Flashback to the summer of 2012.
The San Francisco Giants had captured the World Series title two years earlier against Texas in five games, the first championship for the team since 1954 when then then-New York Giants defeated Cleveland.
San Francisco’s season in 2012, though, paralleled a roller coast ride, but two key trades began to propel the team toward the Fall Classic. One of those players breathing life into the Giants like a paramedic conducting live-saving CPR was Hunter Pence, who was traded by the Phillies to the City by the Bay on July 31.
Pence, who expressed fond memories of Reno when he rehabbed with the Sacramento River Cats in 2018, spoke Jan. 18 at the annual Bobby Dolan Dinner, the major fundraiser for the University of Nevada’s baseball team. A sold-out crowd packed the Row Reno Ballroom.
The 40-year-old Texas native, now an analyst on the MLB (Major League Baseball) Network, loves America’s pastime, and his enthusiasm remains contagious.
“It’s such a wonderful opportunity and honestly, I love the game of baseball and the opportune time to talk to the college kids,” he said.
Pence addressed the Wolf Pack players before dinner.
“The work ethic to be a college baseball player and go to school … its tremendous,” he said, adding he enjoys sharing his views. “It’s a joy coming here to share my baseball journey and share with them and root them on to a great season.”
Second-year Nevada coach Jake McKinley said Pence delivered a valuable message because he competed and won at the highest level. Pence didn’t think he was the best-looking player on the field. McKinley said hearing Pence’s story is relatable.
“He wasn’t the most gracious looking player or the flashiest player,” McKinley said. “There are guys on the (Nevada) team who are in the same boat, but they find ways to be good.”
Since he retired, Pence has continued to be a student of the game. Pence said he’s always learning about the game and enjoys speaking before groups.
“It means the world to me because this (baseball) is the part of our nation,” he said.
While the Wolf Pack players soaked up what Pence told them, he said he loves learning from them. Pence said he hopes they “empower their mind and empower their work ethic” to become better players.
Through his work ethic, Pence rose from a player at the University of Texas at Arlington to a World Series champ. In 2004, Pence was selected as the Southland Conference player of the year, and he led the league in batting with a .395 average. He progressed quickly and was named the National League Rookie of the Month for May 2007. Two years later he was an All-Star, a feat he repeated in 2011 and 2014.
Pence also is part of Giants’ lore. He received the Willie Mac award in 2013.
Named after the legendary Giants player Willie McCovey, the award is presented to the most inspirational player on the Giants and voted by the team’s players, coaches, training staff and fans.
Although no player wants to be sent to the minors to rehabilitate an injury, Pence said he enjoyed his short time playing in Reno when he and another former Giants player, Joe Panik, were in the lineup against the Aces during a June 2018 series.
For Pence, though, the time in Reno offered him a reunion with his former Phillies batting coach Greg Gross, the Aces manager at the time.
“He was an amazing person to work with. What a tremendous hitting mind and a great person to be around,” Pence said. “He’s one of the many good ones out here in the baseball world. I’m happy we crossed paths in Philadelphia and when I was playing at the Reno Aces.”
Pence said Gross was a good teacher, and the advice given to him carried over to the Giants during the team’s championship runs.
The advice paid off for Pence in a career that began with the Houston Astros in 2007 and ended with the Giants in 2020. He played in 1,707 games, drove in 942 runs, hit 244 home runs with a .279 batting average. One statistic that goes unnoticed were his 324 doubles.
With the college season weeks away and spring training beginning for the Majors in February, Pence gave a quick analysis of the upcoming year, noting the Los Angeles Dodgers two huge signings — Shohei Ohtani agreed to a record 10-year, $700 million deal in December, and Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto inked a 12-year, $325 million contract.
“I know they brought in some amazing talent,” Pence said. “It’s going to be really good for the game of baseball. Does it guarantee them a World Series championship? Who knows? But they will be a force to be reckoned with for a while.”
Pence said having great players on a team may not guarantee success.
“Baseball is one of those game where you have to catch lightning no matter how talented you are.”
Although the Dodgers are the preseason favorite, Pence still roots for the Giants. San Francisco signed several pitchers including Jordan Hicks, who previously played for St. Louis and Toronto, and Robbie Ray, who had spent parts of the 2015 and 2016 seasons in a Reno Aces uniform.
Pence also said he can’t wait to see Giants pitchers Logan Webb and Alex Cobb in action for the 2024 season.
“I love the Giants,” Pence said.