SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Pablo Sandoval was in the clubhouse when Hunter Pence stood up and became The Reverend in Cincinnati eight years ago. He was there for all the speeches that followed that month, and he was back at the end of the 2017 season when Pence gave one last emotional speech at Oracle Park.
So it made perfect sense when Sandoval picked Pence to be the best man at his wedding in December. It was the party of the year, so wild that half the attendees were still dancing at the Miami St. Regis when Sandoval and his bride, Yuli, walked out at 9 a.m. the morning after. Except Pence never actually grabbed the mic.
"We didn't have a chance to. We celebrated," Sandoval said Saturday, laughing. "A Venezuelan wedding is different."
The wedding was the highlight of Sandoval's offseason, but the rest of it was focused on hard work. He was determined to make it back quickly after having Tommy John surgery the first week of September, and as he checked into Scottsdale Stadium on Saturday, Sandoval already was swinging from both sides of the plate. He started a throwing program a month ahead of schedule, and while the Giants are aiming for a May return, Sandoval has his sights set on Opening Day.
Entering his 11th big league season with the Giants, Sandoval knows that might not be in the cards. But why not aim high? It seemed incredibly unlikely in the first place that Sandoval would even be here after an emotional final at-bat in September, but he said he never gave up hope.
"I didn't want to make the same mistake that I made before," said Sandoval, who left for the Red Sox after the 2014 title run. "I wanted to stay where I felt comfortable, where my heart felt comfortable. I think I made the right decision."
Sandoval came back to San Francisco because it was home, because the manager essentially was a second father to him. But he wasn't all that concerned when the Giants followed Bruce Bochy with Gabe Kapler. When Kapler flew out to Miami in December to meet with Shaun Anderson and Andrew Suarez, Sandoval met them at an Italian restaurant at Coral Gables and spent part of the 90 minute lunch pitching his case. He followed that up by sending Kapler videos that showed his progress on the field.
The Giants added Sandoval as a non-roster invitee on January 31. About a week later, Pence signed a one-year deal. There might not be a more unlikely image all season than Sandoval showing up to Giants camp in 2020 and settling down in the locker right next to Pence's.
"Having him on my same team is my wish come true," Sandoval said.
The Giants are hopeful those two bring thunder to the bench and production on days when they start. But they're also hoping they lead the clubhouse, and on Saturday, Sandoval was as exuberant as ever. He made a quick lap of the new clubhouse, hugging old friends and introducing himself to younger players. He then grabbed a bat and headed to the cage.
There's a lot more rehab to be done, but Sandoval is bouncing around like someone ready to be on Kapler's bench early in the season, and he hasn't given up on every aspect of his old role. Asked if he will still be allowed to pitch, Sandoval smiled.
"I don't know yet," he said. "I can be a two-way player. That's good."