Headley returns to Petco to receive awards
SAN DIEGO -- Chase Headley is spending more time in Lake Elsinore than anywhere else these days, but on Saturday, he took a slight detour from his Minor League rehab assignment to be front and center at Petco Park.
The Padres third baseman was the man of the hour during an extensive pregame ceremony, during which he was recognized for a pile of awards he collected for his performance in 2012.
Headley received his GIBBY (Greatness In Baseball Yearly) Award, presented by MLB.com, as the Breakout Hitter of 2012. He also received his National League Rawlings Gold Glove Award for fielding excellence, and his NL Louisville Silver Slugger Award for his performance at the plate.
To top it off, it was Chase Headley Bobblehead Day at Petco Park, giving the Friars star four very good reasons to make sure he was with his team in between Minor League rehab games for the club's Class A team in nearby Lake Elsinore.
"This is a special night for me," Headley said. "As much as I want to get back on the field, I think it would be inappropriate to not be here for this and recognize the fact that I am extremely honored. I want to be able to share it with the fans and with my teammates and coaches. I'm glad to be able to do it."
The timing worked out well. Headley, who is working toward a return after suffering a fractured thumb during Spring Training, played Friday in Lake Elsinore, going 1-for-3 with a double as the designated hitter. He will play there again on Sunday, this time adding defensive work in as he continues to work on his timing at the plate.
Saturday was slated to be a day of rest, giving him clearance to soak in a little pomp and circumstance at Petco.
"I've never been a guy that's been focused on awards by any means, but having said that, when you look at the players that you're playing against every day, and the amount of respect that I have for them -- not only all of the players that play in the big leagues, but especially the players at third base -- they're tremendous players," Headley said. "To be recognized amongst them, I think you have to stop and at least acknowledge that fact and realize how lucky, how humble and how fortunate I am to have won them. It's a great accomplishment."
The 28-year-old finished fifth in voting for the NL Most Valuable Player Award in 2012 after setting career highs in several offensive categories, including hits (173), home runs (31), RBIs (115), runs scored (95), walks (86), on-base percentage (.376), slugging percentage (.498) and OPS (.875).
His RBI total was tops in the NL and third highest in the big leagues. He is the second player in Padres history to lead the league in RBIs, joining Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, who did so in 1979 with 118.
Headley hit .267 with five homers and 42 RBIs in the first half, but exploded after the All-Star break, becoming one of the league's top hitters with a .308 average, 23 homers and 73 RBIs. He was named NL Player of the Month in both August and September.
"I'm really, really proud of the fact that he applied some changes that he and [hitting coach] Phil [Plantier] worked on early in April and May," manager Bud Black said. "They all sort of came together early June, late July. His mindset changed a little bit from a guy who was thinking more line drives, sort of tailoring his swing to the park and not to who he is as a hitter.
"I think that's one of the main things -- the mindset shift from a guy that wanted to hit for a higher average, wanted to keep the ball on a lower trajectory, to a guy that says, 'Hey, I can hit homers. I can be more aggressive early in the count.' He shifted a little bit of his hitting style, and to do it in mid-stream is pretty impressive."
Having hit a lot of home runs in the Minor Leagues, Headley was amenable to figuring out how to get back to what worked for him before he started playing at pitcher-friendly Petco.
"This is a big ballpark and it was even bigger before this," he said, referring to the fences being recently reconfigured. "We really stressed working on hitting line drives and hitting the ball the other way. I worked so hard on doing that that I almost lost some of the areas that helped me get here, areas that frankly were my strength coming up. I knew it was in there."
Before 2012, Headley, who is about to begin his seventh Major League season, drove in no more than 64 runs, a high he reached in 2009. Nearly doubling that number last season merited strong consideration for the GIBBY Breakout Hitter of the Year, and it came as no surprise that voters targeted him as the winner.
The GIBBYs, which have been handed out by MLB.com to A-list ballplayers for 11 years, honors the greatest players, moments, managers and feats of a season. The panel of voters is expansive, involving media, front-office personnel, Major League alumni, fans who log on to MLB.com and experts from the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).
The GIBBYs are unique in that they recognize greatness from both the regular season and the playoffs, whereas other official Major League awards that are handed out are for top performances in the regular season only. GIBBY voting begins in early November and the winners are announced about a month later, at the Winter Meetings.
Add to that the Rawlings Gold Glove Awards and Louisville Silver Slugger Awards, which are voted on by the league's managers and coaches, and it's obvious Headley has the respect of just about everyone paying attention throughout a Major League season.
"One of the most special things for me was how the coaches and the other players responded how happy they were for me," Headley said. "They're a huge part of it. [Plantier] and [third-base coach] Glenn Hoffman, how many hours did he spend with me on the backfields at Peoria? In a way it's an award for them as well, and I'm glad to be able to share that with them."