SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It's 4 a.m. on a crisp Tennessee winter morning, and while the sun is still asleep Giants pitcher Matt Cain is ready for a day with his buddies, shooting the breeze and shooting birds. No politicians in sight. With his strong right arm and accuracy, Cain could probably make feathers fly with a fastball, but he's armed instead with a Benelli pump-action, 12-gauge shotgun, wearing full camouflage gear instead of orange and black, and with decoys bobbing on the water, he awaits the ducks to fly.
There's one now. Boom. Lunch. It's a newfound activity for the 21-year-old rookie, one far removed from the pressures of baseball, and that's the idea. "In the offseason, I did some golfing and went hunting for deer but mostly ducks with friends. It's a lot of work getting up so early and doing all the stuff, but my buddies and I are into it and I can't quit," said Cain, loving the freedom and fun of the outdoors. "We're out in the middle of nowhere, hanging," said. "It's fun, and after cleaning the ducks and cooking them with bacon, they're pretty good." Oh yes, Cain is careful. Very careful. There are strict laws out there, and he and his pals adhere to the rules and regulations and safety requirements of the sport. "There are all kinds of laws," said Cain. "The ducks are flying state to state, so it's federal, and game wardens have more authority than local police. They can take your truck, your guns. They can be pretty strict. "I love doing it, and it's something I'll keep doing as long as I can. It's mid-February now, and the young pitcher is in a different sporting environment, preparing for another day of spring workouts at Scottsdale Stadium, where once he briefly appeared as a 19-year-old, basically wondering what the heck he was doing there. Admittedly immature as a person and pitcher then, the Giants' first pick in the 2002 draft struggled against big-league hitters and to articulate his feelings playing with the big boys. Not any more.
Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.