The Giants just got themselves an excitable boy, and that’s just the beginning with Hunter Pence
Back in 2004, a scout named Rusty Pendergrass fell in love with a kid at UT-Arlington named Hunter Pence. Only it wasn’t love at first sight. In a lot of ways, Hunter was different from any of the hundreds of players Rusty had scouted through over the years. He was very, very productive. He hit with power. He ran well. He cared about the team.
But Hunter was different. He had a funny-looking swing. He ran funny, too. If you looked at Hunter just so, you could convince yourself he had no chance of playing in the Major Leagues because even at UTA, nothing came easy for him. What would that swing look like against 95-mph Major League stuff?
Rusty convinced himself that Hunter had a chance to play in the Major Leagues anyway because he had a relentless work ethic and a burning desire to be great. Rusty even summoned his boss with the Astros, David Lakey, to look at Hunter. He believed in Hunter, but he wanted another set of eyes.
Funny story about Lakey’s trip to Arlington. Hunter’s game was rained out, so Rusty, who now works for the Diamondbacks, said, “Well, there’s this other kid I like. Let’s go catch his game.”
That kid at Dallas Baptist was named Ben Zobrist. In 2009, Rusty could have passed for the happiest man on earth when he flew to St. Louis to see both Zobrist and Pence play in the All-Star Game. To find two All-Stars in one draft was a pretty good spring’s work.
Anyway, the Astros drafted Pence in the second round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft. Three years later, he made his Major League debut, hitting .322 with 17 home runs and an .899 OPS.
But that’s not what a lot of his teammates remember about Hunter. If you ask them about Hunter, they’ll tell you it was his enthusiasm that stood out. His work ethic, too. All the things Rusty noticed that spring at UTA were on display. There was one time when the outfielders were throwing the ball around between innings. When one throw led Hunter by too much, he sprinted full out and dived for the ball. Between innings. Warmup throw.
Back in the dugout, his teammates roared with laughter. They wondered how long he would keep stuff like that up. Another time, Hunter came into the clubhouse after a bad game and was clearly frustrated. Actually, he looked almost ready to explode.
Craig Biggio and Brad Ausmus called him over, told him to go back into the batting cage and hit until he felt his swing’s mechanics click back into place.
“Don’t leave here frustrated,” Biggio told him.
Twenty minutes or so later, Hunter returned to the clubhouse drenched in perspiration.
“I got it,” he said.
“Okay, I want to see two hits tomorrow night,” Ausmus told him.
Hunter got three the next night, and Ausmus, for whom offense never came easy, said, “I hate him.”
Actually, he loved him. He respected him, too. He admired his God-given talent, but beyond that, he appreciated that Hunter’s work ethic was such that he was going to do whatever he could to take advantage of that talent.
Five years later, Hunter still seems to have that love for the game. The Giants badly need him to shore up their lineup, and they’ll happily take the rest of the package. He’ll love playing at AT&T Park, which, like Philadelphia, is packed. He’ll love the rowdy crowds, and here’s guessing they’ll like him, too.