FRESNO -- To many Giants fans, Eli Whiteside will always be the gray-haired backup catcher who wore a Grateful Dead T-shirt to two World Series parades.
Whiteside is no longer employed by the Giants and no longer in the major leagues. But he still has the T-shirt.
"I wear it around the house every now and then," Whiteside said with a grin.
A familiar face to Giants and Fresno Grizzlies fans since 2008, Whiteside returned to Chukchansi Park this week as a member of the Round Rock Express.
In a pregame ceremony before Tuesday's series opener, Whiteside received his 2012 World Series ring from Grizzlies manager Bob Mariano.
"It was nice to get it and nice to see it," said Whiteside, 33. "Everybody congratulated me and wanted to take a look."
Five years ago, such a scenario was hard to imagine. Whiteside arrived in Fresno in May 2008 after Minnesota cut him from its Triple-A roster.
Whiteside spent the rest of the season with the Grizzlies, splitting time with Steve Holm, Dayton Buller and Todd Jennings, before the Giants gave him a shot in 2009. He spent 2010 in the majors, including the playoffs, as the backup to Bengie Molina, and later to Buster Posey.
The Giants sent Whiteside back to Fresno last year. He did play 12 games in the majors, enough for a second World Series ring.
"The longer I play, the more I realize how much of it is just being in the right place at the right time," Whiteside said. "There's a lot of guys in Triple-A who are as talented as some guys in the big leagues right now. It's just, do they get an opportunity?"
After the Giants cut him during the offseason, Whiteside went through a transaction whirlwind.
The New York Yankees claimed him Nov. 3, only to waive him before the end of the month. For a few days, he was property of the Toronto Blue Jays. He ended up with Texas and assigned to Triple A.
"It was crazy and kind of a headache," he said, "but it's also nice to know there's interest in me."
In 56 games with the Express, Whiteside is hitting .168 with 21 RBIs. He is best known for defense, calling games and working with pitchers. (Remember Jonathan Sanchez's 2009 no-hitter? Whiteside was behind the plate.)
Whiteside realizes he's nearing the end of his playing career. He has spoken with wife Amy about coaching but frets over being away from his young sons, Whit and Wake.
The Mississippi native hopes to reach the majors again but is content with his place in Giants lore.
"When I walked around town in San Francisco, everybody knew who I was and said they appreciated me and what I did for the team," he said. "I'll always remember that."