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Posey returns to Ga. as All-Star, leader of 1st-place Giants

In just his second trip back to his home state of Georgia on Tuesday, Leesburg’s Buster Posey, left, went 3-for-5 with 5 RBI for the Giants in their series opener against Brian McCann and the Braves, including this double to score teammate Gregor Blanco in the first inning in Atlanta. The NL West-leading Giants won, 9-0.

In just his second trip back to his home state of Georgia on Tuesday, Leesburg’s Buster Posey, left, went 3-for-5 with 5 RBI for the Giants in their series opener against Brian McCann and the Braves, including this double to score teammate Gregor Blanco in the first inning in Atlanta. The NL West-leading Giants won, 9-0.

ATLANTA — Buster Posey sat in an office chair in Bristol, Conn., nearly two years ago, rehearsing lines for his very first “SportsCenter” commercial.

The Leesburg native was fresh off winning the 2010 World Series with the San Francisco Giants and was the reigning National League Rookie of the Year. Decked out in his catching gear, Posey sat in ESPN’s studio playing the role of an annoyed catcher being harassed by a persistent umpire.

What has transpired in the last 18 months, however, was a script that Posey never saw coming.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Posey told The Herald on Tuesday at Turner Field, where he was making his second trip back to his home state since being drafted fifth overall in 2008 by the Giants.

His commercial finally debuted a little more than a week ago, but ever since he pushed in the swivel chair after his final take, Posey’s career — and life — has taken one dramatic turn after another.

His sophomore year was derailed after a home-plate collision with Florida’s Scott Cousins that fractured his fibula, tore three ligaments in his ankle and ended his season, but less than three months after the collision he and wife Kristin, his high school sweetheart, welcomed twins Lee Dempsey and Addison Lynn into the world.

After a lengthy recovery from his injuries, Posey picked up right where he left off when he stepped back on to the field this season, catching Matt Cain’s perfect game on June 13 and starting in his first All-Star game on July 10.

He stood next to his locker before Tuesday’s opener of a three-game series with the Braves — who he blistered for three hits and five RBI in a 9-0 win — and spoke with The Herald about the roller-coaster ride that has only made him a better leader of a Giants team that is in first place in the NL West.

“I have tried to do things the right way,” Posey said when asked how he has become one of the team’s leaders in three short seasons. “I have always enjoyed winning from high school to college. Fortunately, I have had some success here even in my short career. I also have the good fortune of playing with a lot of good players.”

He missed last year’s trip to Atlanta because of injuries but returned to his home state in a Giants uniform Tuesday for just the second time.

When he was here two years ago, he was still a rising Giants prospect with loads of promise.

Fast forward two years, and this time he returned home as an All-Star, a leader and one of the best players in baseball.

One of Posey’s teammates who watched him grow into one of San Francisco’s leaders is All-Star third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who hits just behind Posey in the lineup.

“He is such a great guy,” Sandoval said. “He is a quiet guy and doesn’t talk too much, but when you have an opportunity to play with him you find out he is a great teammate. He is just a great guy on the field and outside of the field.”

Gregor Blanco found out first-hand just how special a teammate and leader Posey can be. Blanco, who signed a minor-league deal with the Giants last season but was added to the team’s 40-man roster this year, felt uncomfortable and in unfamiliar territory while in the clubhouse during spring training.

That’s about the time Posey, who is actually younger than Blanco by four years, took the outfielder under his wing.

“When I signed with the Giants, one of my first thoughts was that I wanted to meet Buster Posey,” said Blanco, who started Tuesday night’s game and has emerged as one of San Francisco’s top utility players this season. “As soon as I saw him and got to know him, I thought, ‘Wow, he is a great guy.’ A lot of people look up to him, and it’s great to have a guy like Buster you can go to.”

Posey is quiet and humble in virtually everything he does, but that hasn’t stopped the Florida State grad from becoming one of the faces of the franchise.

“It’s just the way he plays the game,” Blanco said. “He is ready to play the game every day and is mature. He makes you want to be a better player.”

Posey entered Tuesday’s game hitting .297 with 11 home runs and 47 RBI — numbers that gave him the most fan votes in the National League (7.6 million, a new NL record) for last week’s All-Star game. Posey was the starting catcher for the game and went 0-for-2 at the plate with a walk and a run scored. But he left Kansas City with more than just an 8-0 NL victory.

“Everybody said to just soak it up and enjoy it, and that’s what I did,” he said. “I just enjoyed being around all the other great players who were there and treated it as a celebration of the game of baseball.”

He also ran into another Leesburg star — “American Idol” winner Phillip Phillips, who performed his hit song “Home” before the game. Posey and Phillips shared a few words just before Posey stepped on to the field to warm up with Cain.

“I told him congratulations,” said Posey, who added that he followed Phillips’ run on the popular television show. “I knew he was dealing with some health issues, and I asked him how that was going.”

Posey then stepped out and caught two near-perfect innings from Cain, something he has become accustomed to doing when he pairs up with the right-hander.

It was a June night in San Francisco when Cain threw the 22nd perfect game in MLB history, and he did so without shaking off Posey’s signs once. On Tuesday, Posey compared the perfect game to winning the World Series.

“Cain pitched lights-out, and you feel like your whole team was heavily vested in that game because there was so much riding on every pitch,” Posey said.

Cain and the rest of the Giants’ rotation have many MLB analysts picking San Fransisco as one of the favorites to win the World Series again this season, but Posey was hesitant to make any bold predictions Tuesday when asked.

After all, there is nearly half a season to play.

“We are (only) at July 17, so there is so much baseball left,” Posey said. “We have the Dodgers right there, and the Diamondbacks aren’t far behind us. There is a lot of baseball left to play, so I think it’s important to try to win each game and put our best foot forward each and every day.”

However, this season has come with its challenges for Posey, which was apparent Tuesday when he addressed questions about his frequent moves to first base, where he started against the Braves before moving back behind the plate following an injury to backup catcher Hector Sanchez. Each time Giants pitcher Barry Zito has toed the rubber this season — and recently when Tim Lincecum has been on the mound — Posey has discarded the catching gear for a first baseman’s glove and Sanchez has taken over.

Last week, Giants manager Bruce Bochy told the San Francisco media that Posey would get his first chance to catch Zito during Tuesday’s game, but instead it was Sanchez who got the nod as starting catcher.

Bochy said he and Posey rode to the ballpark together from the hotel, and the Giants manager explained to his All-Star catcher why he would once again be at first base.

“More than anything it’s the way both (Posey and Sanchez) are swinging the bat,” said Bochy, whose catchers have combined for 70 RBI this season — a total that leads the majors. “I wanted to get both of them in there (Tuesday).”

Posey told reporters before the game that he isn’t taking Bochy’s decision personally, but he has confidence he can catch anybody in the Giants’ rotation.

“Listen,” Posey said. “I’ve got the utmost confidence in myself that I can catch anybody. I’ve never questioned that. I’ve caught Timmy plenty and had a lot of success with him. I haven’t caught Barry as much as Timmy, but I’m definitely comfortable with him as well.”

Posey finally got his opportunity to catch Zito when Sanchez left in the fourth inning with a left knee sprain, and Posey spent the rest of Tuesday’s game calling the shots with that familiar presence of an umpire just over his shoulder.

It was the same position he was in 18 months ago in that cubicle in Bristol, where he said he couldn’t remember how many takes it took him to nail his lines.

“It took a while,” Posey said before cracking a smile and adding, “some of our beat writers (in San Francisco) say that I played annoyed really well.”

These days on the diamond, he’s getting it right on the first take.