SAN FRANCISCO — Giants fans let Javier Baez know nice and early Monday how they felt about his double dose of look-how-far-I-hit-that back in Chicago.
They booed him during player introductions before Game 3. They booed him again in the second inning as he walked to the plate for his first at-bat.
Naturally, they booed even louder when he had the unmitigated gall to signal the ump for time, step out of the box and knock some dirt off his spikes with his bat.
Where does he get the nerve, anyway?
Chances are, they didn’t love it when Baez then smacked a base hit.
But Giants fans aren’t going to change the manner in which Baez goes about his business. Any Cubs fans who squawked about Baez turning a near-home run into an out at second base in Game 2 by not hustling out of the batter’s box aren’t, either.
And you know what? They shouldn’t.
Just let Javy be Javy.
“I got a little excited,” Baez said, “but I think everybody here knows how hard I play the game. And the other team does, too.”
And that’s just it. Baez plays as hard as anyone on the Cubs. He runs hard, slides hard, tags hard and sure as heck swings hard. And get this: A 23-year-old who dreamed so hard about becoming a big leaguer that he got the MLB logo tattooed on the back of his neck in high school also plays with a good deal of — what should we call it? — panache.
If that means an occasional moment of hot-dogging gets mixed in with all those highlight-reel plays, is it really such a big deal?
Fortunately, Maddon gets this.
“He just needs to go out there and play,” Maddon said. “For me, it’s very dangerous as a manager or coach to coach instinct — and whatever this guy has that nobody else has — out of him, which I don’t want to do. I never want to subtract from this guy. I just want to take what he has and harness it a little bit.”
So, maybe that means we’ve seen Baez get thrown out at second on what should’ve been a standup double for the last time. That wouldn’t be a bad thing at all. But if he never again jacks a long ball, with that monstrous swing of his, and admires it for a second, pumping Cubs fans into a frenzy?
That would be a shame.
Let Javy be Javy. Baez is one of the very best things the Cubs have going.
“Just give him another couple, three years,” Maddon said.
By then, Baez may well be as good a player as the Cubs have. There seems to be little doubt he’ll be as popular among fans as any of his teammates. Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Jake Arrieta sell the jerseys now, but when was the last time you asked your kid — or any kid — which Cubs player is his or her favorite to watch?
There’s something about Baez’s appeal with young fans that’s magical.
“Other players tell me their kids imitate me at home,” Baez said. “They tell me, ‘They all love Javy.’ ”
They don’t want Baez to change. Baez doesn’t see why anyone would.
“It’s really amazing how young people, young kids follow you and show their love to you, and how they look at you because of the way you do things,” he said. “I busted my butt to be here. And I’m pretty sure they’d love to be here someday, too.”
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.