Giants

Pence to honor coach who 'changed my life in major ways'

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Pence to honor coach who 'changed my life in major ways'

Programming note: The "Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards" -- featuring Bay Area stars Stephen Vogt, Stephen Curry, Hunter Pence, Derek Carr, Torrey Smith and Tara VanDerveer -- will air on Jan. 31 at 7:30pm on CSN Bay Area and at 11pm on CSN California.

SAN FRANCISCO — Hunter Pence walked into Cover All Bases more than a decade ago and asked the owner, Chris Gay, if it was true that players from the University of Texas at Arlington had access to the batting cage. Gay, an alum of UTA, had no idea what he was getting himself into when he said yes.

“I said you can come in anytime you want, not knowing he was going to be there almost every day and every night for eight months straight,” Gay said. “I started throwing him BP and started playing ping-pong with him, and it turned into my wife calling at 11 at night and saying, ‘Send Hunter home, it’s time for you to come home.’”

Gay would start throwing to Pence as his facility was closing down in the evening, and when Pence, who grew up near the Arlington, Texas facility, couldn’t possibly take any more swings, the action would shift to the ping-pong table. The rest of Pence’s development is a bit more well known. He turned into a second-round pick out of UTA, an All-Star with the Houston Astros, and a World Series champion with the Giants.

He has never forgotten those long sessions in the cage, though, and tonight Pence will honor Gay at the “Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards” ceremony, held in San Francisco. The event honors influential coaching figures in the lives of some of the Bay Area’s biggest stars.

Pence is honoring Gay for much more than the tens of thousands of baseballs the former minor league left-hander has thrown to him over the years. He said Gay stands out because of his integrity, his commitment to making the game fun, and the way he treats everyone he comes into contact with.

“I’ve never played on any of his teams but he changed my life in major ways just by being a role model,” Pence said. “Just by being good to people, not only to everyone that comes into his batting cage, but to the community. He lets all these high school kids and college kids come into (Cover All Bases). The way he impacts the community is always something I've admired."

Gay first impacted Pence’s career when he was a senior at Arlington High — but Gay didn’t know what he had done until six years later. Howard Pence, Hunter’s father, walked into Cover All Bases in search of a shortstop glove for Hunter, who had been an outfielder the previous three years. At a time when money was a little tight, Howard asked Gay if he could make a trade for the glove.

“I’ve always said to parents that a kid is not going to not play because they don’t have the money,” Gay recalled. “I’ll find a way to do something. His dad was a really nice guy … I reached down and grabbed a glove and flipped it to his dad.”

Years later, Hunter asked a surprising question during a dinner with Gay.

“He goes, ‘Do you remember some guy asking you for a glove? That was my dad,'” Gay said. “When I found out it was Hunter’s dad, I was kind of shocked.”

The two continued working together even after Pence became a professional. Gay spent three straight winters helping Pence prepare for spring training with the Astros, often simulating intense five-inning games in the cage. Gay recalls a young Pence resembling the "Full Throttle" outfielder Giants fans have fallen in love with over the past four seasons.

“He’s 100 percent all the time,” Gay said. “He’s 100 percent with baseball, it’s his passion. He’s one of those unique players who feels like he has to earn every cent they’re paying him.”

Gay was a left-handed pitcher in the White Sox system for two years — he happened to be in spring training at the same time as Michael Jordan — before starting Cover All Bases. The facility has been open for 19 years, and Gay also coaches three youth teams in addition to helping Pence with his own baseball camp every December in Houston. During Pence’s camp, he sees one of Major League Baseball’s best right fielders show the same kind of dedication that Gay did years ago when Pence came looking for a cage.

“He sits and hits with every single kid in the camp and stays there the entire day,” Gay said. “You won’t find that out of big league guys. He’s there from 8:30 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon.”

As Gay talks of Pence’s passion for teaching, an obvious question comes to mind: Hasn’t the longtime coach ever felt the urge to smooth out some of the wrinkles in Pence’s own swing, one you would never teach at a camp?

“Through all of Hunter’s violence in his swing, if you break it down from the swing point to the end point, it’s really pretty,” Gay said. “It’s just how he gets there. He stays so flat through the zone for a really long time, and he has unbelievable power. Why would you change that? When he hits the ball, it makes a different sound than a lot of people can make.”

For years, the two have talked of taking that sound to a home run derby, but Pence never came close to getting a shot last season. Injuries derailed his year from the start of spring training, but shortly after after the Giants were eliminated, an excited Pence and his then-girlfriend, Alexis Cozombolidis, reached out to Gay via FaceTime. (Gay thought the couple was calling to tell him they were engaged, but his prediction was off by a few weeks.)

“I need you to do me a favor,” Pence told Gay. “They’re doing this awards show in California and they asked me to nominate the person I think is the most influential coach in my life -- and it’s you.”

Pence considers Gay more than just a friend and mentor. As the two prepared to watch the Warriors host the Spurs on Monday night, Pence referred to the 46-year-old Gay as “my second dad.” That made for an easy decision when Pence was asked to give out the award.

“A lot of times those guys that work the hardest aren’t necessarily rewarded,” Pence said of Gay. “But they impact kids in so many ways beyond baseball.”

