Another banner day at AT&T Park had officially begun Friday afternoon, with the hometown heroes preparing to play the Cardinals, the team they'd vanquished in the National League Championship Series to reach the 2012 World Series, won in four games against the Tigers.
In a ceremony that joined players with fans in celebrating the team's 2012 accomplishment, the banner was escorted into the ballpark by the bay in the hands of lifelong Giants fans, who handed it off to manager Bruce Bochy and a crew of players to finish the job.
Like the 2012 title, it was a group effort, from beginning to end -- the manager, the players and the fans all enjoying the ride.
"This is about sharing the joy, sharing the accomplishment," said Hunter Pence, who arrived in July and became an inspirational leader for the club in October. "That's what we do it for. We do it for each other. We do it together."
With master of ceremonies and Giants broadcaster Jon Miller welcoming fans to the "best address in baseball," the flag-raising ceremony was part of gala pregame activities leading up to the Giants' home opener. It included the normal and traditional, including baseline introductions of both the Giants and the Cardinals -- complete with a rousing ovation for former Giants catcher and current Cardinals coach Bengie Molina and boos for Matt Holliday, who barreled into Marco Scutaro in the NLCS last year -- and a rendition of the national anthem by the national tour cast from the Broadway musical "Jersey Boys."
But this was to be a different ceremony, starting with the Giants entering the ballpark, one by one, through a gate in center field. Bochy began the parade, toting the 2012 World Series trophy and placing it on a pedestal behind second base, next to the 2010 trophy. It also included ceremonial first pitches by current players in a break from tradition, with NLCS MVP Scutaro and World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval taking to the mound.
And with the World Series flag arriving on a San Francisco Fire Department water vessel, this indeed would be a different way to celebrate a different title -- even if it's the second in three years.
"As a service to the 2012 team and as a service to our fans, we don't want a carbon copy of the way we commemorated 2010, for a lot of reasons," Giants president and CEO Larry Baer said. "One of them is that each year is a different movie, and 2012 had its own set of amazing, unique features. The one in 2010 was the first, so that's huge. But look at 2012, it was overcoming adversity."
In the flag-raising ceremony, Pence joined with outfielder Angel Pagan, another newcomer a year ago, in a group with Ryan Vogelsong and career Giants Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Sergio Romo in receiving the banner from six fans who'd taken it from the fire crew on the boat, then escorted it through the famous arcade in right field. The players walked it up a temporary ladder in the corner in right-center and raised the banner to the delight of the fans.
"Your emotions are flying and to see the flag come in and see the fans involved, it's overwhelming, it really is," Bochy said after the Giants' 1-0 victory over the Cardinals. "It's amazing what they did last year and all the attention that they deserve. We still had to be ready to play a good ballgame, and they did that, too. But I will say before the game, they all had chills and goosebumps, and some guys had tears. It's a special day."
For Brandon Belt, it truly was a brand-new take on a similar experience from two years earlier. He was a rookie in 2011 and wasn't on the 2010 title-winning team, so he was mostly a spectator for the ceremonies commemorating that title.
"I was able to kind of watch it during the 2011 season and it was a cool experience, it was pretty awesome," Belt said. "I dreamt that one day that maybe I could be in that situation, and that day is finally here."
One more big day is coming this weekend. After the team honors NL MVP Buster Posey on Saturday, the players will receive their World Series rings Sunday.
"I tell everybody that's the final piece of the puzzle," Belt said. "I think that's when we can finally feel like it's complete and feel like a world champion putting that World Series ring on your finger."
The Giants can't share those valuable pieces of jewelry -- although fans will receive replicas Sunday -- but they shared a bright orange banner with them Friday, leaving it atop a flagpole overlooking the bay for all to see.
Said Pence: "I think the amazing part about it is getting to share it with the fans. We had a lot of fun in that run last year and I was grateful to be a part of it. To be able to share it with the city of San Francisco, it's very humbling."