Remember the name: Hunter Pence
Remember the name: Hunter Pence
Astros’ young outfielder already showing signs of greatness
By Denton Ramsey
19 games into Spring Training 2007, Hunter Pence was batting a sizzling .571 through 28 at-bats.
Especially considering this guy is just 23.
In the Grapefruit League, Pence garnered 16 hits on four doubles, two triples and two homeruns along with getting walked two times and hit by a pitch twice.
Welcome to Florida, Hunter.
On Thursday, March 22, the Astros announced they were sending Pence to their Triple-A team with Round Rock, ending Pence’s hot stint with Houston’s major leaguers.
But it has nothing to do with Pence’s performance in ST.
That, in and of itself, has been nothing short of remarkable.
The fact of the matter is that Hunter knew coming into camp that he was there just to show what he could do, with full knowledge he would be starting the season in one of the Astros’ farm systems.
The problem is that there just isn’t room for Pence to be an everyday starter with the Astros – it would be better for everyone involved with Hunter getting constant playing time in the farm system.
One thing is for certain: he turned many heads in Florida, and I have no doubt this guy will make it in the pros.
I truly can’t wait to see him in a hometown Houston uniform aiming for the walls at Minute Maid Park.
At this point and time, however, it looks as though Hunter will begin the 2007 season with Houston’s Triple-A team in Round Rock.
A team he has yet to play for.
However, Hunter has definitely been on winning teams before, and when asked about his favorite moment thus far in the Astros’ organization, Pence replied, “Winning the championship last year in Corpus Christi.”
After a brief pause, Pence continued, “That and all the friends I have made along the way.”
And what a group of friends that must be.
Going into ST this year, Pence was among good company – hanging out with the likes of Lance Berkman, Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell.
Wonder what that was like for him?
“It’s been incredible – that’s the main thing I can say – they all treated me just unbelievable,” Pence said. “They were real kind, acted like gentlemen and treated me with respect too.
“I was kind of nervous going in with how they were going to treat the rookie and all, but they were all very helpful and opened up and offered advice whenever I needed it – it was really just a great experience.”
According to Pence, some of his favorite ball players growing up were, “Guys like Ken Griffey Junior, Jeff Bagwell and Ricky Henderson – I was always a fan of the really fast guys – I was also a big fan of Kenny Lofton when I was a kid.”
Unlike many kids growing up wondering what they will do with their lives, Pence knew from the get-go that he wanted to be a professional baseball player.
“I decided to dedicate my life to baseball when I was young actually,” Pence said. “I played a lot of sports, but baseball was always the one that I took the most serious. I played them all for fun, but with baseball how I played always meant a lot to me and I practiced really hard since I was kid. But I guess I really decided I wanted to be a baseball player when I was like 9 years old and we were traveling to play baseball.”
And boy have we traveled many miles since that time, Hunter.
Pence said his favorite thing about playing baseball is, “Hitting.”
“I love hitting the ball,” Pence said with a laugh.
No doubt, Hunter.
And you’ve done a mighty good job of doing that thus far with a monster Spring Training outing.
So outside of baseball, what are some things Pence likes to do to ‘escape things’ and get away from it all?
“Probably the internet,” Pence said. “Playing video games and playing online.”
Spoken like your average 23-year-old.
However, this guy is far from your average 23-year-old playing video games after a day of playing baseball.
And don’t think for a second that all Hunter does with his spare time is play video games.
There’s more to Pence than that.
“I enjoy a lot of things – movies, going to see plays, going to do things like that,” Pence said. “I also enjoy fishing and camping – I really just like to see and do everything I can possibly do. Plus, my mind is always elsewhere so I just like to be active – anything interesting I like to do or at least attempt to do.”
Last season with Double-A Corpus Christi, Pence batted .283 with 28 homeruns, 95 RBIs and 17 stolen bases.
This year, he’ll get a shot to improve those numbers with the Triple-A Round Rock Express.
The one piece of advice Pence would give to a player striving to reach the majors?
“My advice would be to always believe in yourself and hard work pays off,” Pence said.
Pence can definitely speak from experience on that one, as Houston’s young prospect has gone from off-the-radar to bulls-eye in a matter of days.
All part of this wonderful thing called Spring Training.
For those wondering the greatest advice Pence has ever received when it comes to the game of baseball, those sacred words came from none other than Pence’s father.
“Well, it’s been the same things my whole life and they have been from the same person – from my dad,” Pence said. “He always gave me two pieces of advice – the first was to be relaxed to play baseball – if you’re not relaxed, you won’t be able to hit the ball – and the second thing was, ‘see the ball to hit the ball.’ So my whole life it has always been, see the ball to hit the ball and stay relaxed.”
So far, those two things seem to be taking Pence pretty far.
But the ride is far from over.
Nervous as he may have been entering camp a few short weeks ago, Pence has grown quite a bit since landing in Florida.
And Pence’s favorite thing about playing spring ball in Florida?
“The weather for one,” Pence said. “Most places you’d be right now it would be cold, and out here the sun is always shining and there’s always just great weather. Also, the facilities in Florida are really nice, and the people.”
As Astros general manager Tim Purpura has said before, “His time will come.”
I echo those very words.
Pence’s time will come, and it may come much sooner than anyone expects.
The last question I had for Pence before I let him get back to charging his cell phone and playing some video games was this: who’s going to win the National League Central this year?
“Uh, the Astros, right?”
That’s what I say, Hunter.
And that’s what I am hoping for and praying for as well.
Who know, Pence might have a hand in our quest for a World Series.
One way or the other, this guy was meant to play the game of baseball.
And it’s just a matter of moments before we see Hunter Pence’s name on the big screen at Minute Maid.
Denton Ramsey may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org