SAN DIEGO — A decade from now, when former Giants gather at AT&T Park to celebrate a dynasty, Hunter Pence may be remembered more for his words off the field than his play on it. As good as he was, as powerful as he was at the plate in his prime, Pence’s enduring legacy will be the speeches he gave in 2012, the motivation he provided over the following years, the ability to grab a microphone and speak from the heart, representing an entire organization in good times and bad.
Buster Posey was the face of the dynasty. Madison Bumgarner was the best player on the field most of the time. But Pence was the one who would be given the stage when a message needed to be sent to fans. He has rarely been at a loss for words, but on Tuesday night, his voice was quiet when he was presented with a question he seems to have been dreading in recent weeks.
Will you play next year?
“We’ll see,” Pence said, not offering anything further.
He has stuck to that message over the final month of a five-year contract signed at the end of the 2013 season. Pence has politely declined requests to talk about his future in baseball, but late in a disappointing year, he has left some in the organization with the belief that he will try to continue his career next season at the age of 36. If he does, he will not get the opportunity to do so in San Francisco.
The Giants know they need to move on. Get younger, more flexible, more dynamic. Pence, traded from Philadelphia at the deadline in 2012, has 10 games left in orange and black. He made the most of a night in San Diego on Tuesday, driving in three runs and hitting a mammoth homer in a 5-4 win over the Padres. While he did not give any hints about his future afterward, he did seem to acknowledge the nature of his future with the Giants.
“I’m trying to enjoy and give everything I have every day, but it is pretty special,” he said. “It’s been an incredible time for me being part of the Giants organization for this long and I’ve loved every bit of it. I’m going to continue to do so until it’s officially over.”
The end will come at home, and while the Giants have not made any official plans, you can bet Pence will run out to right field at least once next weekend, trying to make the most of any at-bats he’s given. He talked Tuesday about making adjustments and working to get better. He has had no trouble finding motivation to do so, even if the scoreboard says he’s hitting .215, and even if the two-run shot Tuesday was just his third in 200 at-bats.
“I’m always motivated,” he said. “I love to play. I love the game. It matters. It matters to all of us.”
This performance certainly mattered to Pence’s teammates. Starter Derek Holland said it was great to see, calling Pence “the perfect teammate.”
“He definitely deserves a lot more praise than he’s been getting,” Holland said.
Let’s offer it, then. Pence has still maintained some tremendous physical gifts. At times, his batting practice displays have put him in the lineup. Members of the staff stand behind the cage and watch him go moonshot-for-moonshot with Madison Bumgarner. They wonder if he can run into one in a game. They lean on hope.
On Tuesday, those hopes were rewarded. Pence’s 437-foot homer gave him two of the five longest bombs of the season for the Giants. It was the second-longest homer of the night in Major League Baseball, and when he smacked a pitch down the right field line two innings later and hustled into second for a double, he had the second-fastest home-to-second time of the night. At 8.08 seconds, Pence nestled in right between speedy Astros outfielder Tony Kemp (8.05) and Rays rookie Joey Wendle (8.08).
Perhaps those are the snapshots that Pence will hold onto this offseason if he goes through grueling workouts. The Giants will remember him for so many other highlights, many in the biggest spots this game has to offer. There’s a reason he still gets standing ovations every time he digs into the batter’s box. There’s a reason his manager smiled when he thought about his right fielder’s big night.
“Good for him,” Bruce Bochy said. “He’s got a different role and he just keeps working and keeping himself ready. It’s good to see him have some success.”