Wilmer Flores is one of my favourite Giants.
If you took a poll among Giants fans strolling through the gates of Oracle Park, I bet you they’d say something similar. Flores is undoubtedly a fan favourite these days, and over three very successful years in San Francisco he’s emerged into one of the team’s most important players.
Flores can do it all. Second base? Sure. Third base? No problem. What about first base? Of course he can.
But the 31-year-old Venezuelan is more than your average utility player. Since debuting with the Giants during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Flores has developed into a major contributor, at the plate and in the field.
On statistics alone Flores doesn’t jump off the page. He isn’t a particularly high-average hitter, a respectable career .264 average over his 10 years in the majors (.255 with the Giants). He isn’t renowned for his power, with 18 home runs being his season-high in 2017 and 2021 (though there’s still time for him to surpass that mark this year). Flores has never made an All-Star appearance or won a Gold Glove.
And yet, despite his lack of superstar numbers and accolades, there is something lovable and endearing about him.
For me it began way before Flores even joined the Giants, when he was still with the Mets. It was 29 July 2015 and Flores was enjoying life in New York as a regular player for Terry Collins’ pennant contending Mets team, the only club he’d ever known. Just 23-years-old, Flores discovered midway through a home game against the Padres that he might have been traded to the Brewers.
The rumours swirled and by the eighth inning Flores was visibly emotional. The cameras focused solely on him in between pitches, his puffy eyes and red cheeks. The poor man was exposed in front of a live audience, every thought and feeling on display; not just the thousands in attendance at Citi Field, but everyone watching at home too. In the modern world of sports, where so many athletes have become antiseptic robots, here was Flores being a human being, showing just how much he cared.
Even his walk-up music is a feature of his affable personality. When the instantly recognisable “I’ll Be There for You” begins blaring out of the ballpark speakers and Flores strides to the plate, it’s impossible not to smile (unless you’re soulless and don’t like Friends). He’s a huge fan of the show, and spent much of his time in the minor leagues watching every episode, which he credits as a huge help in improving his English and combating homesickness.
Despite a disappointing season for Giants fans, Flores has been there for us on a consistent basis in 2022. He leads the team in many of the key categories: at the time of writing Flores has the most at-bats (439), hits (107), doubles (26), runs (65), and RBI (63) on the club. Flores is second in home runs with 17, just trailing Joc Pederson (21), and second in walks with 49 base on balls (only behind Mike Yastrzemski’s 55). So much has gone wrong for the Giants this year but no one can fault Flores, the team’s rock.
Flores’ impressive campaign was exemplified best in a recent victory that displayed exactly why fans and teammates alike adore him. Facing the Phillies at home on 5 September, with a chance to sweep, Flores went to bat in the ninth inning with two outs and a man at first base, with the score tied 3-3. This was his chance to be the hero, and Flores delivered in style.
From the Journal of the Wil
— SFGiants (@SFGiants) September 4, 2022
Phillies’ reliever David Robertson hung a breaking ball in the zone that Flores was never likely to miss. His compact and devastatingly quick swing caught every piece of the ball, and sent a sharp line drive over the wall in left field, just inside the foul pole. Oracle Park exploded, and Flores’ teammates poured out of the dugout to mob him as he headed home. It was a wonderful moment that Flores richly deserved and all but sealed his case to win the Willie Mac award (named in honor of Willie McCovey, presented every year to the most inspirational player on the Giants).
With free agency looming this offseason, there’s a chance this could be Flores’ final year in San Francisco, but many are optimistic he will return. As much as this roster needs a significant overhaul, to get younger and more athletic, it would be madness to let a player so consistent and versatile as Flores slip away. He has been positive about the idea of coming back, showing an interest in returning to the place he’s called home for the past three years. Giants manager Gabe Kapler said, “there has not been a more valuable member of our team over the last several years” and I would find it hard to argue against that.
Flores has certainly played his way into the hearts of the Giants faithful.
Ash Day is the San Francisco Giants writer for Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @AshDay29
Photo credit for featured image by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images.