The sun was high on a beautiful Saturday by the Bay when LaMonte Wade Jr. stepped to the plate. With two outs and a man on first, Wade Jr. looked calm and composed as he prepared to face Astros’ pitcher Zack Greinke. Confidence radiated from the 6’ 1” outfielder.
The score was tied 3-3 in the bottom of the fourth inning but this already felt like a pivotal at-bat. The Giants had dropped the game the night before, a 6-9 loss to arguably the best team in the American League, so it was vital for San Francisco to get back in the win column. If they wanted to maintain their lead atop the NL West and continue to be the best team in baseball, then the Astros would need to be beaten.
With the count full Greinke was keen to put Wade Jr. away but couldn’t afford to walk him. The crafty veteran pitcher attempted to muscle an 88-mph fastball low and inside but Greinke’s location was off. To Wade Jr., patiently waiting to punish any mistake, it must have felt like the ball hung in the zone for an eternity.
With his mom stood among the fans on top of the right-field arcade, Wade Jr. uncorked one of his sweetest swings of the season, a Bondsian blast hit deep and directly toward his mother’s location. Off the bat it was clear this ball was destined for McCovey Cove and it rapidly sailed over the fan’s heads and out of the park, into the Bay where the mad scramble among the kayakers ensued. Just like that the tie-game was broken, the Giants led, and victory was sealed later that afternoon.
— MLB (@MLB) July 31, 2021
Wearing a Giants t-shirt with her son’s name and number on, Emily Wade could not contain her jubilation. A burst of high fives were shared with every fan around her, as her son rounded the bases and basked in the adulation of the Oracle Park crowd. Wade Jr. had just put the Giants ahead against a formidable opponent and crushed the first splash hit homer of his young Giants career. Giants fans have embraced Wade Jr., and with moments like this, it’s easy to see why.
The 27-year-old Baltimore native has been one of the club’s biggest revelations during this enormously successful season in San Francisco. How exactly did the Giants uncover this hidden gem?
Wade Jr. was selected in the 9th round of the 2015 draft by the Twins and after progressing through the minors he shuffled between Triple-A and Minnesota in 2019 and 2020. Wade Jr. didn’t make much of an impact with the Twinkies and initially it was hard to see why other teams might have been interested in him.
And yet, Farhan Zaidi and his team saw something. Similar to Mike Yastrzemski in 2019, plucked from obscurity in the Orioles system and raised to stardom, the Giants’ scouting department found Wade Jr. and recognised the untapped potential. He was swiftly brought to California in an early February trade, with relief pitcher Shaun Anderson moving to Minnesota in the exchange. Anderson has since been waived by the Twins and Rangers, and has just been designated for assignment by Baltimore, birthplace of Wade Jr. Baseball comes full circle, apparently; spooky.
In spring training Wade Jr. was expected to compete for an outfield spot but realistically he was closer to fifth or sixth choice heading into the new campaign. Injuries across the roster saw him pushed into a regular role by late-May, however. Wade Jr. took this opportunity and ran with it. His versatility as an outfielder who can also play an excellent first base has proven invaluable to manager Gabe Kapler. Wade Jr. has hardly been out of the lineup ever since.
At the time of writing he’s slashing .244/.328 /.541 (BA/OBP/SLG) with an excellent .869 OPS and 13 home runs, tied for fourth on the team. He’s hitting bombs at an impressive clip, especially given that most of his teammates with a similar homer haul have done so with many more at-bats; only Brandon Belt and the terrific Darin Ruf compare with Wade Jr.’s power efficiency.
Just when we think Wade Jr. couldn’t possibly impress us any more, he continues to produce, often in crucial, game-defining moments.
Take Thursday’s contest in Arizona for example, when the Giants rallied from a 4-0 deficit in the ninth inning to beat the Diamondbacks, ultimately winning the series and extending their lead in the NL West.
Trailing 4-2 with the bases loaded, a full count and 2 outs, Wade Jr. and his Giants were down to their last strike. Arizona reliever Tyler Clippard wanted a strikeout and floated an enticing changeup low and outside. He thought Wade Jr. couldn’t extend; surely he can’t get out there and will flail hopelessly.
LaMonte Wade Jr. comes up clutch to tie the game 🔥 pic.twitter.com/E2cxxPxwWq
— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) August 5, 2021
But Clippard thought wrong, and Wade Jr. pulled the ball over the first baseman’s head and into the expanse of right field, allowing Brandon Crawford and Steven Duggar to scamper home for two runs. Suddenly it’s a tie-game and victory has been snatched from the D’Backs. The Giants won 5-4 in the tenth inning on a Kris Bryant double.
It’s easy to see how Giants fans have taken to the affable Wade Jr., particularly when he’s making a name for himself as a clutch player. He’s quickly developed into a fan favourite. This became obvious when news of the Bryant trade broke in the final moments of the trade deadline.
A cruel rumour was mistakenly spread that the Cubs would receive Wade Jr. and Joey Bart for Bryant, and Giants fans across the internet were instantly in uproar. Interestingly, it appeared the majority of fans were more upset about the potential loss of Wade Jr., and not young Bart, the club’s top prospect.
It spoke volumes that a player who was largely an afterthought in the spring could become so highly valued in such a short space of time. Fans were protective of Wade Jr. and rightfully upset, even if a former MVP, Rookie of the Year, and four-time All-Star would be the replacement.
How quickly a player’s career can change. From uncertainty about his status with the Twins we fast forward to this summer and Wade Jr. is being mentioned on television in the same conversation as Barry Bonds. Could he ever have imagined this?
It’s been a great journey so far for Wade Jr. and his family. Giants fans hope there are even better days still to come.
Ash Day is covering the San Francisco Giants as part of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @AshDay29
While we have you, check out Gav’s trade deadline review. Click on the Giants’ new poster boy.