SAN FRANCISCO -- Hunter Pence did not view Sunday’s game as his chance to walk off into the sunset. The Giants didn’t, either.
After Pence gave an emotional speech alongside the pitcher’s mound at AT&T Park, the team presented him with a custom scooter, all black with an orange “8” emblazoned on the back. There was only one problem. Pence got on, took off, and then took a disappointed look at the speedometer.
“It’s going to take an hour to get around this stadium at 1.5 mph,” he thought.
The man nicknamed Full Throttle then literally reached for the throttle, zooming along the warning track and saying goodbye to fans who showered him with love throughout his final game in San Francisco.
This day did not go quite as Pence or the Giants hoped it would. They were blown out 15-0 by the Dodgers, finishing off a sweep that guaranteed their NL West rivals a 163rd game, with the division title on the line. Pence went 0-for-4, striking out three times. He received a standing ovation before his first at-bat and swung over the top of a Rich Hill pitch. In the ninth, he had a long at-bat against L.A. youngster Julio Urias but waved at a 3-2 changeup.
None of that will be remembered. The Giants forever will honor Pence for his energy, his enthusiasm, and a positive outlook that was on display even after a two-touchdown loss.
“The darkest hour of the night comes just before the dawn,” Pence told the fans who stayed after the game. “You guys showed unconditional love to us, and we appreciated that. The dawn is coming. Thank you so much.”
With that, Pence was done in orange and black. Nobody would say it, of course, but you don’t hold going away ceremonies on Sept. 30 when you plan to bring a player into camp the next February to compete for a job. Pence wouldn't fully close the door, but he, too, understands what’s next. And he’s ready to work for an opportunity elsewhere.
Pence will head to Los Angeles on Tuesday for intense sessions with Doug Latta, a private instructor who helped make Justin Turner a star and revamped Mac Williamson’s swing last offseason. Pence flew down to work with Latta for four days earlier this season, in the midst of a rehab assignment, but the changes didn’t stick. When push came to shove, and Pence was given at-bats with the game on the line, he felt the right move was to revert to what he knew, not experiment with a runner sitting on third. Now, Pence has the freedom to, as he said, “reinvent myself.”
“I feel strong, I feel healthy, I feel fast. I’m going to work on flexibility and changing my swing completely,” he said. “I want to still play. It’s uncertain -- hopefully I can find an opportunity, and I’m going to look for it. I’m going to do everything I can to be the best I can because I want to come back and contribute to another playoff run.”
None of this will be easy. Pence is 35. He hit .226 this season with just four homers. But he feels like he has more to offer, and he wants to take one last shot at his passion in life. Pence plans to play winter ball in late November, and his representatives are hoping to line up a job in Mexico or the Dominican Republic. After that, perhaps a big league team will call and invite him to camp.
Pence said there wasn’t a point where he thought this would be the end of the road, but there also was uncertainty during a difficult season.
“I wasn’t really doing well, but I think … when I knew I was healthy and strong and fast, I was like, you know what, if I can master my swing (I) can come back and be productive,” he said. “It’s not good if you actually can’t perform, and I truly believe in my heart that I can. I can make this adjustment. I can reinvent myself, and I still love it and I’m still healthy. With all that, it was an easy decision.”
For the Giants, it should be, too. They need to get younger, particularly in the outfield, and it's time to turn the page. But not before one last party. Fans were given placards that said #GR8FUL on them, and Pence was showered with love throughout the day. He said much of it was a surprise. He had no idea what the Giants had in store for him, but when he was handed the microphone, Pence, as he always does, had the right words ready.
First, there was perspective.
“I’m not going to lie, it was tough. This season was tough,” he said. “I’m not going to lie. It was bad.”
Then, a little philosophy.
“When you have an orange and you squeeze it, what are you going to get out of an orange? You’re going to get orange juice,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a good day or a bad day. What are you going to get? Orange juice. When you come to AT&T Park, you’re going to get love, you’re going to get passion. You’re going to get a full stadium. You guys showed that every single day.”
Finally, there was appreciation.
“I love you all,” Pence said. “Thank you so much.”
And then, because this is Hunter Pence, and because this isn’t the end of the road, there was more work to do. After he spoke with reporters, Pence ran off to the gym. Teammates were rushing to red-eye flights and packing up their gear, but Pence doesn’t believe he has a second to waste as he looks for another opportunity. He morphed back into Full Throttle.
“I have no off time,” Pence said as he walked away. “It’s time to get ready.”