- Span was an all-state wide receiver while at Tampa Catholic High School in Florida. Denard had transferred from Hillsborough High (the alma mater of Carl Everett, Dwight Gooden, and Gary Sheffield) to help Tampa Catholic win a Florida 3-A state title as a junior. As a senior, he hit .456 and led the county in receiving yards for the football team.
- Span was a key member of the U.S. junior team that finished second in a Pan American tournament in Cuba in 2001.
Span is a hard worker. And he enjoys playing baseball.
He is soft-spoken, friendly, and a religious man. His contagious laugh is heard frequently in the clubhouse.
During the offseason before 2004 spring training, Baseball America rated Denard as the #7 prospect in the Twins organization. The magazine had him as 14th-best in the spring of 2005. And, during the off-season before 2006 spring camp, Baseball America ranked Span as 6th-best prospect in the Minnesota farm system.
But they dropped Span to #13 during the winter before 2007 spring training. And he was at #20 in the spring of 2008.
Span started the 2005 season at high Class A Fort Myers, where he led the Florida State League in batting (.339) and on-base percentage (.410) when he was promoted to Double-A New Britain.
After the 2005 season, Denard hit .294 in the Arizona Fall League.
- Span was chosen to play in the 2008 Beijing Olympics but because he had been promoted to the majors, he was forced to skip the Olympics.
- In 2008, Denard had LASIK surgury to improve how he was seeing the ball during his at bats.
- Denard on his long road to the Majors: "At the time when I was struggling at Rochester, I didn't realize how those struggles would cost me," he said. "That the organization and people in baseball would think that I wasn't ready for the big leagues. At that time, I truly felt I had shown enough that I could at least play in the big leagues. I think once I started hearing people say, 'He can't play in the big leagues, he's another fourth outfielder or a pinch-runner-type guy,' which definitely caused me to dig deep. Whenever I'm feeling down or tired now, I just think about those times ... feeling hurtful and torn."
When the Twins sent Span to the minors at the end of 2008 spring training, despite having a very good camp, he was choked up when he talked to the media. And he vowed to force the Twins to call him up soon.
"It was one of those defining moments in my life,'' he said. "More than my career. I would say my life. I feel like that's where I grew up to becoming a man and take a little more responsibility.
"Kind of drove me to want to be a better individual, better player, better teammate.''
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire remembers how Span responded.
"That's when he became an angry young man and said, 'I'll show you,'" Gardenhire said. "He's been proving that he should have been there from the beginning, which is sometimes a good thing."
CLOSE TO MOM
Span leans on his Mom, Wanda, for advice on about anything when times get rough.
"We're always praying together, especially last year," said Span, whose mother is also a pastor. "I spent a lot of hours on the phone with her trying to get through last year and trying to stay positive."
Span grew up in a single-parent home in Tampa, Fla., and excelled at baseball growing up before becoming a standout at Tampa Catholic High School.
"She took me to and from all my practices growing up. She was always at all my games unless it was something to do with work or church. She always supported me. She taught me a lot of values, such as hard work, that I still carry to this day."
Span's mother still follows his career closely from Tampa, as she watches almost every game on television and tries to see him play in person at least once a month.
Denard's mother, Wanda Wilson, raised two boys, Denard and Ray, by herself in the Tampa area. She made sure her two boys put their priorities in the order: Believe in God, work hard, and don't cut corners.
Wilson, 60, was an example of a person who followed those rules. While raising two boys, she worked hard and now owns a child care center in Tampa.
"She said if you put forth the work, I would be able to accomplish and receive anything I wanted," Span remembered.
Talk to Wilson and you will not hear her complain about being a single parent.
"You take life as it is. It is what it is," Wilson said. "I choose not to complain, but I get up and do what I have to do. These children are looking up to you who are their source. I can sum it up by saying, I take parenting very seriously.
"It was not a hard task [raising two boys]. I instilled certain values in them. By the time they became teenagers and middle school, it really wasn't hard. I took a lot of time with them. I kept them involved in a lot of activities—sport activities, church activities, community activities. They were never ever bored."
Wilson is pleased that her son is playing for the Nationals. Because she went to school in Washington, D.C. and she gave birth to Denard there, too, before moving her family to Tampa.
She is not surprised to see her son in the Major Leagues.
"I saw him working hard when a lot of other children that age didn't want to put the time into it. They didn't want to invest the time into it," Wilson said. "Denard would be over there, throwing the ball, trying to get with somebody older to show him what to do and how to do it."
Span is happy that is mother is able to see him play professional baseball.
"It's always nice to have her there," Span said "Still, to this day, I hear her voice. It could be 20,000, 30,000 people in the stands, but I hear her scream while I'm hitting. It's a dream come true to make her proud."
March 31, 2010: Denard, who is from Tampa, purchased tickets for his family to sit next to the Twins' dugout at Steinbrenner Field for an exhibition game vs. the Yankees. In the first inning, Span swung late on a 3-2 fastball from Phil Hughes and lined a foul ball to the third-base side that struck his mother, Wanda Wilson, in the upper chest.
Span jumped into the stands to check on his mother, wearing her blue #2 Span Twins jersey. Wilson was escorted away by paramedics.
Span took a called third strike after resuming his at-bat and left the game in the third inning.
