Monday, November 4, 2013

When Awards Get It Right...A Case for Hunter Pence

Whenever I hear one line of the popular Frank Sinatra song, "My Way," I can't help but think of end of the season/year awards. Old Blue Eyes says "Regrets, I've had a few..."  How true that is...

Naming and recognizing one student as outstanding among so many others can be a painful process. Some of my colleagues just don't see the point—when you award one, you deny the others. Furthermore, I have been wrong about some nominees; after all, coaches and teachers invariably have different experiences with a young man or woman. I have advocated for a young person with gusto, only to be semi-disappointed by him or her the next year. With a ringing endorsement like that, you're probably wondering Why I remain passionate about giving awards? Because when you get it right, its sends a resounding message. One that speaks for itself.
Past winners of the Willie Mac Award
The award of which I speak is not one that boils down to "x"s and "o"s. Who wins the batting title, Gold Glove, or even the Cy Young. I never lose sleep over who is the Most Valuable Player—usually, although not always, his or her accomplishments make that clear. No, I am most interested in the spirit awards—Most Inspirational, Coaches' Award, Enter-in-your-mascot here Award. Said awards recognize the impact an individual can have on a community. Which is why one of my favorite days of the year is when the Giants announce the Willie McCovey Award. 

As listed on the Giants website, "The award, named for Giants legend Willie McCovey, is given annually to the club's most inspirational player. The winner is primarily determined by a vote among players. Coaches, members of the athletic training staff, fans and McCovey himself also cast ballots."
Hard NOT to love you Hunter.
It is given on an Orange Friday night, during the final home stand of the season. The yard is filled with a special charge; this award is one that thanks the player who was selfless, who shared his mojo with the larger group, who knows what St. Ignatius asked for God's grace to do: "to give and not count the cost." 

It should never be a surprise who wins the Willie Mac award. Why? His service to the team and to others usually speaks for itself. And this year was no exception. Hunter Pence, the NL Player of the Month (for September) fired up his teammates in such a way that the 2012 World Series became our own (again). That energy and enthusiasm did not wane. Although the Giants lacked a lot of luster this past year, Pence did not.
But he captured the Willie Mac Award for reasons that transcend statistics. "I don't know of another player I've ever had who played every game -- not just played, but the way he plays and the intensity that he plays with. He's so popular in that clubhouse. He's full of energy. He's a baseball player. He just loves the game. The passion's there every day. He doesn't back off. ... This is a well-deserved award." 
What I celebrated most about Pence's honor was his speech to his teammates and fans. He said: 
"To be voted in by your teammates is the ultimate honor as a player, I think the smile on my face shows what's going on inside. I love every minute with you guys, and Buster, I know you don't like it when I say 'I love you.' You think it's soft, but it's the strongest thing we got."
"And I'm going to talk to God for a second. God you didn't bless me with grace. You didn't bless me with very much style. But thank you for giving me heart, and a chance. Thank you God for that.
Hunter Pence—thank you for your courage to say what is the most important thing we can say to those we care about "I love you." Thank you for recognizing the power in those words...and not just for saying them, but for doing what they imply. We see it on the field, in the clubhouse, in the community and on the road. The Willie Mac award could not have gone to a more deserving player this year, and every one of your teammates knows it. Thank you too for your prayer. I was thrilled when the Giants got you from the Phillies. I love your heart.
The award was established in 1980, in honor of former legend and Hall of Famer Willie McCovey. Pence will receive a plaque prior to tonight's game. Engraved on the plaque are the words "Competitive Spirit, Ability and Leadership" to characterize the qualities both McCovey and Pence exemplify.

Photo Credits
Past winners

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