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How one Giants outfielder found true love in the offseason

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			How one Giants outfielder found true love in the offseason		

	
	

	
				
			How one Giants outfielder found true love in the offseason		

	
	

	
				
			How one Giants outfielder found true love in the offseason		

	
	

	
				
			How one Giants outfielder found true love in the offseason		

	
	

	
				
			How one Giants outfielder found true love in the offseason		

	
	

	
				
			How one Giants outfielder found true love in the offseason		

	
	

	
				
			How one Giants outfielder found true love in the offseason		

	
	

	
				
			How one Giants outfielder found true love in the offseason		

	
	

	
				
			How one Giants outfielder found true love in the offseason

Denard Span had been on his own since he was 18 years old. Last summer, for the first time in his life, he felt lonely.

He’d get back to his apartment near AT&T Park after night games too late to call or text his mother or his friends in Tampa. He was supposed to get married the previous winter, but a 10-year relationship had fallen apart. Some days, his most social activity was tipping the takeout delivery person. Long homestands felt like extended road trips.

Even on the field, in his first season with the Giants, he couldn’t be a full representation of himself. It wasn’t until the second half that he appeared fully recovered from hip surgery and was back to chasing down fly balls in center field at full gallop.

Now Span, 33, is a year older but feels so much younger — both in body and spirit. And loneliness is the least of his worries. An unexpected romance blossomed last year between himself and another professional athlete, Anne Schleper, who won an Olympic silver medal with the U.S. hockey team. They surprised even themselves when they got engaged and married over the course of one offseason.

She’s one of the world’s best on ice. Span tells us how she melted his heart.

You’d never played for a West Coast team until last season. How hard was that adjustment?

“At the beginning of the season, it was a little difficult. I was used to coming home after games and talking to my mother or talking to somebody, anybody, from back home. A text message, something. Now I come home after a night game and … nobody. There’s nobody to talk to. For the first time in my life, I’m lonely. It just feels weird. It feels different. It took me awhile to get adjusted to that.”

You looked more athletic both on the bases and in center field in the second half last year. Did you feel the explosiveness returning?

“Definitely. I’m in a better position. I won’t sit here and tell you I’ll be an MVP candidate, but I can say that I’m coming into camp on even ground. Last year, I was behind the curve. So this year I feel good. I definitely look to be more aggressive, and my body is going to allow me to do that.”

Even after playing eight seasons with the Twins and Nationals, was it still a challenge to feel like a new guy? Especially when you were coming off hip surgery and perhaps not able to play to your full capability?

“It’s always difficult even when you’re healthy to come into a new clubhouse. On top of it, for me, I was coming into one of those heightened, even years. The fan base is very passionate, and you know they expect a lot out of you. It was difficult, because I was fighting the whole time. I was fighting to get timing back and was testing my body out. I tried to give my all, and now I’m one year removed from it, so I feel better. I feel better about where my body is, and I feel better about myself.”

Your teammates are abuzz over your unexpected proposal and marriage. How did you meet?

“Well, the offseason before last, I’m a free agent, I’m coming off hip surgery, and I started working out at this new gym in Tampa. When I met her for the first time, I just thought she was nice. Pretty smile. Nice person. I was fascinated that she played women’s hockey.

So I signed with the Giants and two days before I came to Arizona, I was saying my goodbyes to everybody at the gym. I get to her, and I tell her how excited I am about starting this new chapter on the West Coast. Her response to me was, ‘How was your faith in God?’ That did it for me, to be honest, because my faith is very important to me, and I never had anybody just fire that back at me. So we exchanged numbers, but we’re still, we were on a cordial level, even though we had a little spark there.”

How did your relationship develop over long distance?

“It was good, because it forced us to build a bond, a friendship. There was nothing physical attached to it. I saw her when we went to play at Tampa (in June), and she came to San Francisco a little bit in the second half of the season. Part of me was like, ‘You know what? When I get home to Tampa and we have a chance to be around each other more, that will let me know if this is for real.’ And when I got home, it was, ‘Yeah, this feels different than anything I’ve ever experienced.’ Probably a month after I got home, I knew she was the one.”

And just like that, you proposed?

“I had a spiritual counselor who was guiding me through this. He said, ‘You need to know. If you feel she could be the one, you need to express that to her. Because if she doesn’t feel that, you need to know so you can move on.’ Once I laid it all on the line, she expressed that she felt the same way. So, ‘OK, perfect.’

“We got some premarital counseling just to see if we were compatible in all areas, and in our first session, the pastor said, ‘I think you guys need to get married, and you need to get married before you leave for spring training.’ We look at each other and we’re like, ‘What?’ I was thinking we’d get engaged, or maybe date for a year. We’re looking at each other like, ‘There’s no way that’s going to happen.’ But as each session went on, three or four weeks later, the idea of what he was saying didn’t seem so crazy. It was, ‘I can’t see myself without you for a whole season.’ I’m going back to the Giants, and it’s an Olympic year for her. We both felt the same way. So it was, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s get married before the season starts.’ We continued with the counseling, and we dealt with a lot of issues, with her career and all that.”

And taking the name Anne Span, of course. Why did she decide to retire from hockey?

“She felt like God had a greater calling for her to be my wife. The way she looked at it, and this is spiritual talk here, but as a single woman, she thought her calling was to play hockey, and that was the platform she was given. But now that she found her husband, and we were going to become one, she felt it was a greater calling to be together. She’s an amazing person, and I told her straight up, ‘I don’t know if I would be able to walk away from baseball the way you walked away from this game.’ It’s something she’s been playing since she was 3. The same amount of hours I’ve spent swinging the bat she’s put in on the ice doing slap shots and all those things.”

Is it an advantage to have another professional athlete as a life partner?

“Oh, for sure. She just has a good feel for when I have a good day or a bad day. She gets the whole process of preparation and the mental aspect of the game, of competing. She’s at the highest level in her sport, and I’m at the highest level in my arena. So that’s priceless.”

When’s the last time you laced up ice skates? Ever?

“I have not. No. Never. You know what? It was a sarcastic joke all offseason. We went to some hockey games, and she really taught me the game. I was supposed to go ice skating, but after further review, we decided not to do it. We decided it was not worth me getting hurt, after all the injury stuff I’ve had. So we said, ‘You know what, let’s put this on ice.’ Pun intended.”

I’m your friend from Tampa and I’m visiting San Francisco. Where do you send me?

“Oh man, I don’t know. Last year Postmates was my friend. It’s an app that delivers food. I was by myself and all these guys are married and have kids, so I didn’t go out too much. All those techies are on their scooters and bikes. They probably had my lunch.”

You aren’t known for your power, but you did hit a splash home run last year, didn’t you?

“I had two! One against Bartolo (Colon) and another against the Brewers. I mean, hey.”

I’ll wait here if you want to go flex in front of a mirror.

“You know … I might.”

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