There was the year Hunter Pence was hitting .214. And then he got angry.
Hunter Pence began the 2010 season with a .289 career batting average. As he began his fourth Major League season, big things were expected of him. Only it didn’t start that way. On May 8, 2010, his average dropped all the way to .214. He got three hits the next night, and when I approached him, he handed me an easy column. I’m paraphrasing the quotes from memory, but this essentially is what he told me:
“I read a book on relaxation, the importance of being relaxed, over the winter. It made a lot of sense, and I thought I’d try it. But I found out that I can’t play relaxed.
“I’ve played this game one way my whole life. I’ve got to swing hard and play angry. That’s what got me here, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”
In other words, relaxation is for others. Pence went on a three-week tear in which he batted .358 and looked better than he ever had. I’ve thought about that conversation a lot the last few years, especially in recent weeks as he has become something of a motivational hero for the San Francisco Giants. It was his pep talk before Game 3 of the NLDS that many Giants have said inspired them and helped them win three in a row against the Reds.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy noticed Pence when he managed the 2011 All-Star Game that included Pence, then a member of the Astros. First, Pence was bigger and stronger than he thought. Second, he was impressed with Pence’s enthusiasm and how the other All-Stars seemed to like him and enjoy being around him.
When Pence’s name came up in trade discussions later that season, Bochy endorsed the idea of adding him to the Giants. The Giants ended up getting Carlos Beltran, and it wasn’t until this season that Bochy finally got the chance to manage Pence.
“Well, I had a pretty good impression of him watching him on the other side, what he was about (when Pence played for the Astros and Phillies),” Bochy said. “But until you get to know a guy a little bit and I can’t say I got to know him well in the All-Star Game, but I watched him and met him and talked to him, and inside the clubhouse he made a couple comments. So I knew that he was all-out, full-throttle, as we call him, a guy that he’s going to lay it all on the line out there for you. Since we’ve acquired him, he’s been all that. Whether it’s been good or bad, this guy doesn’t let up. He doesn’t let one at-bat, two at-bats, whatever, affect him. He’s going to go out there and still do all he can to help you win a ballgame.”