Pablo Sandoval celebrates a home run against the A’s at Oakland Coliseum on March 25, 2018. (Stan Olszewski/Special to S.F. Examiner)

New Panda same as old one: Sandoval relishes second chapter

AT&T PARK — Five hours before Pablo Sandoval punctuated his 2018 starting debut with a three-run blast into McCovey Cove, the erstwhile World Series MVP turned veteran reserve, was already making noise.

“Oh shit,” Sandoval bellowed as he looked up a clubhouse TV showing Aaron Judge, the New York Yankees slugger, booming a 419-foot home run.

Before the 10-1 route of the Seattle Mariners and Felix Hernandez, which featured four San Francisco Giant homers, Sandoval also predicted his own shot.

“I’m not going to lie,” said right fielder Andrew McCutchen. “He called it. He said he would hit a homer.”

The drive into the Cove was Sandoval’s first since May 2013 — his eighth overall, good for No. 2 on the all-time list behind one Barry Bonds.

“Yeah, I know,” Sandoval said with a laugh when asked if he knew whom he trailed. “[No.] 25.”

Now in his first full season of his second chapter with the Giants, Sandoval is the same old gregarious Panda, lighting up every room he steps into with his eternal smile.

Before Monday’s home opener, which Sandoval took in from the bench, he was rolling around on the clubhouse floor — ostensibly stretching and doing core exercises. Like a kid on the first day of school, Sandoval bounced around the room, shouting at no one and talking to everyone.

SEE RELATED: Giants hit optimistic notes in home-opening loss

“It feels great, man,” Sandoval beamed. “To be back here with the fans and to be back in the city that has brought me a lot of good memories. It’s exciting to be back.”

His manager Bruce Bochy, who knows him as well as anyone in the baseball world, first noticed the old Sandoval, on and off the field, during the Cactus League.

Sandoval hit .302 in 21 exhibition games, driving in a team-high 17 runs. He’s blocked at first and third base by Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria, respectively, but Bochy is intent on positioning Sandoval to succeed.

That’s why, in advance of Thursday’s off day, Sandoval started in the place of Longoria — even after the incumbent snapped his 0-for-17 start with a two-run homer on Monday.

Bochy has made it clear to Sandoval where he stands.

“I’ve talked to Pablo about this and he’s good with it,” Bochy said. “He’s bringing it every game  — even when he’s playing. You see him around. You hear him. He’s involved.”

A starter for the day, Sandoval figures to be a key figure in the bench mob — alongside renewed Gregor Blanco — that consistently underwhelmed a season ago.

“Sometimes you need these guys to come off the bench and get a big hit for you,” Bochy said. “Well, it’s hard to ask them to do that when they haven’t had a start in quite a while.”

On a night when Panda hats once again dotted the stands, Bochy said Sandoval looked like the same guy who first shot to prominence with the Giants nearly a decade ago.

“I think he’s pretty close to what we saw when we brought Pablo up, when he was going well.”

Sandoval was happy to hear his boss’ praise. He’s also cool with the new low-profile role.

“There’s 25 guys,” Sandoval said. “Everyone here wants to win games. Everyone here wants to get to the World Series and we’re trying to do everything we can to get there.”MLB

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