SAN FRANCISCO — A long line of fans waiting to see Tim Lincecum weaved around the corner and down a hallway on the suite level of AT&T Park.
The popular pitcher had a pile of his baseball cards signed and at the ready to keep the morning moving smoothly at Giants FanFest under blue skies on a crisp, sunny Saturday.
The fact he is even back in the Bay Area is a big deal for The Freak, a longtime fan favorite who helped the franchise capture World Series titles in 2010 and again two years later.
For a few weeks last fall after the season ended without a playoff berth, Lincecum had doubts he would be back with the Giants and prepared himself for the unknowns of free agency. Then, he received a $35 million, two-year contract Oct. 25 to stay put with the only organization he knows.
“Early in the offseason, no,” he said of whether he expected to be back. “But after I signed, yes. … When we got to the point negotiations got finalized, it was just one of those things where I felt like I couldn’t say no. It wasn’t like I owed it to anybody, I owed it to myself. This team wants you, they want you bad and they’re showing that, so reciprocate that in appreciation. I tried to. I’ve been ecstatic about coming back ever since. The familiarities are always going to be the biggest thing for me.”
There’s no drastic new look this season for the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner going into spring training — like that dramatic haircut a year ago — and he went without non-prescription glasses for at least part of this weekend before he heads home to Seattle on Sunday to root for the Seahawks in the Super Bowl from his couch.
“I actually sat on them earlier,” Lincecum said while sporting a gray beanie over his dark hair, noting the specs bent and he needed to tweak them back to wearable form. “There’s no look. It’s just me today.”
Lincecum has learned plenty about tweaking in recent years, from his approach between starts, to his diet and fitness regimen in the offseason and even how he prepares in the film room.
He had little choice.
Lincecum — the Cy Young winner in 2008 and ’09, when he won 18 and 15 games, respectively — went 10-14 with a 4.37 ERA and 193 strikeouts over 32 starts last year, his third straight season with a losing record. But the strides he made down the stretch after a year spent reinventing himself showed the San Francisco brass plenty.
A four-time All-Star, Lincecum is 89-70 with a 3.46 ERA over seven major league seasons since the Giants drafted him 10th overall out of Washington in 2006 and quickly promoted him to the majors in May 2007.
The right-hander pitched the Game 5 World Series clincher at Texas in 2010, when the Giants captured their first championship since moving West in 1958. Then in 2012, Lincecum moved to the bullpen for the playoffs and emerged as a reliable reliever as San Francisco won another title.
Lincecum started studying hitters, acknowledging, “It was one of those things I didn’t want to admit that I needed.”
No question he is still loved in his adopted hometown.
Lincecum received a rousing ovation when he was announced on the field Saturday, when he made his way through the ballpark with a police escort to regular cheers of “Timmy!” When the season ended, CEO Larry Baer and others took turns meeting with Lincecum and letting him know how much the Giants wanted to keep him.
“Before our very eyes we’ve seen an amazing maturity,” Baer said Saturday. “That’s one of the reasons we wanted to bring him back.”
Now, the Giants go forward with an experienced, talented rotation featuring Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Hudson, Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong.
Lincecum said he was anxious about his future after the season.
“I left myself in my thoughts too much. I had too much time to think about what was going on, even if it wasn’t that much time,” he said. “For me, it was obviously a big decision, that seventh year coming out and where you want to go, how people will perceive you — your family, your friends, fans. Those things are small factors.”
As he prepares for another season, Lincecum has plans to approach Hudson with a few questions when they meet up at spring training in two weeks.
“How do you throw a sinker?” Lincecum said, grinning and at ease in the very place he feels he best belongs.