived in San Francisco, inspired by the city as much as he and his teammates inspire fans. Read on for a glimpse into the life of San Francisco’s dynamic outfielder, both on and off the field.
When did you start playing baseball?
When I was four years old. It was a learning process for sure. I remember just playing in the dirt and not watching the game at all, but I always wanted to become a baseball player. When I was eight or nine years old, I really had it in me that one day I want to be a baseball player.
What position did you play at first?
All my career I’ve been playing centerfield. That’s my main position. Even when I was a little kid I was playing centerfield and leading off. It’s part of me. But here I can play all three outfield positions and I hit whatever they need me to hit.
Did you have a favorite team growing up?
We watched them all. We watched the Braves and I guess because at that time when I was growing up, the Braves were a huge team. They had 14 straight postseasons or something like that. That was my team. I had a Chipper Jones poster in my room. I later signed with the Braves and I made it all the way up to the major leagues with the Braves and I got to play with Chipper Jones. It was awesome. I never told him growing up I had his poster in my room because he might feel uncomfortable maybe. [Laughs.]
You started playing in Atlanta and then Kansas City and Washington before San Francisco. What’s different about playing in San Francisco?
It’s a lot different. Where I come from, the baseball that I played in Venezuela is a really passionate baseball. I feel it in my heart. Whenever I played, back in my country, I played for my team, the fans and to really win championships. I always wanted to find that in the United States, but for some reason I never had that. Even with the Braves and then the Nationals and Royals organizations, I didn’t find that. So when I came to San Francisco—I remember the first exhibition games, I saw all the fans cheering for everybody and people wanted to know me. I just feel like this is my home, this is where I belong. And every day that I play, I play for the city, I play for the fans and I play for my teammates that really believe in me so it’s a thing that I really feel here.
You’ve played such an important role in both the 2012 and 2014 World Series runs. How are they different and which one is more memorable?
I would say 2014 for me, even though 2012 was my first one. Especially after the rough year that I had in 2011. I was in the minor leagues and I wasn’t even playing in Triple-A, I was a backup. I thought wow, my career might be over. And I said to myself this is not going to happen. I worked harder and I went to Venezuela and I won MVP that year in the winter leagues and I thought I’m going to do whatever it takes to make the team. When I did I was so, so happy and so blessed that they saw that I wanted to be part of this. And then we won a championship and everything. 2014 was special for me because all my career I’ve been playing centerfield and leading off, and I have a twin brother and we were always playing together and dreaming about the scene: 'It’s bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, World Series, two outs, game seven.' I always imagined myself, growing up, leading off in centerfield in the World Series.
Favorite moments as a Giant?
The leadoff homer that I hit in the 2014 World Series. All three final outs of the World Series in 2012 and 2014, the parades, the Matt Cain perfect game catch and when they told me that I made the team in 2012.
What do you like about living in SF?
My wife and my kids live here with me. I love the city and I live really close to the ballpark. I like the views of the ocean and bay. I like how anywhere you want to go is walking distance. And you can take the cable cars. I have family coming, my brothers and my dad, and they’re going to walk around and see the city too.
Where would you take your family?
The first place for sure is the ballpark. Then the Embaradero for the views and the walk, Pier 39, the Golden Gate and Bay bridges, the restaurants and Lombard Street. My wife and I did Ride the Ducks and we saw the view of AT&T Park from the water. We really enjoy the city. And Alcatraz is awesome—I’ve been like three times already.
There’s one here on Embarcadero called La Mar. That’s a really good place. And I love to eat sushi so I always go anywhere that I feel is going to be a good sushi place. Almost every restaurant here you can see the food is amazing.
Does Venezuelan culture have a big presence in SF?
There’s some. There are some Venezuelans that come to the field often and you can see their flags and I’m really proud and I wish I could meet them, but I’m playing the game. But I met some in 2012 and we’re still friends and we hang out a lot.
What would you do on a typical day off?
I like to spend time with my wife and kids. I always try to take them out, walk around and shop, eat out, go to the movies. We walk around Pier 39 and we take the little kid to the carousel.
