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Hunter Pence is back: ‘My heart’s always open to San Francisco’

Kiel Maddox-USA TODAY Sports

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — All-Star with the Giants. Declining former star. Departed veteran. Rangers flier. Rangers All-Star. Free agent. Best man. Beloved Giant once more.

“I’m here to give everything I have,” Hunter Pence said Saturday. “I have to put on a new hat as you grow older and shift into roles, and I’m open to put on whatever hat it takes to help us accomplish being the best team we can.”

Pence’s hat has changed again, and in a season that will be long, his brightness tried to light up spring training in his first day in Scottsdale.

Last season Pence, who had an emotional farewell — he called it a “grateful goodbye” — to finish 2018 with the Giants, resurrected himself. He had worked tirelessly in the offseason leading up to 2019, even playing in the Dominican Winter League, recreating a swing with more uppercut that breathed life into a dying career.

He crushed lefties, made the All-Star team, missed much of the second half with a back injury and became a curious free agent, who will turn 37 in April. The very-much rebuilding Giants, who will appreciate the ticket bump they get by employing him, reached out for several reasons, the most-stated being an ideal part-time bat. After about “two-ish” weeks, Pence said, he did what most thought was a pipe dream. Pence, who acknowledged he had other options and hinted at an offer from his nearly hometown Astros, returned to his other home.

“It’s always in my mind. I was open to everything. I didn’t know the Giants’ thoughts on anything other than they weren’t interested in me last year,” said Pence, who understood the state of the team and left with no ill-will. “… My heart’s always open to San Francisco.”

As it was to Pablo Sandoval, whose no-expense-spared wedding was the rage of Miami in December. Pence was Best Man, though he didn’t give a speech — too many bands, too much dancing, too much to celebrate for such formal speeches.

Now the two, both long shots for reunions, have lockers a few feet apart. Sandoval said he lasted at the wedding until about 7 a.m. He beat Pence.

“We had a blast until about 4:30,” said the Giant from 2012-18. “At that time I was so foggy, I couldn’t dance anymore, I wasn’t moving, I wasn’t even making sense talking. So I was like, I think it’s time for me to go to bed.”

With a fresh mind and body — Pence said he was feeling good, using the offseason to rehab rather than refine his stroke — Pence will wear yet another hat. He’s part platoon outfielder, the righty complementing Alex Dickerson well, provided health on both ends. He’s part coach, and younger players were introducing themselves to him around the clubhouse.

He’s part living, breathing positivity, a natural extension of Gabe Kapler’s staff’s intense mindset of improvement. He said he would fill whatever role that is asked of him.

“I definitely have learned a whole bunch, not only about baseball but about life. As you play each season you learn more and more,” Pence said before listing off the organization’s buzzwords that he personifies. “I’m happy to give everything I have for Kapler, to learn everything, keep that growth mindset, build that culture of connection, of collective belief, of collective preparation.”


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