SAN FRANCISCO – In a few weeks, Hunter Pence could play almost anywhere he wants.
But is there anywhere he’d rather be than AT&T Park, wearing a Giants uniform? It was hard to envision him anywhere else as he accepted the Willie Mac Award, which honors the club’s most inspirational player, and offered a funny, heartwarming speech in which he proclaimed his love for the fans, the city and yes, for Buster Posey.
[RELATED: Sabean: Giants need to 'create a new window']
“I love every minute with you guys, and Buster, I know you don’t like me to say it, but I love you,” Pence said. “You think it's soft, but that’s the strongest thing we’ve got.”
Pence will be a free agent after the season. The Giants already have opened talks on a multi-year deal, but very little progress has been made thus far. The club probably would have saved some money if they had negotiated a long-term deal last winter or even in the spring. Now they’ll have to pay a premium, since Pence has few peers on the free-agent market.
He has plenty of admiring peers in the clubhouse, though. There was little doubt Pence would receive the award for “competitive spirit, ability and leadership,” especially since he’s two more days away from becoming the first Giant to start every regular-season game since Alvin Dark in 1954.
“This year’s winner is one of my favorite players,” McCovey said. “He works hard, he plays every day, he plays every inning of every game. And I know along with me all you wish he’s back next year.”
Pence called the introduction “powerful, intense,” and thanked McCovey for the example he set, along with former winners on hand – a list that included Mike Felder, Shawon Dunston, J.T. Snow, Mark Gardner, Matt Cain and Andres Torres plus emcee Mike Krukow. Former winners Ryan Vogelsong and Posey were busy in the bullpen.
“It’s tough to really quantify how much this means to me in my heart,” said Pence, who excused himself for a moment to talk to God.
“God you didn’t bless me with grace,” Pence said. “You didn’t bless me with very much style. But thank you for giving me heart, and a chance.”
Pence, 30, entered Friday with a .282 average and 35 doubles, 25 home runs, 93 RBI and 22 stolen bases in 159 games. He’s the first Giant to post a 20-homer, 20-steal season since Barry Bonds in 1998.
Not only is his streak of 169 consecutive starts the longest in the National League, but he has sat out just 16 innings all season. He has played 98.9 percent of the team’s innings in right field.
Pence also thanked manager Bruce Bochy for “being a tough son of a gun,” and saved his most heartfelt words for Giants fans.
“It’s tough to really give all the words for the spirit and energy and atmosphere we have at AT&T Park,” Pence said. “I’m not going to say you’re the best fans in the world. You’re more than that. You’ra a part of the heart and soul of this team.”
The man who preached for “one more day” last postseason left the stage with one final thought:
“I have two goals,” Pence said. “To go hard and to love every minute of it.”