Timely hitting advice from Giants alumnus Brett Butler paid off for Benard in 1999. The likeable Nicaraguan, who had inherited center field by default when Darryl Hamilton was traded to Colorado the previous July, quickly broke free from a platoon with utilityman F.P. Santangelo to win the Giants’ everyday job in center. He finished the ’99 season in fine fashion, posting a .290 average, 16 homers and 64 RBIs while swiping 27 bases.
It wasn’t Benard’s first full season in the majors — he broke in with the Giants in 1995 and saw significant time filling in for the injured Glenallen Hill and Stan Javier in 1996 — but it was certainly his best. The mental lapses that had plagued him early in his career had disappeared, and Benard was rewarded after the season with a three-year, $11.1 million contract extension.
Benard’s favorite player was Willie McCovey, but even as a major-leaguer he never worked up the courage to send his idol a letter. After his breakout season, Benard finally met McCovey when the San Francisco legend presented him with the Willie Mac Award as the most inspirational Giant. “I was always impressed with Marvin,” McCovey revealed after the ceremony. “He doesn’t know that.”