'Game of Thrones' final season has united Giants in different ways

Alex Pavlovic

'Game of Thrones' final season has united Giants in different ways

SAN FRANCISCO -- Before the bottom of the ninth inning last Saturday, with the Giants trailing the Reds 5-4, an organization full of "Game of Thrones" watchers merged that passion with the new $10 million scoreboard.

The Giants have long made personalized comeback videos to show late in close games and on Saturday they put Giants and Reds logos over the faces of two key Thrones characters while showing the most important scene of the Battle of Winterfell. In the corner of the screen, Bran Stark sat in his wheelchair, wearing a Giants cap.

Many in the crowd cheered when the digitally altered scene was over, but in the dugout, players scrambled to look away.

"At least give us a spoiler alert!" shortstop Brandon Crawford said later. "I was watching to see what it was and then was like, 'Nope. Nope.' I looked away. The same thing happened to Pillar."

This is where we must stop and point out that unlike the stadium operations folks, we would like to avoid accidentally giving out spoilers.

So if you don't want to know any plot twists, feel free to close your browser window now. Otherwise, you might end up like Travis Bergen.

The rookie left-hander, like several teammates, has only recently started watching Thrones. Bergen is currently through two seasons and has been on a quick pace since starting his binge last week in Denver. He likes the show. One day, he mentioned to veteran watcher Sam Dyson that he thought Khal Drogo was a pretty cool character.

"Oh," Dyson replied. "He hasn't died yet?"

Yes, when it comes to this cultural phenomenon, the Giants are no different than their fans. Some spend Sunday afternoons avoiding social media so they don't see spoilers before they can get to a TV. Other players, like so many across the country, are quickly binging the show after seeing the final season take over so much of this country's collective conversation.

And then, of course, there are those who simply never got into Thrones and don't know what all the fuss is about. 

"I watched 15 minutes one time," one player said. "I saw a threesome and a dragon shooting fire and that was enough for me."

The dragons -- or dragon, at this point -- came up time and again in interviews. Several players pinpointed that fantasy aspect as a reason they never got into the show. Even president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, a self-described "TV buff who watches everything" was turned off by Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion. 

The show first came out when Zaidi worked for the A's, and his boss at the time, Billy Beane, implored him to watch. Zaidi finally gave in, with one rule. 

"I said the second I see a dragon, I'm out," he recalled, laughing. 

Zaidi lasted just one season. When Daenerys emerged from a fire with three baby dragons, his watch had ended.

Zaidi's introduction to Thrones came with a fellow executive in his ear, but most recent Giants bingers have found a teammate pushing them. Joe Panik was mentioned most often as the player who has convinced teammates to give the show a shot.

Brandon Crawford started watching on the trip through Pittsburgh and Washington D.C. and said he averages about three episodes per day on the road (at home, the pace is much slower for the father of four). When the Giants and Rockies were rained out last week, Crawford made it through three episodes.

Kevin Pillar is right behind Crawford. On a new team, with early road trips through rainy cities, Pillar decided to finally give the show a shot. "Everyone was talking about it and I never heard anyone say anything bad," he said (we can revisit this quote after he watches the final season). As Crawford talked about their dual progress, he joked that Pillar had fallen a bit behind because he needed to take a break.

"He just watched The Red Wedding," Crawford said, no further explanation necessary. 

A few of Pillar's new teammates will hit that point soon. Mac Williamson plans to start watching. Steven Duggar saw Derek Holland, Drew Pomeranz and Dereck Rodriguez gathering across the hotel hall to watch an episode when the Giants were in Cincinnati and decided to join. When the hour was over, he downloaded the HBO Go app. Bergen picked it up a couple days later. 

"They just tried to attack King's Landing and then they threw all that green slime in the water," he said Wednesday, his eyes lighting up as he recalled the Battle of the Blackwater.

Getting into Thrones this late can be rewarding, but it also can lead to landmines. The MLB schedule put the Giants on the road for three of the final season's episodes. They will be flying back from Phoenix on Sunday night while many Thrones fans immediately take to Twitter to discuss the final episode.

"Just don't check your phone," said Stephen Vogt, who sometimes sits next to Panik on team flights to discuss developments. "I'm not crazy about it, but still, you can't really check your phone."

Vogt, Panik and Evan Longoria are generally pointed to as the clubhouse's biggest fans. Vogt got into the show in 2014 when he was hurt and had to go to extended spring training, where there is very little in the form of entertainment. Longoria has been watching since the beginning, but he will be a few days behind for the final episode since he's waiting to watch with his wife. Panik plans to shut his phone down Sunday until he can get home, make some popcorn, and watch with his wife, also a big fan.

"The tricky part was when we were in Toronto," Panik said. "We flew in that night and HBO's app doesn't work in Canada, so we had to wait for that one. I'm not very active on social media but that was the tough one where you had to wait. We've gotten lucky with a lot of the Sundays but this Sunday is going to be tricky. We're probably going to be getting home right around 9 o'clock, so I'll be avoiding the phone.

"It's tough. On Instagram I saw a leak of the Missandei (death) and was like, 'I hope this isn't real.' You have to be really careful checking social media, even a couple of days before."

For some, though, leaks don't matter. 

"I watch but I don't care about spoilers," Holland said. "You could tell me Jon died or Dany died this week and I would still watch. It's entertaining."

Which leads us to the finale. If you've been along for the ride this long, you have your own personal predictions and preferences for Sunday's outcome. Longoria thinks Jon has to win. Holland predicted that Arya or Jon will be sitting on the Iron Throne. Vogt picked Jon or the Stark family, with the caveat that maybe Dany will keep her hot streak going, win it all, and then just end up being really lonely.

