How Hunter Pence returned home to Giants after one season with Rangers

How Hunter Pence returned home to Giants after one season with Rangers

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- With the full squad finally in place and the construction around the ballpark nearing its conclusion, the Giants finally opened the gates of Scottsdale Stadium to fans on Monday. There was a long line out front at 10 a.m., but with the exception of a playlist heavy on 90s rap, it was pretty quiet on the main field for most of the morning. 

But then Hunter Pence emerged from the cage beyond the right field wall, and fans down the line started to rise and welcome him back to the organization. The applause continued all the way to the plate, and Pence delighted the fans by hitting a high homer to left to kick off his first round of batting practice. 

It's 2020, and for all the change around the organization, there's still one thing the Giants can count on. Hunter Pence, now 36, remains wildly popular. 

"It's great to be back, that's for sure," Pence said upon checking into camp Sunday. "It was a quick process, it popped up late. Everything worked together, and I had some good conversations with Farhan and with Kapler. It was really exciting. 

"Obviously this is a home. I have a lot of history, a lot of friends, a lot of family here. The city feels like we have a great relationship -- I love it so much and I love the fan base."

Pence said the wooing process only started about three weeks before the Giants announced a one-year agreement in the hours before FanFest. It seemed to come out of nowhere, but Pence never gave up on returning to San Francisco. It felt like the Giants were giving him a grand sendoff in 2017, when he rode a custom scooter around the park and gave an emotional speech, but Pence never viewed it that way.

He quietly informed the front office that he would be interested in a reunion after he made some offseason swing changes, but the Giants preferred a different direction. 

Pence went back to Texas, hit .297 with 18 homers for the Rangers, made the All-Star team, and somehow became exactly what his old team was looking for in the weeks before spring training. Farhan Zaidi, Scott Harris and Gabe Kapler knew they needed more help against left-handed pitching, and Pence thumped southpaws last year. 

"Hunter had tangible swing changes that led to an excellent year with the Rangers," Kapler said. "Against left-handed pitching, he was even better. We're going to need to find ways to keep Hunter fresh and healthy and productive, and one of those ways is going to be mixing and matching. Go get the best matchup, but also give Hunter as many opportunities against left-handed pitching as possible while giving him the opportunity to earn more."

Kapler declined to elaborate this early about just how much playing time Pence is expected to get, pointing out that the spring competition is just beginning. For his part, Pence seems willing to take on a new role. He once started 331 consecutive games for Bruce Bochy, a streak that was perhaps counterproductive at times, but the best the Giants may be able to do this year is put him in a left field platoon with Alex Dickerson. 

"I have to put on a new hat," Pence said. "As you grow older and shift into roles, I'm open to putting on whatever hat it takes to help us accomplish being the best team we can."

It's clear the Giants at least checked off enough playing time boxes for Pence that it wasn't a hard decision to return to an organization that's now rebuilding. The San Diego Padres came with late interest and Pence also had an opportunity to go to camp with the Houston Astros, who play in Pence's current hometown, a place where he has opened up a coffee-and-gaming shop that's his hangout spot much of the offseason.

[RELATED: Kapler shares short message to Giants' full spring squad]

But he chose to return to San Francisco, the city where he not only won two titles, but also met and married his wife, Alexis. 

"We definitely had other opportunities and (Houston is) a city that we do live in, but I've only played with one of the players over there," Pence said. "Things just lined up. It makes a lot of sense for me to be here, we're happy to be here. We're thankful for every opportunity that was out there, but we're really happy to be home."

Why Giants' Alex Dickerson finally can play MLB The Show once again

Why Giants' Alex Dickerson finally can play MLB The Show once again

While baseball continues to be on hiatus amid the coronavirus pandemic and MLB comes up with wild Looney Tunes hypothetical ways to start the season, players all across the league are testing out their thumbs. 

This might be the most professional baseball players ever have played the video game, MLB The Show. Giants outfielder Alex Dickerson is among the many players getting on the sticks. 

"That's always kind of been my go-to ever since I was a kid," Dickerson said Wednesday on KNBR's "Murph & Mac Show."

This is an odd time for Dickerson for many reasons. Somehow his video game habits have even gone haywire. 

Yes, he always has been a big fan of gaming. But, he usually has to stay away from MLB The Show. 

"The one of thing I've always avoided is MLB The Show, because the game has gotten too realistic, that if I play it in-season and I'm struggling to pick up curveball down or something, I go home and just re-live the experience of not being able to pick it up," Dickerson said. "So that just frustrates me." 

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That's a totally understandable reason to stay away from the game. Luckily for Dickerson, he put up video-game like numbers in June through July for the Giants after being acquired in a trade with the San Diego Padres. 

From June 21 through July 30, Dickerson hit .386 with six homers and a 1.222 OPS over 19 games. With baseball on break, he's back to playing the game and certainly could be once again in the future if he has another hot streak like last season. 

"I've actually been playing it because I miss baseball so much," Dickerson said. "But yeah, I tend to cut that game out as soon as I'm actually playing."

[RELATED: Giants, fans got Oracle Park's design right, and here's why]

Players aren't the only ones firing the game up, too. Even Giants manager Gabe Kapler is finding ways to learn through MLB The Show. Dickerson isn't surprised, either.

"I can definitely see how he can use it to his advantage," Dickerson said.

Will Clark shares funny story about homer off Nolan Ryan in MLB debut

Will Clark shares funny story about homer off Nolan Ryan in MLB debut

On April 8, 1986, 34 years ago to the date, Will Clark made his major league debut with the Giants.

And it was a debut Clark and everyone else involved won't forget.

Clark's first career at-bat is the stuff of legends.

With the Giants facing the Astros in Houston, Clark had to face Nolan Ryan, one of the most intimidating pitchers in baseball history.

Instead of easing Clark in by putting him at the bottom of the lineup, Giants manager Roger Craig batted the rookie second, guaranteeing a first-inning at-bat.

Rather than striking out against "The Ryan Express," Clark crushed his first career homer in his first at-bat.

In an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area's Amy Gutierrez this past weekend, Clark recalled the scene in the dugout after he rounded the bases.

"So I come in and everyone is excited and I'm high-fiving everybody and we sit down on the bench and there's just like this calm, and nobody was really fired up," Clark said. "Everybody was kind of looking around and [Giants pitcher] Mike Krukow sorta says it best. Everybody's looking around going 'What the hell did he just do?' That kind of thing. Off of Nolan Ryan. Dead center field in the Astrodome.

"So then, I'm sitting there, and like I said, this calm came over me, and I don't know why, I looked at Chili Davis, who was sitting on my left, and I said 'Chili, he's going to drill me next time up?' And he goes 'Oh hell yeah.'

"And the next time up, Nolan's in his wind up and I'm already easing to the ground and it was up and in, but it was just a message pitch."

[RELATED: Giants set to retire Clark's number]

The homer was Clark's only hit of the game, but the Giants went on to win 8-3.

So in his big league debut, Clark homered, didn't get drilled by Ryan and left the Astrodome with a win. Not a bad day for the 22-year-old.