SAN FRANCISCO -- Two years earlier, Brian Wilson was a full-blown media phenomenon, complete with viral video and talk-show appearances, the closer and his fantastically dark beard becoming synonymous with the devil-may-care Giants going all the way in the 2010 World Series.On the eve of the 2012 World Series, as the Giants' players were stationed on the club level at AT&T Park for media interviews, a man with a considerably longer beard, still fantastically dark, walked into the room, practically unnoticed and darn near anonymous. It's understandable the media didn't flock breathlessly to Wilson like in the past, considering he hasn't thrown a pitch since April, and soon after that underwent a rare second Tommy John elbow procedure. The Giants took a committee approach to the ninth inning through much of the season, and now Wilson's good friend, Sergio Romo, has mastered the role of closing in the postseason. A throng of reporters surrounded that bearded wonder in another corner of the room. So Wilson strolled to where he found his name on a placard hanging from a blue curtain. He peeked behind the curtain out to the field for a moment and turned around. No bustling crowd, just one reporter at first, wondering what it's like for Wilson to be on this glorious ride with the team but not on the postseason roster, contributing in the dugout and the clubhouse rather than as a closer on the mound.
"Being on the roster and pitching has no bearing on what I can still present as part of the team. I'm part of the team. I was on the Opening Day roster -- granted, I only pitched once, but we got the win. I contributed," Wilson said dryly, counting only his successful save opportunity April 12 in Colorado, not the non-save appearance the day before. "But you can contribute more by just being around and being positive."I don't think me pitching would determine my importance on the team. I think that I've been given the ability to transition roles this year and I think I've acclimated to my role quite well." Slowly, a few more curious souls make their way to Wilson's corner, looking for a nugget from the guy who wore a wetsuit tuxedo to an awards show. Yes, the beard and the orange-and-black painted nails do tend to stand out eventually. One asks whether it's different not being in the camera eye as much as he was in 2010. "I can't control what cameras do," Wilson says. "Nowadays, social media is so humongous, you can't even breathe without it being on camera. That's fine. It's all in good fun." Indeed, it's getting to the point where a guy can't ride down the street sitting on a scooter in full pirate beard and a captain's cap, wearing pajama pants and a tank top to expose colorfully inked arms without having some yahoo snap a photo of him and put it on Twitter. Of course, that was only a tweet-worthy photo because it is Brian Wilson, not because he was motoring down a San Francisco street in a getup that, frankly, doesn't stand out a whole lot on a San Francisco street. * * * To the 2012 Giants, Wilson is a touchstone, not only to their 2010 accomplishment, but to a relentlessly positive team concept that is helping drive them to within two victories of another World Series. Wilson, 30, played catch last week for the first time since undergoing the rarity of a second ligament-replacement procedure and made it clear afterward that he's determined to be back in action by next Opening Day, even if that might be weeks ahead of the normal schedule for this type of rehabilitation process. For now, Wilson is engaging in a supporting role for his teammates, along with injured second baseman Freddy Sanchez and pinch-hitter Aubrey Huff -- all key members of the 2010 run. To Pablo Sandoval, who made history with his first three swings in Game 1 of the World Series, Wilson brings the fun, but that's not all. "He's always having fun there, making jokes, trying to help get his teammates comfortable on the field, having fun out there," Sandoval said. "He's meant a lot for us because he's the kind of guy you want to have right now in the clubhouse when you've got the pressure on, you've got a situation and the feeling you know you can do it. He's the kind of guy that can go in there, tell you, 'You want to do it, you're gonna do it.' I'm just happy to have him back there in the clubhouse." And of course, to Romo, he's a close friend, a beard brother who has always been there to offer advice, especially in the role of closer. "That man, I tell you, he's been around and he's helped a lot," Romo said while surrounded by reporters after Game 2 in a corner of the Giants' clubhouse he shares with Wilson. "Just subtle comments about mindset: 'Go get your outs and then celebrate,' little comments like that. Little comments like, 'It doesn't matter how pretty it is, as long as you get it done.' Never showing weakness, just going out there and being a man about things. "I respect that man a lot. I credit him to a lot of the things that I've been able to handle to this point, especially the last couple of months. With him not around, I'd say I would have struggled a little bit more mentally. He's definitely a good friend." * * * Eventually, as the minutes ticked by and a few more reporters approached, it became evident Wilson remains a media curiosity, even if not a phenomenon at the moment. It's got to be the beard, which he addressed last week, saying: "At this point, I understand it's completely ridiculous. And I'm totally OK with that. And I also do not care." So, of course, here came the question with the TV camera pointing right at him, a reporter asking: How much work does it take to grow that thing? "It's not any work. I don't know, it just grows. No work involved," Wilson says, matter-of-factly. How long do you think it can grow? "Until I die. I'm thinking about that right now," he quips. The conversation turns, perhaps mercifully, back to the 2012 Giants, and suddenly the man with the fantastically dark beard is in media guru mode again, showing a little glimpse of what he's bringing to the table in 2012. "Physically, it doesn't really matter whether I'm throwing a pitch or not. I have a role to do," said Wilson, the 2003 Giants draftee whose only save in 2012 was his 171st. "I've been in this organization for nine years, that's almost a decade, so I have a sort of allegiance and responsibility to maintain a good leadership role and be a good teammate, pick some guys up when they need it, or tell certain guys who haven't been there before what pressure really is, what fear isn't." That's Brian Wilson's role in 2012 -- pumping up his teammates instead of shutting down opponents -- and the man behind the beard is playing it with equal gusto.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.