A wish come true: Sandoval, Pence reunited

February 15th, 2020

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Two months ago, traveled to Miami to serve as the best man in ’s wedding. On Saturday, the longtime friends were reunited once again -- improbably with the Giants.

On the eve of the report date for position players, Pence and Sandoval arrived at Scottsdale Stadium to find their familiar orange and black jerseys hanging in adjoining lockers in the clubhouse. After a winter of organizational change, their shared corner feels like a time capsule nestled within the Giants’ new 40,000-square foot Spring Training facility.

“I’m blessed to have that guy,” Sandoval said of Pence. “He was the best man in my wedding. Having him now on the same team was a wish. And he made my wish come true, to play one more time with him.”

After watching Pence ride off into the sunset on a scooter at the end of the 2018 season, the Giants seemed to stage another heartfelt send-off for Sandoval in September.

With season-ending Tommy John surgery looming, the Giants activated Sandoval off the injured list for one game, giving him the opportunity to take one final at-bat under Bruce Bochy and soak in the adoration from the fans who welcomed him back even after his first messy breakup with the club following the 2014 World Series.

Struggling to keep his emotions in check, Sandoval grounded out against Padres right-hander Luis Perdomo, but he received a standing ovation as he jogged back to the dugout at Oracle Park.

It felt like goodbye. But Sandoval hoped it wouldn’t be.

The 33-year-old infielder received interest from other clubs as a free agent this offseason, but after his ill-fated tenure with the Red Sox, he preferred to stay with the Giants, who re-signed him to a Minor League deal last month.

“I don’t want to make the same mistake that I made before,” Sandoval said Saturday. “I want to stay where I feel comfortable, where my heart felt comfortable. I think I made the right decision.”

Pence, too, felt drawn back to the Giants, even after they allowed him to depart as a free agent two years ago. Pence spent that offseason overhauling his swing and landed a Minor League deal with the Rangers after showcasing the changes during a stint in the Dominican Winter League. The 36-year-old outfielder enjoyed a resurgent campaign in Texas last season, batting .297 with a .910 OPS and 18 home runs over 83 games to earn his first All-Star selection since 2014.

“I thought that maybe last year [the Giants] would be interested with the whole new swing change, but I understood the direction and the risk that's involved with me trying to change my swing and what had happened,” said Pence, who signed a one-year, $3 million deal. “I understood, but my heart's always open to San Francisco. Things worked out.”

Pence dealt with back issues in Texas last season, but he said he’s feeling great now and could form a platoon partner with the left-handed-hitting Alex Dickerson in left field this year. Sandoval’s health is a bigger question mark right now.

The switch-hitter said he is ahead of schedule in his rehab and has resumed swinging from both sides. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said Sandoval could log some at-bats during Cactus League games, but he’ll likely need more time to ramp up defensively and might not be ready to return to the Majors until one month into the regular season.

Still, Sandoval said he would like to accelerate that timetable and be ready to help the Giants on Opening Day. The introduction of the 26-man roster will give the Giants an extra spot to work with this season, but the odds of Sandoval making the team exclusively as a pinch-hitter feel slim.

Sandoval said he stayed in touch with the Giants as he rehabbed throughout the offseason, sending video of his swings and throws to manager Gabe Kapler, who flew to Miami to meet with Sandoval, Shaun Anderson and Andrew Suárez in December.

“We had a good collection of video of the work that he was doing,” Kapler said. “What that demonstrates from Pablo is excitement and the want to be a part of this. That hasn’t stopped.”

Outside of rehabbing, Sandoval also stayed busy this offseason planning a dream wedding to his longtime girlfriend, Yuli. The celebration was held at the St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort in December and featured ballerinas, a 10-tier cake adorned with Swarovski crystals, musical acts from Latin America, and of course, plenty of Panda hats.

Pence was expecting to give a best man speech, but the wedding planner told him it wouldn’t be necessary. He wasn’t prepared to pull an all-nighter, though.

“We gave it our best, and we had a blast ‘till about 4:30 [a.m.],” Pence said. “But at that time, I was so foggy, I couldn't dance anymore. I wasn't moving. I wasn't even making sense talking. So I was like, ‘I think it's time for me to go to bed.’”

Sandoval said he stayed until 9 a.m. When he left, approximately half of his guests remained.

“A Venezuelan wedding and an American wedding are different,” Sandoval said.