“He runs like a spider on a hot plate.”
These were the words used to describe outfielder Hunter Pence. Mostly by outsiders who sought to make some sort of low-key aggress on San Francisco Giants fans who fawned over the wild-eyed Pence, their fandom peaking with every passing huff. It was no secret that when Giants fans last saw Pence wearing orange and black toward the end of the 2018 season (when he was forced to move from right field to left thanks to his decreased range) they thought that it could be the last time they would see him set foot on a diamond in the majors. It seemed like he might end up handing in his glove, his bat, his iridescent charisma, and greet retirement with a smile and a possible viral Instagram video.
(His acting skills though? Yeah, those memories fans can keep hidden within the dark and nailed trapdoors of their memories – just because you’re asked to star in Fuller House, doesn’t mean you SHOULD, Hunter.)
But that’s not how it has been playing out in 2019. Pence worked on his swing during the off-season and played in the Dominican Winter League, showing that he was not quite ready to give it up. Which earned him a camp invite from the Texas Rangers, where he earned a spot on the Opening Day roster.
On Wednesday, Hunter turned his back on everything — his past, his former batting average, his odoriferous acting skills — and focused plainly on his power. Pence hit a pinch-hit grand slam in Pittsburgh, helping his new team take a 9-6 lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates, and giving his new (and sometimes skeptical) fanbase something to chew on. And cheer for.
The 36-year-old felt retirement was overrated. It simply wasn’t in the wheelhouse for the man known as “The Reverend” (or Captain Underpants) in some parts of this world, and a crazy stick figure with hair in other parts. From the moment his name was announced on Opening Day in his hometown of Arlington, Texas, as a designated hitter, he’s been able to transform himself in a way that has been nothing short of gratifying to witness.
Since joining the Rangers, Pence has a .344 average, is slugging .656 with five homers and 21 RBI which is a far cry from the numbers he had with the Giants during his final season in the bay (he hit .226, with a .332 slugging percentage).
“That man, he has willed his way through a lot of things,” his former manager Bruce Bochy said of Pence’s performance. “I’m not surprised by anything he does. You’re talking about a changed player, too. Here’s a man who played Winter Ball to try to fix his swing and get it right.”
In some ways, Pence’s billet-doux of a season can be loosely associated with Edward Grieg’s Peer Gynt, Suite No. 1, Op. 46, also known as “In The Hall of the Mountain King”: starting out mildly soft with double basses, bassoons, and cellos, before the tempo builds, casually creeping up on you until it becomes an absolute force of nature.
And the Giants are listening with a restrained sense of awe.