"I think Sansa and Tyrion. I'm not saying they're getting married, but they're going to somehow be there in the end," Panik predicted. "They haven't gone to Sansa in a while and she was too important to the show to just disappear. It's like with Arya in the third episode where she disappeared and then out of nowhere she was there. Sansa is going to have something to do with it. She always wanted to be in that life."

As Panik pulled his jersey on, he added one more thought. 

"But then again, the Starks never do well in the South," he said. 

No matter what happens Sunday, the Giants will celebrate the show on Monday with a special promotion giving some fans a House of Bochy bobblehead.

The organization is full of Thrones fans, and that has come through in promotional materials and the fact that the Iron Throne visited Oracle Park once already and will again this season. In the clubhouse, the Giants have a mannequin that shows players which jersey they are wearing for every home game, and every time a clubhouse employee changes the jersey, he has to take a replica of The Hound's mask off the head. 

That was a gift from former Giant Hunter Pence, who was all-in on Thrones and has continued that with the Rangers, where he holds watch parties for teammates and goes on a local radio show to discuss each episode.

[RELATED: Giants quarter-season review: Compete vs. tear it down]

The cool thing about so many current Giants being at different points of the show is that the conversation can continue long after Sunday's final scene. There is plenty of free time on flights and in the clubhouse, and naturally, because of what the Giants do when they're not binging, the discussion will occasionally turn to baseball. Panik started laughing as he recalled the Night King knocking a dragon out of the air with a spear.

"You know," he said, "The Night King really had a good launch angle."

Tyler Austin, Mike Yastrzemski positives in uninspiring Giants loss

Tyler Austin, Mike Yastrzemski positives in uninspiring Giants loss

LOS ANGELES -- Giants Bruce Bochy met with the media a couple of hours before Wednesday's 9-2 loss to the Dodgers, and when a reporter brought up Shaun Anderson's first-inning issues, the manager smiled and politely cut the question off. 

"His issues?" Bochy said. "The team's, but go ahead ..."

Yes, it is indeed the team. Bochy keeps hoping something will change, but his starting pitchers seem incapable of flipping that switch. The Giants were allowing a 1.058 OPS to opposing hitters in the first inning -- that would rank fourth in the Majors for an individual hitter -- even before Drew Pomeranz gave up three runs in a very loud opening frame on Wednesday. 

Pomeranz would be charged with seven runs and a whole lot more exit velocity in the loss, as the Giants failed to take advantage of forearm discomfort that knocked Dodgers starter Rich Hill out after just one inning. 

This was, in every respect, more of the same. So let's change it up. Here are three things you can feel good about after a game like that:

--- Tyler Austin hit his sixth homer and played solid defense. 

Austin took right-hander Yimi Garcia deep to right-center, hitting a home run that just kept carrying and carrying, catching outfielders Alex Verdugo and Cody Bellinger by surprise. The Giants don't hit a lot of homers like that. 

Austin had been in a 1-for-20 skid coming into the game, but he's slugging .447 and has started to look much more comfortable in left field. Perhaps he's someone who can be a useful piece for the future. 

The most important part of that will be his ability to play left field, and after a slow start because of elbow soreness and bad weather that kept him from doing outfield drills, Austin has looked much better. The last two games have been his two best defensively since coming over from Minnesota. 

"It's just working in practice. That's the big thing," Austin said of the change. "I feel like it's coming along and getting better every day. I'm starting to feel pretty good out there. Hopefully we can keep that going."

Bochy has always believed Austin -- a DH/1B type in the AL -- has a chance to play out there. 

"He's getting better and better out there," the manager said. "He can run, he's got range, there's no reason why he shouldn't be a good left fielder."

[RELATED: Giants sign 23 draft picks; still waiting on Bishop, others]

--- Speaking of left field, Mike Yastrzemski has been much better than the other former River Cats and minor leaguers the Giants have run through this season. Yaz was a last-minute replacement for Steven Duggar, who has a tight lower back, and hit a solo blast off lefty Caleb Ferguson in the sixth. 

Overall, Yastrzemski has a .250/.316/.426 slash line while playing good defense wherever Bochy puts him. It's early, but he looks capable of being part of the outfield mix next year. Like Austin, he should get plenty of starts in the second half as Farhan Zaidi and Co. try to evaluate what they really have. 

--- I could not get to a third positive thing. Sorry. Here is a video of me eating a hot dog with bologna on it and immediately regretting some life choices. 

Giants sign 23 MLB draft picks, but still waiting on top selections


Giants sign 23 MLB draft picks, but still waiting on top selections

LOS ANGELES -- The Giants announced on Wednesday that they have signed 23 MLB draft picks, although the list is missing the biggest names. 

First-round pick Hunter Bishop, selected 10th overall earlier this month, has not signed yet. Second-round pick Logan Wyatt and fourth-rounder Tyler Fitzgerald are still playing in the College World Series with Louisville and thus cannot sign. Fitzgerald hit a home run Wednesday as the Cardinals beat Auburn. Eighth-round pick Caleb Kilian also is still playing.

The highest selection to sign thus far is center fielder Grant McCray, a third-round pick who is the son of former big leaguer Rodney McCray. Grant was one of nine position players the Giants drafted on the first two days of the draft, something the franchise had not done in 50 years. 

[RELATED: How Ramos' elite numbers compare to current Giants stars]

Overall, the Giants have signed 15 of their first 20 selections. Trevor McDonald, an 11th-round pick out of high school, also remains unsigned. It's possible that is connected to the top picks -- the Giants might need a bit of excess slot money to lock up a high school arm. 

The Giants did not have any concerns at the time of the draft about their ability to sign Bishop, a star outfielder at Arizona State. They still don't anticipate any problems.