Gregory and Gregsman are your brothers. Why is the name Greg so popular in your family?
My mom made the name of the house we grew up in 'The Gregs.' At first, it was just me and my twin brother, Gregory. Then came my little brother named Gregsman. I had the first son of the family, and we all agreed we should follow the same path as my mom. So I named my first son Greyner. Then my brother had a son named Greyver. I have another four-year-old named Gregor Jr. Now my wife’s pregnant with a little girl and her name’s going to be Gracia. When my brother has another kid they’ll keep it going.
Of all the English speakers on the team who has the best Spanish accent?
I think Vogelsong is the one speaking a little better. He played in Latin American countries a little bit so he understands the most. He tries to speak Spanish and we laugh.
Do your kids play baseball?
My youngest loves baseball. The oldest one started liking it; he’s nine years old. He’s progressing really well. Every time I talk to him he’s like, 'Dad I’m going to practice. What should I do?' My youngest one—he’s going to be good. He’s only four years old and he can swing the bat pretty well. He has natural skills that I’m really impressed by. Not just because he’s my son, but the way he swings the bat is unbelievable. He’s better than me when I was four. We have a nanny who brings him to batting practice whenever we have home games. After batting practice, I put him in the cage below the dugout and I pitch him 50-60 balls each day. He’s good at hitting, but he’s still learning fielding, and he gets upset because he can’t catch the ball sometimes. But he’s developing.
Does he want to play the same position as you?
I would love him to play shortstop. That was my dream position, but I’m a lefty so I can't play shortstop. He could be a great shortstop. I know he’s going to have the speed and let’s see what he becomes. He loves it. At school, they tell him, ‘If you don’t behave you’re not going to practice with your dad.’ It’s all about baseball and I just want to encourage him to keep playing if he wants to.
What are some differences between baseball in Venezuela and baseball here?
Playing in this particular ballpark and in Venezuela is the same. You feel the fans here. You feel it every play. You feel every pitch. But if you go outside San Francisco—other ballparks don’t have many people and you don’t feel the same passion. You feel like you’re doing a job, not just playing the game. That’s the difference. In Venezuela it’s always packed and everybody is screaming at you, and you can feel that. It’s awesome.
Do you still play during the winter in Venezuela?
Yeah, but I haven’t played there in two years. It’s part of me. Without that, I wouldn’t be here. I’ve been really low in my career where I’ve felt like maybe quitting and feeling like, ‘What am I going to do now if I don’t play baseball?’ Playing in Venezuela made me feel love for the game, to be passionate, to compete. I haven’t been able to the past couple years because I was injured in 2013 and last year we made it to the World Series and we played so many games that I needed to rest. I always like to play at least a couple games in Venezuela, to see my fans over there and so they can see me play too.
Hobbies outside of baseball?
I’m a big Playstation fan. No Xbox. Playstation is easier to control.
Do you follow baseball on days off?
No. Even when I go home after games I don’t watch baseball. I try to put my mind on something else. I don’t know how guys do it—all 24 hours baseball, baseball, baseball. I feel like sometimes we need to take a break. We spend so much time here that we forget about things that are important for us like family and time to yourself. You don’t even see the sun sometimes because you’re in the hotel, and then you get in the bus and go to the ballpark and when you get out of there it’s already 11 pm. I’m more the guy who needs to go out and watch the sky and really feel that positive energy before going to the ballpark because sometimes it’s hard doing the same thing every day and we forget about the whole world. I like to have a normal life. It’s important to break routines.
You’ve known Pablo Sandoval a long time. It always seemed like Sandoval was close with the team and then after his blowup it seemed like he wasn’t. What was your experience?
As a player and as a teammate, he was cool. He’s a guy who would give up everything on the field for his teammates. Sometimes I feel like he says or does stuff that he doesn’t mean. I think because he hasn’t grown up yet the way he’s supposed to. He’s an all-star to a lot of kids. A lot of people follow him as a star. He might not realize it. I told him he should think about what he says, that sometimes people get hurt. And it’s kind of sad because he grew up here and he won three championships here and he’s done so much with this team—to go out like this, the way he said stuff, it kind of hurts a lot of guys here and the fans, the city. I bet people don’t think about all the good things he did in the past, they just think about what he said. And he deserves it actually. He said it. He needs to learn. He tried to apologize and it’s a true apology because he doesn’t know sometimes what he really means. I know he’s happy where he is. We all wish him the best. And we’re doing well here without him.