After being examined, Mom returned to watch from a seat in the shade.
In August 2013, Denard's mother sent him a text message telling him he needed to swing at the first pitch more often. The next day he hit a home run on the first pitch.
When Span was injured in August 2012, he was unwilling to get an MRI because of claustrophobia.
Early in 2013 spring training at the Nationals camp in Viera, Florida, a dead fish fell from the sky as Denard was working out in the outfield. Span wasn't so much as frightened of the falling fish, as he was when the Osprey who had dropped his lunch circled back, and back, and back again for its meal. Eventually, Span threw the catch over the fence. "I was just screaming," Span said. "I'm not an outdoorsman. I didn't want him to attack me."
Denard is engaged to Shadonna Copeland, who is from the Tampa, FL area. The couple plans to get married sometime in December, 2015. Span and Copeland have been together 10 years. Span popped the question on February 13, 2015. Their friends and families were in attendance at a restaurant in Tampa. Copeland had no idea what was going on. She thought it was pre-Valentine's Day dinner. At first, she thought it was a surprise party because the family screamed, "Surprise." Copeland began to cry, her hands on her face. A few moments later, Span came in the room, went on one knee and proposed to her. She obviously said, "Yes." Obviously, Copeland means the world to Span, who will enter his third season with the Nationals. "She has been there with me through thick and thin. She has put up with my foolishness for a long time," Span said. "I'm just excited about us starting our lives together. I'm just happy and elated about it." (Ladson - mlb.com - 2/13/15)
At the start of 2015 Spring Training, manager Matt Williams said that Span is valuable in every aspect of the game. Williams went so far as to call Span a leader with a strong work ethic.
"He is the one that makes our team go. He is a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder, who throws well, who understands how to run the bases," Williams said. "He makes it comfortable for our pitching staff to go ahead and challenge a guy and know it will be caught when it's hit out there." (Ladson - mlb.com - 2/22/15)
It was no ordinary afternoon for Denard. He spent it wearing a Major League uniform, which was enough to make the afternoon special. Span is part of that seemingly disappearing breed of ballplayers that was thoroughly steeped in the Minor Leagues before advancing to the Majors. He played six seasons in the Twins' farm system, repeating Double-A and Triple-A, before making his Major League debut in 2008. Those 572 games that Span played in the Minors help him appreciate the Majors all the more.
"I never take anything for granted," said Span. Span made another pointed remark about his extended stay in the Minors. "It made me hungry as well," he said.
That attitude partly fueled the Giants' motivation to remove him from the free-agent market by signing him to a three-year, $31 million deal during the 2015 offseason. Fewer players nowadays receive as much big league preparation time as Span did. Consider three other Giants: first baseman Brandon Belt, third baseman Matt Duffy and shortstop Brandon Crawford played 196, 248, and 305 games in the Minors, respectively. This doesn't necessarily mean that they're significantly better ballplayers than Span. Factors such as need at a particular position or whether a club is struggling or succeeding can influence the timing of a promotion.
Giants general manager Bobby Evans said that "there's no surefire way" to follow a set formula for a callup, though he added, "You'd like to get as many games, at-bats, innings and success as you can." Span admitted that he needed extra time to develop in the Minors, since the Twins drafted him out of high school (Catholic High in Tampa, Fla.).
"It probably took me at least three years before I got in a solid routine," he said. Span had the good fortune of coming under the influence of the Twins, who under general manager Terry Ryan and former farm director Jim Rantz established a reputation for their superior player-development acumen. Span admitted that he felt impatient when a player, inside or outside Minnesota's organization whom he considered not as skilled as he was, received a Major League look before he did. Denard, a three-sport star in high school, never committed himself to baseball full-time until he turned pro. He came to realize that he needed time to refine his ability.
"In hindsight, looking back at it now, once I got to the big leagues, I stayed there," Span said. "I feel like I got all my seasoning, all of my mistakes, per se, out of the way in the Minor Leagues. I wouldn't say I saw everything in the Minor Leagues, but I saw a lot."
Span saw and learned enough to know how to deal with a slump. He gained enough wisdom to realize that swinging at sliders veering outside the strike zone would shorten his career. Players who are rushed to the Majors often lack these attributes.
Span, who has accumulated close to eight years of big league service time, appears destined to become at least a 10-year veteran. Those days in the Minors haven't shortened his years in the Majors. Former Giants shortstop Rich Aurilia, who logged 468 games in the Minors and spent all or part of 15 years in the Majors, identified with Span.
"That path worked for me," said Aurilia, who's in camp as a special instructor. "It obviously worked for him. And I hope it pays dividends for this team." (Haft - MLB.com - 3/3/16)
August 2002: Denard signed with the Twins for a bonus of $1.7 million after being drafted in the first round, out of Tampa Catholic High School in Tampa, Florida. Brad Weitzel was the scout who signed him.
March 13, 2010: The Twins and Span agreed to a five-year, $16.5 million contract extension. The pact includes a $9 million team option for 2015.
November 29, 2012: The Nationals sent RHP Alex Meyer to the Twins, acquiring Denard.
October 30, 2014: The Nationals picked up Span's $9 million option for 2015.
- January 4, 2016: Span signed a three-year contract with the Giants worth $31 million guaranteed. It includes a $4 million buyout in an optional fourth year.