Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Fennelly: Denard Span still values mom, benevolence and wielding a mean bat

TAMPA

It had to be a first.

Last season, the San Francisco Giants held a Denard Span bobblehead giveaway. The team's centerfielder and leadoff man, who was raised in Tampa and played for Tampa Catholic High, was given a sneak preview of his bobblehead.

Span kicked it back.

"There was no gray in my beard," Span said.

They added some gray.

"It's distinctive," Span said, laughing. "I'm embracing it."

He turns 33 next month during spring training. Span has been a professional for 14 years, since he was chosen in the first round, 20th overall, by the Minnesota Twins in the 2003 baseball draft.

"It took me 51/2 years to get to the majors," he said.

He is heading into his 10th big-league season. On Tuesday, Span worked out at Diesel Fitness near downtown Tampa. It's about getting ready.

Is 32 really that old?

Span smiled:

"It ain't young. It ain't old, but it ain't young."

Span has had a very nice career. He has a .284 batting average, including consecutive .300 seasons in 2014 and 2015, and an on-base percentage of .350. A very good glove. He has used his legs on the basepaths to turn doubles into triples and in center to make hits into outs.

Before last season, Span signed as a free agent with the Giants, three years, $31 million, after coming off an injury-plagued 2015 in Washington that featured three surgeries in nine months, including season-ending hip surgery. He played only 61 games.

Span's first year in San Francisco wasn't everything he wanted. He had career highs in home runs (11) and RBIs (53), but his average dipped to .266, his on-base percentage dropped, and he had only 12 steals in 19 attempts.

"Last year I showed up at spring training six months post-surgery," Span said. "I was healthy, but I wasn't myself. … I'm looking forward to this season. It was the first full offseason I've had in two years. I don't think I have anything to prove. Just to remind some people that what I've done the majority of my career, I can still do it. I'm still me."

So much about Span is still him. He still gives back in the community. The Denard Span Foundation is dedicated to helping single parents and their children. Span gave away Thanks­giving dinner boxes to 100 Tampa families. He held a Christmas celebration for more than 100 children and single parents. And there are his back-to-school giveaways.

"I just get great joy from seeing other people smile, to take maybe a little of the weight of the world off them, even if it's just for one day," he said.

It goes back to lessons from Span's mother, Wanda Wilson, a single parent who raised two sons, making all their practices when not working as a claims adjuster, and later when she bought a day care center.

Span has a relationship with his father, who lives in Orlando. But his mother is his rock. They attend church together, Wednesdays and Sundays, when Denard is home in the offseason.

"Denard is a child who always wanted to do well," Wanda said. "Denard is a child who always wanted to do the right thing. Denard is a child who always wanted to please his mom. Denard is a child who never wanted to cause me to cry."

And Denard is the child who did what any dutiful son would do:

He hit his mother with a foul ball.

They can smile about it now. In March 2010, Span was leading off for the Twins in a spring training game against the Yankees in Tampa. Wanda was in box seats with some teachers and children from her day care. Denard fought off an inside pitch. Liner. He looked up. He looked hard. It was his mom.

"You've got to be kidding me," he thought.

Span hopped into the stands. Wanda was hit in the right chest. She said doctors at the hospital told her if she had been struck in her left chest, things could have gone very badly. As far as she and her son are concerned, God watched over them. Denard wanted to go to the hospital with Wanda.

"Go out there and play," she said.

Spring training is around the corner. Denard Span is ready to go out there and play. He has played in four postseasons for three teams but hasn't made it past a division series.

"Being considered a winner, I mean, that's everything," Span said.

Well, not everything.

"I'd like for people to respect me for going about it the right way."

There's no gray area.

Except in his beard.

Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.

 
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