SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For the first time since before he became a professional, Joc Pederson spent the winter in the Bay Area.
The Palo Alto native had already sold his Los Angeles-area home, and could enjoy being closer to family in Northern California. There was just one problem, though: he didn’t have anyone to throw batting practice to him.
Luckily for Pederson, a 2022 National League All-Star, he didn’t have to scroll far in his contact list to find a solution. He reached out to Barry Bonds.
“I asked him if he wanted to hit,” Pederson told KNBR. “I talked to him a little bit during the season last year, and I wanted to pick his brain some more. He said: ‘Whatever you want, I’m here.’ So I texted him, and he showed up every day.”
For about two months this winter before spring training began, three-to-four days per week, Pederson and Bonds met up at Oracle Park to hit. Giants outfielder Austin Slater eventually joined their sessions after hearing about their workouts through Pederson.
If anyone is qualified to teach a PhD-level course on hitting, it’s Bonds. He doesn’t hold regular lectures, but his role as special advisor makes him available for office hours — occasional in-season drop-ins. But this winter, Pederson and Slater enrolled in a more demanding class.
“He helped me with a lot of things,” Pederson said. “He’s really smart, super attention-oriented. Details. Perfection in the cage. He has a high standard and I really enjoyed working with him.”
Bonds would meet Pederson, and later Slater, at Oracle Park midmornings. John Yandle, Bonds’ longtime batting practice pitcher, accompanied them. Yandle, known colloquially as “Cutter John,” would toss live BP to both Pederson and Slater — and even occasionally Bonds.
“Yeah, he brought his batting gloves in,” Slater said of Bonds. “Showed us up a little bit.”
Can the legendary slugger still swing it?
“Oh yeah,” Pederson said.
Through a spokesperson, Bonds declined an interview request.
Pederson and Bonds’ relationship blossomed last May, when the all-time home run leader stopped by at Oracle Park before San Francisco played the Mets. Bonds, Pederson and outfielder LaMonte Wade Jr. talked hitting in the batting cage pregame.
That night, Pederson became the second Giant ever to hit three home runs in a game at Oracle Park. He said talking with Bonds was the best hitting conversation he’d ever had.
From that interaction came the winter workouts.
Much of what Bonds, Pederson and Slater worked on had to do with how to approach situational hitting, Slater said. Bonds, owner of 762 homers, tried to teach the two Giants some of how he thought through at-bats.
“He would be like: what counts do you struggle with?” Slater said. “Do a live at-bat off a BP pitcher where he’s mixing and matching. Just put yourself in those counts, see if you can battle through that. He just loved doing live at-bats. And you could still see the fire, the competitiveness come out when he’d be talking smack to the BP thrower.”
Sometimes, Bonds would step into the batter’s box to demonstrate specifics. Slater said he’s excited to try to incorporate what he took away from the sessions into his game.
Bonds’ involvement in the instruction side is in itself notable. After his 22-year playing career, Bonds’ foray into coaching didn’t go well. He spent seven days as a roving instructor for the Giants in spring training during 2014, then served as a hitting coach for the Miami Marlins for a year.
The Marlins stint — which Bonds called “one of the most rewarding experiences of my baseball career” — was a disaster. The team’s president at the time called him ineffective and questioned his work ethic.
But Bonds’ instincts are undeniable. And if Pederson and Slater respond well to his style, the Giants will certainly be supportive. Manager Gabe Kapler applauded Bonds’ work with Slater and Pederson in a radio interview this February.
“He has so much knowledge,” Slater said. “And, obviously he was one of the best — probably the best — to ever do it. So a lot, like, learning the mental side of what made him click. Some great insights on battling the pitcher and how he thought mentally in different situations. And then also the cues that each hitter needs to figure out for themselves, and what worked for him, on how to be successful in the box.”
Even Bonds’ commitment and generosity with his time says something about the seven-time National League MVP. He didn’t have to reply to Pederson in the first place, after all.
“I think I learned a lot about him,” Pederson said. “He’s very helpful. Do anything, gave me everything he had every single day. He’d have a new secret every day because he’s just so smart. It was fun. I learned a lot.”