Giants rookie Steven Duggar delivers in first duel against Clayton Kershaw

Giants rookie Steven Duggar delivers in first duel against Clayton Kershaw

LOS ANGELES — The Giants will face three left-handed starters in this series, and before the first game, manager Bruce Bochy talked of getting some extra work for right-handed-hitting outfielders Gorkys Hernandez and Hunter Pence. A date with Clayton Kershaw seemed a good opportunity to do that, but Bochy instead let rookie Steven Duggar get his first look at the future Hall-of-Famer. 

“I think his at-bats against lefties have been pretty good. He’s got discipline. I’m fine putting him out there,” Bochy said. “He’s going to be playing in games like this, so this is going to be good for him.”

The Giants envision Duggar as their center fielder and leadoff hitter of the future. Ideally, he’ll be capable of starting everyday against lefties and righties, no matter the caliber of opposing arm. Ideally, he’ll also be starting in some pretty important games down the line, and Kershaw vs. Bumgarner at Dodger Stadium was a nice taste of a “big game” feel. 

Duggar said he talked to a few teammates about what it’s like to face Kershaw, but mostly he relied on his own instincts and research. 

“It’s just developing a plan after watching video of past starts and looking at numbers and things of that nature,” he said. “It came to fruition for a couple of at-bats there, so that’s good.”

Duggar’s goal was not to fall behind in counts. That didn’t last long. His first time up, Duggar swung at a first-pitch fastball and then got a big curveball for strike two. But he poked a high fastball up the middle and beat Brian Dozier’s throw to first. Kershaw caught Duggar leaning off first, but he was speedy enough to make it to second before Cody Bellinger’s throw to the bag. 

Duggar didn’t wait around the next time. He got a first-pitch fastball in the sixth and smoked it into right-center. Two batters later, he scored. 

“I did want to be aggressive, but be aggressive on certain pitches,” Duggar said. “I knew his curveball was going to be really tough. I just stuck to my plan and had a good idea of what I wanted to do … just trust (the plan) and try to get the barrel to the ball.”

Of course, this is Kershaw, and eventually he’s going to get to his plan, too. Kershaw quickly jumped ahead 0-2 in their final matchup and threw a wicked slider down and a way for a strikeout. Duggar said the stuff lived up to the hype. 

“He’s Clayton Kershaw for a reason,” he said. “He does not miss his spots often. Every pitch he makes, there’s a purpose behind it.”

The Giants have learned that all too well over the years. Kershaw has a 1.58 ERA against them and few Giants have even an average career line when facing him. Bochy knew that, so he gave his newest starter a shot to prove he belongs. On Monday night, Duggar delivered. 

Giants notes: Crawford in concussion protocol after collision in outfield

Giants notes: Crawford in concussion protocol after collision in outfield

LOS ANGELES — When the Giants got Evan Longoria back last month, they immediately found themselves without Brandon Belt. They’re hoping not to repeat that process.

Belt could be back Tuesday, but it’s unclear if he’ll be taking throws from his usual shortstop. Brandon Crawford collided with Gorkys Hernandez in a nasty fifth-inning collision and was put in the concussion protocol. Manager Bruce Bochy said Crawford was feeling much better after the game, but the Giants know all too well that these things can be unpredictable. 

“It rattled him pretty good,” Bochy said. “For precaution reasons, he came out. He’s in the concussion protocol but he feels pretty good. We’re hoping for the best. We’ll re-evaluate him, but right now it looks pretty good, I’ll say that.”

The Giants have had three players go into the concussion protocol in the last nine days. Buster Posey and Nick Hundley avoided the concussion DL after taking foul tips off the mask. Crawford took a thigh to the face as he chased Clayton Kershaw’s pop-up down the left field line. He went down but quickly popped back up, and at first it looked like Hernandez was in more pain. The left fielder jammed his wrist but stayed in the game. Bochy said Crawford looked shaken as he came off the field. 

Crawford is the club’s most irreplaceable player, so any ability to go on a run here may depend on Tuesday’s evaluation. Alen Hanson took over at short and later gave way to Chase d’Arnaud. 

--- Belt was 1-for-3 with a double in his second rehab game for Triple-A Sacramento. Team officials will now decide if he needs one more game there, or if he’ll face Alex Wood on Tuesday. 

--- It’s been a while since a Bumgarner-Puig showdown, and there wasn’t any drama Monday. Puig flied out in his first at-bat and angrily batted his bat down as he left the box, but Bumgarner simply smiled and shook his head. After Puig popped up in the sixth, the two came close to crossing paths on the infield, but they never looked at each other. 

--- Hundley was the hero tonight. He’s 5-for-12 this season as a pinch-hitter, with a homer and six RBI. 

--- Jeff Samardzija threw a short simulated game and likely will do that one more time before starting a rehab assignment. Samardzija said he feels great. Of course, he said that the last time, too, but there seems to be more confidence with team officials this time that the shoulder is healed. 

--- Tip of the cap to d'Arnaud and his infield coaches. He was out taking grounders at short on the homestand and said it was because you never know when you'll be needed at a new spot. When Hundley pinch-hit for Hanson, d'Arnaud was needed. He moved from second to short and Joe Panik entered as the second baseman.