Sports Corner

Hunter on the wall

At a pregame ceremony on Saturday afternoon, Sept. 17, Hunter Pence joined the fraternity of San Francisco Giants’ elite when a plaque in his honor was added to the team’s Wall of Fame. True to form, he accepted it in an unconventional way.

Rather than emerging from the Giants’ dugout when his name was called by M.C. Renel Brooks-Moon, Pence entered from an opening in the left-field wall, riding his signature scooter, and zoomed along the warning track, high-fiving fans in the front row, before parking behind home plate.

After former teammates Michael Morse, Gregor Blanco, and George Kontos shared glowing memories from the podium in front of the pitcher’s mound, the man of the moment stepped up to the microphone to address the crowd. “I’m overjoyed and delighted to be part of the Wall of Fame of this historic franchise in this great city,” said Pence. “Giants fans, you have passion, you have creativity, you have love, and I appreciated every moment here. It was a dream come true to play in front of you.”

When Pence was acquired by the Giants at the July 31 trading deadline in 2012, he never envisioned that he would find his true baseball home. Not that he hadn’t been a hit elsewhere. When he debuted with Houston in 2007, the Texas native was the local boy who made good, earning All-Star honors twice as an Astro. In Philadelphia, where he played in 2011 and the first half of 2012, he was so popular that they still held Hunter Pence Bobblehead Day two weeks after he was traded to the Giants.

“I enjoyed every place I played,” said Pence in an interview prior to his special day. “But in San Francisco, I aligned really well with the organization and the team. The group we had accomplished history, winning the World Series twice. I also connected really well with the fan base and the city at large. It all really aligned with the fabric of my soul. The mentality of the Bay Area helped me be myself more. I’m admittedly a bit quirky and at times a little strange. The open-mindedness here was a perfect fit for me. It allowed me the freedom to be myself, and showed me it’s beautiful to be a little bit different.”

Pence’s playing style, a splendid blend of exuberance and intensity, earned him the respect of his teammates and a singular place in the hearts of Giants fans. Fellow Wall-of-Famer Jeffrey Leonard said, “There are very few players I’d pay to see play. Hunter was one of them. Beyond being a star, he was an impact player, which is far more important to a team’s success.”

Who can forget the impromptu team pep rally “The Reverend” led in the dugout at Cincinnati, when the Giants were down 0-2 in the 2012 NLDS against the Reds and faced elimination? It ignited them to win the final three games and advance in the playoffs. And who can forget his bat-shattering 3-run single in Game 7 of that year’s NLCS, staking San Francisco to a 5-0 lead en route to 9-0 pennant-clincher against the St. Louis Cardinals? Giants fans never forget.

A Giants All-Star in 2014, Pence takes the greatest pride and pleasure from those two World Series titles (2012 and 2014). “Whatever I accomplished personally on the field pales by comparison,” said Pence. “My entire focus was to win the whole thing, and inspire greatness among the city, my teammates, and the fans. I prayed on that, and couldn’t be happier that it worked out that way.”

The row of plaques along the King Street wall at Oracle Park was the brainchild of the late Peter Magowan, his final touch to the ballpark before retiring as the Giants managing general partner in 2008. It was essential to Magowan that the plaques be placed outside the park, so fans wouldn’t need to buy a ticket to view them.

It’s not uncommon to spot a fan having a picture taken beside the plaque of a favorite player from the past. Now the newer generation of Giants fans can take selfies next to the rectangular bronze image of Hunter Pence.

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