Given the reception he got at FanFest and throughout a month of spring training, the odds are good that Hunter Pence would have received the loudest ovation from Giants fans at the home opener had players lined up as planned.
Instead, Pence, who returned to the organization in early February, is sheltering in place in Arizona, hitting wiffle balls in his backyard and throwing into a net as he tries to stay in shape for what would be his eighth season in San Francisco. If baseball returns this summer, it will do so without fans, but that connection is still something that constantly brings a smile to Pence's face. He talked about it in a Thursday appearance on NBC Sports' "Lunch Talk Live," hosted by old friend Ahmed Fareed.
"I've been a part of some amazing teams, and they've definitely given me way more credit than I ever deserved," Pence said. "It's just been an absolute blast to do something I love, play with passion every day, with in my opinion some of the most creative and energetic and uplifting fans I've ever been a part of in my career."
You won't find a player who has interacted more with his fans during this unexpected break than Pence. He posted plenty of content on his social media pages, took part in the MLB The Show 20 tournament and other streams, and has regularly been thanking healthcare workers on Twitter.
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The hope for everyone is that baseball returns soon, and MLB reportedly is close to issuing guidelines for players. Pence said he is trying to be optimistic.
"In life I'm typically -- you can call me an optimist -- and so I do believe that we'll get everything back going again some day," he told Fareed. "Do I know for sure? No. But I'm optimistic. I'm excited to get back there and do my work every day, and it seems like things are getting a little better as far as the news in general. It's slowly flattening the curve. Korea started baseball. We'll see, we'll see, but I'm definitely excited and optimistic to get back. I think everybody is excited in general and for all sports. I'm trying to stay ready and stay optimistic and keep moving."
Even with the latest news, there are a lot of hurdles remaining. There will certainly be players who are apprehensive about returning before there's a vaccine, and Pence said MLB and the players have to be cognizant of the risks.
"A lot of people, if this hasn't affected you personally, you don't feel the severity of the situation. But if it has affected you, then you realize it," he said. "For me, I want to make my decisions not just like, 'Oh, I want to play baseball so let's just risk everything.' There's a bigger scope at hand.
"It's not about necessarily me and my family. It's about everyone's family and everyone's life is very important. I think obviously you want to make sure that everything is under control and that the decision is made for the best of the whole, of the whole community, of all of America, of all health all around."
Giants' Hunter Pence says MLB return plans must consider 'bigger scope' originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area