Giants

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

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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."

Giants board up Oracle Park ahead of George Floyd protests in San Francisco

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USATSI

Giants board up Oracle Park ahead of George Floyd protests in San Francisco

With protests taking place throughout the Bay Area, the Giants have taken a step to protect their ballpark.

Photos surfaced on social media of Oracle Park windows boarded up.

Protests around the country began in recent days following the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minnesota last Monday.

San Francisco has implemented a curfew beginning at 8 p.m. PT on Monday that lasts until 5 a.m. PT on Tuesday.

The Giants have yet to use Oracle Park this year, as the 2020 MLB season has been put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

[RELATED: Kapler encouraged by players speaking out]

Last week, San Francisco mayor London Breed announced that the city is targeting June 15 for Phase 2 of the reopening plan to go into effect. At that point, professional sports teams could be allowed to start training at their facility.

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Imagining best opponents for Barry Bonds in hypothetical Home Run Derby

Imagining best opponents for Barry Bonds in hypothetical Home Run Derby

There might not be a more perfect candidate for an all-time MLB Home Run Derby than former Giants legend Barry Bonds. His 756 home runs are the most in baseball history, and no single player’s power has been as intimidating as Bonds was in his heyday.

MLB.com recently came up with a hypothetical matchup for Bonds in their “#WhatIf Derby” series, choosing Los Angeles Dodgers star and 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger.

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

It’s safe to say fans clearly favor one side in this showdown of sluggers.

Bellinger’s power is no joke, but he doesn’t hold a candle to Bonds’ prowess at the plate. 

This got us thinking, who would make the most formidable foe for Bonds in an imaginary home run derby?

Sticking with current players, there are plenty of viable candidates to challenge Bonds in a home run-hitting duel.

Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. put on an absolute show in last year’s derby, smashing a ridiculous 40 home runs to overtake Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson in the second round. Guerrero Jr.’s dad famously won the 2007 derby at Oracle Park while playing with the Los Angeles Angels.

Another player who, if fully healthy, could give Bonds a run for his money is New York Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton. While he’s battled injuries in recent years, Stanton’s raw power and force he puts into each swing doesn’t have many parallels in any era of MLB.

[RELATED: Giants' Hunter Pence leads active MLB players in this obscure stat]

Completing the ideal foursome of participants would be Stanton’s New York teammate in outfielder Aaron Judge. The Fresno State product won the 2017 derby in an effort that included four home runs traveling further than 500 feet.

These four sluggers together all in their prime competing in one home run derby would be an unreal scene. There aren’t many in today’s game who even come close to Bonds’ strength in the box, but Guerrero Jr., Stanton and Judge are about as close as it gets.