Do you miss him?
Yeah. Everybody misses him. The missing part of him isn’t even about being on the field. The missing part of him is the laughing and the way he made the game fun and that makes you relax sometimes. And being loud—you need that loudness sometimes, in the clubhouse. In the game, I don’t think we miss him at all. We got Duffy and he’s unbelievable. We have Casey McGhee. I still think he’s a great player, he just hasn’t started hitting yet. But hopefully in Triple-A he can find himself and come back and help us win another World Series.
After winning two World Series in one city, do you think you’d ever get to a point where you’d want to try another city and team?
No. I’ve been on other teams. That’s the reason. I talked to Pablo a couple times about that. I said you don’t know how blessed you are being here. This is a great team. A great city. The fans—they always support everybody, even if you struggle. And on other teams it’s not like that. If you struggle, they’re going to boo you and wish you’d get out of there quick. But he’s fine where he is. We see him on TV an say 'Oh there’s Pablo,' and we laugh.
How is it different preparing for a game if you’re starting or playing off the bench?
The difference for me is if you have a guy that plays everyday, then the routine is maybe not that hard. It’s not as hard as if you’re playing off the bench. If I know I’m going to play, I might not do too much before the game. I might just stretch my legs, my body, maybe do shoulder routines, eat and that’s it. But if I don’t play, I come early, I do my full workout routine, go outside and run, do extra hitting and I prepare for the game.
What’s it like being on the bench when you know you’re coming into the game a little later?
I always prepare myself for any situation. I always have my legs ready. I’m stretching and moving around. I watch the situation, how the pitcher is pitching and who I might face later in the game. I come inside and hit off the tee first and I do some sprints inside and I hit off the machine. I imagine myself in situational hitting. As soon as I know I might get in the game, all I can think is ‘Put me in the game.’ I want to help my team win. Everybody knows it’s not easy to pinch-hit and have a hit. At least in your mind you free yourself and you feel positive energy and you feed off that so when you go out there it’s easier. You have that trust in yourself that you can do it. Sometimes I feel like I don’t want to face this guy. He’s throwing 100. I know I might strikeout. But if I have that mind, I try to change it pretty quick. I get my helmet, my batting gloves, my bat and I just stand really close to the manager so when he calls me I’m ready to go. I stretch my back, go onto the field, to the batters box and I have a little drill with myself and say, 'ok, let’s do this.'
Do the seagulls ever get in your way?
No, no [laughs]. Some guys get pooped on and say 'get out of here, I don’t need this right now.' But I don’t let them bother me.
Blanco's Typical San Francisco Day
Depends what mood I’m in, but I like to get up at around 9 am to eat breakfast and spend time with my wife and just watch TV with her and talk about family things. We walk around and go to the grocery store and get some coffee or stuff that we need at home. Then I go back to the apartment and have lunch, have a nice shower and come back to the field.
Sometimes in the mornings I train myself and do my workouts in the gym where I live, sometimes here at the ballpark. I stretch, take some batting practice and watch videos of the pitcher throwing that night. Then I do some agility workouts and run and prepare for the game.
Evening is the game. After batting practice we have a little break and we can get something to eat, get some energy for the 3-4 hour game. I eat a protein shake that they make for me. They add a lot of almonds. Sometimes they make a nice veggie sandwich. It’s always awesome.
After games, if we win we just have fun as a group. And when we win it’s already in the past and we start thinking about tomorrow. We have dinner together. If you want to take dinner home you can, but a lot of guys stay and eat and analyze the game. We talk about what we did that’s good, and if we did something bad, we talk about how we can fix it. We always have that mentality as a group that we need to stay together to win games and championships. We’ve been through this so we know what it takes and what we need to do. It’s really fun to watch us grow together.