Posey, Giants debut on Showtime docu-series 'The Franchise' tonight

Photo by John Millikan

Photo by John Millikan

SAN FRANCISCO -- It's time for America to fall in love with the San Francisco Giants all over again.

The band of self-described "misfits," who stole the heart of America's favorite pastime last season with their improbable run to the franchise's first World Series title since moving from New York in 1958, are now the focus of a Showtime Sports documentary series entitled "The Franchise: A Season With the San Francisco Giants."

The first episode airs today at 10 p.m. on Showtime, which will debut a new episode each week until the end of August.

And while Showtime execs have made no secret about the fact they're bummed over arguably the team's biggest star missing in action -- Lee County's own Buster Posey, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year who was lost for the season to a leg injury last month -- they tout the series as a never-before-seen look behind the scenes of an MLB organization.

"This new docu-series follows the 2010 World Series champions as they defend their title in 2011. With unprecedented access to Giants players, their families, coaches and team personnel, this series provides a candid look at the struggles, relationships and day-to-day lives of Major League Baseball players," Showtime said in a press release.

The press release continued: "It's an up close and personal journey from the off-season to Spring Training, the All-Star Game and beyond."

While that journey might include Posey, the focus won't be his on-the-field performance. Posey's part in the series will instead have a spotlight shined on his battle off the field to get healthy and return for the Giants' 2012 campaign. This after he was trucked by Florida Marlin Scott Cousins at home plate in the top of the 12th inning May 25 during a collision that sent Posey bending backward awkwardly, resulting in a broken left femur and torn tendons in his left ankle. Posey, the All-Star catcher who many argue was the catalyst for the Giants' run to the title last year after his call up from Triple-A Frenso in late May, was lost for the season due to the collision and is currently rehabbing in the Bay Area. He is on track to return for spring training next year.

"Feeling great. I think the rehab process is going really well. Got our trainer Dave Groeschner working hard; (assistant trainer) Mark Gruesbeck; Ben Potenziano, our strength coach. When we're on the road, a physical therapist from down in San Carlos, Dave Matoso, comes up and works with me. I got a great group of guys taking good care of me," Posey said in a radio interview with San Francisco's KNBR late last week. "The past couple of weeks, I've been able to take the cast off. It's been a removable cast. Our trainers, in particular Dave Groeschner, (are) just working on the range of motion, trying not to let that thing scar up too much and get so stiff, (so) that when I do start catching again, I still have that full range of motion."

The filming of "The Franchise" started immediately after the Giants won the World Series and has been ongoing for the last eight months. The film crew has tracked the 25 players on the Giants' active roster, manager Bruce Bochy, GM Brian Sabean and a few of the organization's top minor-league prospects, like current rookie starter Brandon Belt, who took Posey's spot on the roster when he went down. During the offseason, Showtime goes inside the players' homes and meets their families, tags along during their vacations and promotional trips around the country and then settles in around spring training for the real meat and potatoes of the docu-series: the 2011 season and defense of their World Series crown.

Newly anointed Showtime president David Nevins said the network saw how successful other sports docu-series were -- such as HBO's NFL series "Hard Knocks" and boxing series "24-7" -- and decided it was time to toss its hat in the ring. But the Giants weren't on board at first, skeptical the series would turn into a cheesy reality show.

"There was some anxiety at the beginning that this was going to be a reality show," Nevins told The San Francisco Chronicle. "For a while, their point of reference was Los Angeles Lakers forward Lamar Odom and the Kardashians. And so I came up and spoke very directly with them -- what the show would feel like and what we were trying to capture."

One of the biggest cynics was Bochy, who got Showtime to agree to stop filming before August so the show wouldn't become a distraction to the team during its pennant race. At the All-Star break, San Francisco led the NL West by three games over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

"My question was: 'Is this going to be a distraction for the club, or is this going to take away from what we're trying to do?' " Bochy told The Chronicle. "It couldn't have gone smoother, I think. What a great job they've done on their side, to not be intrusive, and yet hopefully they've gotten a lot of what they need."

Nevins told the newspaper there was only one way the show -- which has no shortage of interesting characters to choose from on any given week -- could be a bust: "The only way this show could have gone bad is if the Giants were 15 games out of first place at the All-Star break."

Instead, San Francisco is on track to reclaim the West -- even without Posey. The former Lee County and Florida State star who won every award under the sun during his three years in Tallahassee -- including the Golden Spikes and Johnny Bench awards -- was scheduled to be a huge focal point of the docu-series as he entered his sophomore season after winning Rookie of the Year. But when Cousins leveled Posey in a play that sparked widespread controversy around the major leagues on possibly outlawing collisions at home plate, Posey's role became redefined, with Sabean taking center stage for his negative comments he made about Cousins in the wake of Posey's injury.

Through 45 games, Posey was batting .284 with four home runs and 21 RBI before he was injured in late May, down just slightly from the .305 average with 18 home runs and 67 RBI he averaged in the 108 games he played after being called up last year. Posey was also the leading NL All-Star vote-getter for catchers when he was injured and says it's frustrating having to sit out what would've been his first appearance, as well as the rest of the season.

"It's gotten easier with time (knowing I can't play), but when you go from playing every day, competing, getting yourself in shape to doing absolutely nothing," he told the radio station. "I mean it's a challenge. There's no doubt about it, but I don't really have an option."

In one scene in the early episodes -- which takes place the day after Posey was injured -- Showtime cameras capture Belt walking into AT&T Ball Park after being called up to replace Posey on the roster. As Belt is walking in, Posey is being driven past him on a cart, his leg immobilized. Belt is seen shaking his head and saying to himself: "That don't look good."

Posey's rehab, which has included simple things like riding a stationary bike as of late, will be just a small part of "The Franchise," which will also feature the marriage of second baseman Freddy Sanchez, the plight of Pablo Sandoval getting back into shape, fishing trips with Bochy, a profile of bearded-wonder closer Brian Wilson, the return of starting pitcher Barry Zito, the sudden emergence of 33-year-old Ryan Vogelsong and the unusual offseason workout regiment of outfielder Andres Torres (hint: it includes throwing chunks of wood over his shoulder while wearing jean shorts that look like a pair of ladies "Capri" pants.)

And when Showtime isn't off filming storylines, the crew -- which works around the clock -- is simply just filming. Every minute of every day. Watching and waiting for something -- anything -- to happen.

"Eighty percent of our time is waiting to get access," supervising produce Gary Waksman told The New York Times. "I get nervous when a cameraman has to go to the bathroom."