So before I really get into how excited I am to be joining the Giants, and how awesome it’s going to be to play for fans in the Bay Area, allow me to share my favorite Hunter Pence story with you.
It involves yoga.
Hunter and I became friends a few years ago when we were teammates on the Astros. Back then, I used to do yoga four or five times a week to help increase my flexibility. I’m talking hot yoga, the Bikram kind — 90 minutes, 105°, the whole deal.
It’s not for everyone, but I love it.
So one day the two of us were talking, and Hunter started asking me all about yoga. Like question after question. He was really interested, almost fascinated by the whole thing.
“Why don’t you join me for a session and try it out?” I said. With that, his eyes kind of lit up.
As Giants fans know, Hunter is one of the most intense guys you’ll ever meet. He does everything at 110%. Everything. He’ll run through a wall if he has to. And he was so pumped for that session. I mean, he was ready to go.
Then they turned up the heat.
After about five or 10 minutes, I take a peek over at Hunter, and he looks like he’s about to die. He’s drenched in sweat and just … struggling. But he gives me this look like, It’s cool. Everything’s O.K. It’s just yoga.
The competitor in him wouldn’t give in to the heat, or allow him to pace himself. So he’s over there trying to max out every single pose. Just trying to nail everything. And, you know, during your first yoga class that’s nearly impossible to do.
Ultimately he made it through. But by the end of the session, he looked like a sack of potatoes. As he stumbled out of the room, I asked him if he was all right.
He played it cool.
“Yep. Of course. That was great, man. Good stuff.”
So we take off and head out, and I don’t think anything of it.
The next day, Hunter calls me up.
“Mark, that was the craziest workout ever,” he says. “I could barely stand up after that. And get this, on my way home I pulled into a parking lot and I was so out of it that I backed my car into the front bumper of another car. Dude, the bumper actually fell off! Like the whole way off. I’ve never done that before. I couldn’t believe it. Hot yoga is crazy, man. It cost some poor guy his bumper!”
As it turns out, I’m pretty sure that was the last time Hunter Pence and I did Bikram yoga together. We still laugh about it to this day.
A few weeks ago, when I was deciding where to sign, Hunter was one of the first Giants’ players to get in touch. But he was far from the only one from the organization who reached out to me.
Before the free-agency period started, I didn’t really think all that much about how things would go, honestly. I’m not the type to fixate on the future, or to agonize about some upcoming decision. I figured everything would just work itself out.
A bunch of players told me that I needed to prepare for what was to come because it could get rough. They said not to get too upset if I didn’t hear from any teams early on. “That’s just the way it goes,” I was told. “Don’t let it get to you.”
But I kind of shrugged it off. Teams will get in touch when they’re ready, I thought. Makes no real difference to me.
And then, as soon as the first day of free agency rolled around, my phone buzzed.
It was a text from my agent saying that the Giants had contacted him and were extremely interested in bringing me to San Francisco. They wanted me to visit the city as soon as I could and were looking forward to showing me what makes that team so special.
I was humbled that an organization I’ve always respected, as an outsider, was showing interest in me so early in the process. It felt like everything I had worked so hard for throughout my career was being rewarded.
Then, a few weeks later, when everything came together and the signing news broke, the calls and texts from my new teammates started rolling in. It was a tremendous feeling to be welcomed like that.
Two points seemed to come up again and again in those messages. The first one usually went something like this:
You’re gonna love playing at our place!!!
And that’s probably one of the things I’m most looking forward to.
I love that ballpark.
Just having the park right there on the water, and the view of the Bay … it’s so cool that my family and I will be able to call that place my home field.
I’m so excited for the first time I get the chance to run on the field at AT&T Park to close out a game for the Giants. I know I’ll have goose bumps, and the adrenaline is going to be through the roof. But I also know the stadium is going to be sold out, the fans are going to be behind me and they are going to be on their feet until the last out of the game. In that moment, more than anything, I’ll be grateful — grateful for the opportunity to be pitching for such a wonderful franchise in such a cool setting.
Not a lot of folks know this, but the first time I ever set foot in AT&T wasn’t as a player, it was as a spectator. I was in college at Arizona, and we were playing against Cal, so our team went to watch a Giants game. As a bunch of college students, we obviously went with the cheapest seats, but even in the nosebleeds I was blown away by the atmosphere.
Just having the park right there on the water, and the view of the Bay, and the packed house … it was one of the neater moments I’ve experienced at a ballpark as a fan. I can still see that scene in my mind, and it’s so cool that my family and I will be able to call that place my home field.
Speaking of family — our kids, oh wow, they couldn’t be more psyched for the upcoming move, although they had some concerns when I explained to them that I had gotten a new job with a new team.
I have three children. My oldest, Brooklyn, is five years old, and she immediately started firing off some questions.
“Will there still be bubble gum in the clubhouse?” Yes.
“Can we still run the bases after the game sometimes?” Yes.
“What are the colors?” Black and orange. “O.K., Daddy. Jack [our two year old] loves orange so that should be O.K.”
“What’s the Giants mascot, Daddy? They have one, right? Right?!?! What is it? What’s the mascot, Daddy?”
That’s when I told them about Lou Seal and saw three sets of little eyes light up.
They love mascots. So they’re now very into the idea of meeting Lou Seal. They’re ready to get out there and make that happen. Thank you, Lou Seal … crisis averted.
The other thing that players kept telling me in their welcome messages was how great Giants fans are.
I can’t wait to find that out for myself … as a member of the home team. I already know what those fans are like when you’re a visiting player.
Since there aren’t any bullpens at AT&T, visiting relievers getting warmed up are forced to spend some up close and personal time with the fans sitting along the first base line.
You grab your glove and sprint down the line knowing that the fans are going to be all over you the entire time you’re throwing. It’s not pleasant. And each time you toss a warmup pitch, they do these sound effects timed with the ball going between the pitcher and the catcher. It’s like a loud whoooop when you throw the ball, and then a wooooo when the catcher throws it back. As an opposing player, I can tell you for a fact that it’s super annoying. But at the same time, I always respected it because those fans have the whole thing down pat — it’s done in perfect unison. And it’s every single time. It’s not like they only do it on Fridays or something. It’s every game.
I also love that there are people from all walks of life in the stands; fans who understand the game and really care. I’ve had the luxury of playing in front of a lot of great fans in my career, and I promise you, when you’re out there between the lines, it matters. The positive energy matters. It fuels you. And there’s nothing else like it.
My wife once asked me if I still get excited every time I come in from the bullpen. And my answer remains the same to this day: Every time.
I know the people of San Francisco care deeply about their Giants. And if there was any doubt in my mind about it, that letter a little boy sent to GM Bobby Evans telling him that “Melancon really really needs to come to the Giants,” and asking Bobby to “please go out and get him now!” sealed the deal.
That’s one of the cooler things that has happened in my career.
And now that Bobby did go out and get me, I’m looking forward to big things in the Bay Area.
I’m already counting down the days until spring training. This is going to be so much fun.
Oh, and to the little boy who wrote that letter: If you’re reading this, just know that you’ll be hearing from me soon.
I have some tickets for the home opener with your name on them.