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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.

The ring is thick and heavy, and it's yellow gold. It lives on the right ring finger of Giants general manager Brian Sabean, the man who made the World Series championship team happen.

You would understandably conclude that Sabean wears the 2010 World Championship ring. If you conclude that, you are wrong. The Giants haven't even distributed the 2010 rings yet.

The ring Sabean wears is from the 2002 National League Championship. You remember 2002. The Giants seemed to have the World Series won, but to their horror the Angels fought back and beat them in seven games.

Will Sabean exchange the 2002 ring for the World Series ring when it arrives? He hesitates, stares at his hand.

"Umm, that's a hell of a question," he says. "I'm not sure."

Why would he hesitate?

"This one has a lot of sentimental attachment,"Sabean says. "First time, maybe. Even more so because we lost, and within that there's a constant drive to remind you how fleeting things are, how fallible things can be.

"That's not to say I won't wear the World Series ring. I don't know I'll wear it every day like I've worn this one."

So the 2002 ring symbolizes almost making it. It symbolizes the value of the journey, regardless of the result. And it symbolizes how fragile baseball and life are, and how challenging the Giants' upcoming season may be.

The 2010 World Series victory was the Giants' first since emigrating from New York in 1958. Now they are defending world champions, and they want to repeat. To repeat is daunting. It's something no National League team has done since the Cincinnati Reds in 1976.

Was winning the World Series the culminating moment of Sabean's baseball life?

Again an unexpected hesitation.

"This may sound crazy," he says. "I don't know that it was as big or grand as I expected. It was very humbling. It took us to the last game of the season to win the division.

"Now, you don't think so much about defending the World Series because it's so lofty and that's so far off into the distance," Sabean said. "You think about how you can defend winning the Western Division."

How have things changed now that the Giants are world champions?

"We were joking, coming to camp, what might go on as far as extra media or what it meant to be looked at in a different light. It's not all that different.

"It teaches us that the game is East Coast-centric. If you came in here after traveling on a year-long safari in Africa and knew nothing about the events of last year, you would not know there was any difference."

East Coast-centric?

"We were joking about the Phillies' press conference they chose to have, I guess, because of all the interest with their starting pitchers. Somebody told me they had 200 media people there. And they didn't even get to the Word Series.

"That puts things in perspective. In some ways, that helps us, because again we're allowed to go about our business. As offbeat as this group is, they're low key. They're respectful of what happened and how hard it was. They're determined to try and do it again.

"They know the first step is to get in the playoffs. The second is you've got to get through the first round, which is very treacherous. Five games, and you hope to be the hot team.

"In those three series (in the 2010 playoffs), starting with Atlanta, I don't know that anybody had us as favorites.

If you count the last game of the season (against San Diego), which to me was a playoff game, we were 12-4 when it counted. We never faced elimination. We won all the series on the road.

"This group's mindful of what happened, and they also know there's a lot of work to do because there was a lot of work to do last year just to get in that position."

Sabean lets his case rest. He has spoken a long time for him, given his philosophy of baseball and repeating.

Now he wants time alone with his work and his thoughts and his ring.

You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com. For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.