With Hunter Pence‘s days as a San Francisco Giants player likely numbered, there will be plenty of editorials written about what he meant to the Giants and how they will go on without him.
Allow me to write about what he means to me, a humble San Francisco Giants fan, and what he may mean to us all.
I will never forget the first time I saw Hunter Pence with my own eyes at the 2011 All-Star Game in Arizona. He wasn’t a Giant at the time. He wasn’t even on the Phillies. He was still on the Astros, the team that drafted him.
My dad was able to score us tickets right next to the National League bullpen so we’d be right up close to my favorite player at the time, Brian Wilson. Little did I know that the guy who eventually came into the game in left field would soon become my new favorite player.
I distinctly remember my dad and I making fun of Pence’s throwing motion as he warmed up in left. It looked like he was trying to throw his arm along with the ball as he heaved it violently. He made our laughs look foolish when later in the game he gunned down Jose Bautista at the plate, getting a base hit in the game as well.
As we drove home we agreed that while Pence’s play looked ugly at times, it was certainly effective.
Fast forward to a year later, in September of 2012, just a month after Pence had been acquired by the Giants, my friend and I went to a Giants and Diamondbacks game. Yet again, Pence was the subject of razzing, this time from my friend who was a Diamondbacks fan. He poked fun at his crazy practice swings and goofy socks.
“Don’t judge this guy just on his appearance,” I warned him. And wouldn’t you know it, later in the game Pence blasted a monstrous grand slam, which brought me to my feet and made my friend cross his arms in disgust.
Two-thousand and thirteen was the year I really fell in love with the guy. This was because I got to watch him for a full year and see that not only was he a good player, but he played hard. He played the way Pete Rose did: all out and with everything left on the field.
That’s the way my dad taught me to play and his dad before him. So to see a guy in the modern game (where jogging down the line on routine ground balls seems commonplace) bust his rear down the line on a come-backer to the pitcher, you can bet that guy’s going to be my favorite player.
Pence is a weird guy. Maybe weird isn’t the right word — eccentric may be better suited. But that’s the reason that the city of San Francisco has embraced him so lovingly. A city that embraces the misfit, the outcast, and the nonconformist is perfectly suited for the guy who scooters to the ballpark every day, or hitches his pants up above his knees.
The real reason that I think people gravitate to Pence is because he’s authentic. Nowadays authenticity is often looked at with an ironic or cynical eye. “He must be putting on an act,” or “The guy is a freak,” may be the first impression of some after seeing him deliver a rousing speech before a playoff game.
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But after watching the guy play baseball for the last five and a half years and hearing testimony from the people who know him best (i.e. wife, coaches, players), it’s clear that there’s nothing fake about him.
In a society where the individual is number one and you’re supposed to look out for yourself before others, it’s refreshing when Hunter Pence responds to a question from Amy G about him needing a walk-off hit by saying, “It’s not about what I need. We needed this win.” Spoken from another mouth it may garner an eye roll for being perceived as phony.
But when Hunter says it, you know that he means it.
Putting the team above one’s self, deflecting praise and dishing it onto others (i.e. humility), being the peacemaker instead of seeking conflict, and doing something because you love it and want to invest your entire soul and being into it are things that seem to have gone out of style.
Pence does all that he can to keep them in style.
He reminds me, reminds us, that if you’re going to do something, you do it 100 percent without leaving anything in the tank. He reminds us to be humble and understand that no matter where we get in life, we never get there alone. He reminds us to not judge a book by its cover, and to put aside preconceived notions about people who are different.
But most importantly (although it may be corny), he reminds us all to be ourselves. There’s a lot of emphasis put on this notion throughout your life, but few commit themselves so thoroughly to being themselves more than Hunter Pence.
And while being yourself might cause some to snicker at you, or make signs making fun of you, if you are able to disregard what people think, then at the very least you’ll have the respect of those who take the time to acknowledge the fact that you’re genuine and sincere.
I haven’t lived all that long, but I cannot think of someone else being so beloved and so treasured for being themselves, not merely for their accomplishments (although helping a franchise win two championships will certainly not hurt your lovability).
As Babe Ruth said in The Sandlot, “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” Well, in my mind, Hunter Pence is a hero and a legend. We shall never forget him, and his spirit will never die no matter how many years pass since he’s put on a San Francisco Giants uniform and hustled out onto the field to give it everything that he’s got.