Written by Mark Nikolov Photo by Mercury News
The 2017 Giants KNBR FanFest took place today at AT&T Park in San Francisco . I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to go when I woke up this morning but I’m really glad I did. There weren’t as many people there as I expected but, nevertheless, it was a good turnout. The event started at around 10am but I didn’t get there until noon. At one o’clock I got lucky and stumbled into a Question and Answer session with Nick Hundley, Hunter Strickland and George Kontos.
Hundley is coming over from the Colorado Rockies and he seems to be excited about playing for the Giants. I believe he signed just a few weeks ago and he already seems to have built a good rapport with his teammates. Originally from Oregon, Nick played high school baseball in the state of Washington. Today he poked a little fun at himself and told us a story about how he originally played shortstop growing up. He played there all the way until high school. Once he was in high school his coach told him he wasn’t good enough to play shortstop anymore and that’s how he became a catcher. I got a chance to talk to him briefly after the Q&A and he was very nice and friendly to me. I think he’s going to be a great addition to the Giants this season.
Hunter Strickland was probably the most popular guy at the one o’clock Q&A. He’s known throughout the organization as an avid hunter and fly fisherman. He didn’t hesitate to talk about his love of the outdoors when he was asked about his hobbies. Hunter is really well spoken and he appears to have a high baseball IQ. One thing that stood out during his interview was when a young fan asked about his split finger fastball. He mentioned that it’s not necessarily important to get a lot of velocity out of your fastball. “The delivery is more important,” he says. This is something that pitching coach Dave Righetti reiterated in the second Q&A. More and more pitchers are coming into the league now throwing 100 miles per hour but as both Righetti and Strickland pointed out, numbers are not everything. Righetti even made a joke that when the 100mph pitchers show up at AT&T “their velocity is down to about 93 mph anyways.”
George Kontos was hilarious today. He was very comfortable in front of the fans and he had some great stories to share. George is from Chicago but he insists he hates the Cubs. He recently got the chance to play golf with Michael Jordan. The moderator asked if Jordan (who has a history of betting on golf) took his money and George came back with “what makes you think I didn’t take Jordan’s money!” The crowd got a kick out of that.
The story that really stuck in my mind was in response to a question about Buster Posey. Kontos recalled one time late in a game when Buster called for a fastball but George threw a cutter instead. Buster immediately called time and walked up to the mound. He asked George “what was that?” George replied “a cutter (giving Buster a little attitude).” Buster then replied in a friendly voice “Can you throw it again???” That was the first time Kontos threw his cutter in a game and he’s had a lot of success with that pitch ever since. A lot of people got a laugh out of that exchange. George actually did a really good job of imitating Buster.
The second Q&A session that I saw was with Buster Posey, Jeff Samardzija and Dave Righetti. Obviously a lot of attention was on Buster. The fans were very excited to see him in a live interview and they had a lot of questions for him. Buster is naturally talented when speaking with the fans and the media. One fan asked who was a better sponsor for Under Armor him or Stephen Curry? Kind of a strange question but Buster said “Curry.”
Toward the beginning of the Q&A someone asked Buster if he would sign something for him and he answered “I will but that’s probably gonna open up a can of worms.” I thought that was a good, honest response. The room was very crowded and if Buster started signing for people he probably would have been there for hours. Posey has a reputation in the clubhouse for being a humble guy and it really showed at FanFest. At one point during the show he stressed the importance of community and he offered his condolences to a fan that was dying of cancer. “Baseball isn’t important,” he said. “Community and the things that the players do outside of baseball is what’s important.”
Standing at 6’6 Jeff Samardzija was hard to miss at the Giants FanFest. I am anticipating a great year from Samardzija in 2017. Before playing in the MLB “the Shark” was famous for playing wide receiver for Notre Dame. At the Q&A he spoke about being a well rounded athlete growing up in Indiana. As a result of playing many different sports, he doesn’t have a lot of mileage on his throwing arm. At 32 years old Jeff may very well be in the prime of his career.
When asked about his long hair, Jeff explained that as a kid his dad forced him to sport a military style flat top. By the time he was 17 he got sick of it and started growing out his hair. He’s kept it long ever since. I’m not sure how his dad feels about his long hair nowadays but I’m willing to bet that he’s damn proud of his son. All of the Giants displayed a lot of class and dignity today. I’m really happy that I was able to be a part of FanFest and I’m looking forward to another great season of baseball.