The Giants awarded Kevin Pillar with the 40th annual Willie Mac Award in a pregame ceremony ahead of Friday’s series opener with the Dodgers.
This is the first Willie Mac Award to be presented since its namesake, Willie McCovey, died last October. McCovey’s widow Estelle McCovey was on hand to help present the award, which is given to the most inspirational Giant as voted on by teammates, coaches, training staff and fans.
This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at Oracle Park.
Pillar has a team-best 86 RBIs and is tied for a team-leading and career-high 21 homers this season.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who presented him with the award, said after the game:
“He’s been grinding this thing out from the day we got him on both sides of the ball. He’s played a terrific centerfield and he’s a guy that I’ve moved around the order a little bit — third or fifth or sixth — but you look at the numbers and he’s leading the team in everything. He’s just been a real pleasure for me.”
Upon receiving the acknowledgment from his peers and support staff, Pillar was emotional as he gave a brief speech to 36,554 fans ahead of Friday’s 9-2 defeat to the Dodgers:
“I’d like to thank [President of Baseball Operations] Farhan [Zaidi] for believing in me and trading for me and making me a Giant, my teammates, coaching staff, clubhouse employees, training staff and you the fans.”
It’s a team tradition for the previous year’s Willie Mac Award-winner to give the news to the newest winner in advance of the ceremony. As such, Pillar said Will Smith told him he’d been selected Thursday:
“I wrote the speech, and I started getting some cold feet a little bit. I looked up Bumgarner’s [speech] from 2014 and I listened to what he had to say, but then I really saw like this spectacle of all the [previous winners] coming back and the podium on the field, and it definitely blew me away. It really hasn’t sunk in yet.”
He found out his wife and parents had been notified sooner because the team had arranged to fly his family out for the ceremony, which he viewed as a very “classy” gesture and something his parents will never forget. Pillar’s father also had the honor of throwing out the first pitch to him Friday.
Another big fan or Pillar, teammate Madison Bumgarner, said he has loved having Pillar out in centerfield this year:
“I sure enjoy having him out there. He makes some really good plays and he’s made a lot for me this year.”
Pillar said he was deeply grateful to the organization and his teammates for making him and his family feels so welcome so immediately. To get the award after such a whirlwind year for him was very meaningful:
“I just come to work, and I just do my job and to be voted by your peers, and your coaching staff and people that are with you, every single day, that means the world to me.”
The Giants acquired Pillar April 2, from the Blue Jays for Alen Hanson, Derek Law and pitching prospect Juan De Paula. Since then, the center fielder has provided stability in an outfield that was left with something of a vacuum in the wake of Hunter Pence’s departure last offseason.
Pillar had spent his entire professional career prior to this season in the Toronto system and he was somewhat shellshocked in April as he processed the major life change:
“I felt like I was going to be on the way out [in Toronto], maybe closer to the deadline but I never expected it four days into the year. …You never really know what to expect when you get traded and come to a new environment. But the three things that I know that I can do every single day is work hard, play hard, and be a good teammate. And, you know, getting that award kind of reiterates that I’m doing the right things.”
For those wondering if the impending free agent hopes to re-sign with the Giants for 2020 or beyond — Pillar said he looks forward to many more successful years in San Francisco.
Julie Parker is SFBay’s San Francisco Giants beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @InsideThePark3r on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Giants baseball.