With a cup of coffee in hand and a copy of Napoleon Hill's famous self-motivational book, Think and Grow Rich, on his lap, the newest Phillie, Hunter Pence, was into his pregame routine when he was told there would be no game on Sunday.
Just like that, Pence had nothing planned and all day to do it.
So before diving back into the Andrew Carnegie-inspired book which explains to readers that they can do or be anything, a book that Ken Norton famously read before beating Muhammad Ali to win the heavyweight title in 1973, Pence took a little time to talk to some of the local writing press about how things were going during his first fortnight with his new team. Sprinkled in, of course, were little insights into what makes Pence tick.
Were only going to see prosperity and success, you know what Im saying, he said. Theres going to be criticism at some point. But if you go out and you give everything that you have, youll end up alright.
That, at its essence, is Hunter Pence. At some point during any conversation with the guy, he will say something about how his daily goal is to try as hard as possible to be the best person he can. That goes for everything, whether he's taking batting practice, chasing down fly balls in right field or hitting behind Ryan Howard in manager Charlie Manuel's batting order. Actually, it goes for everything. He could be playing ping-pong or walking down the street to his new digs in town overlooking the city. Success, both tangible or not, is what drives Pence.
Shoot, even Pence's catchphrase, "Good game, let's go eat," is embedded into the larger goal. No, Pence wasn't expecting it to become fodder for t-shirts.
It did catch on pretty quick. Good game, lets go eat. The phrase has an underlying message a good one, Pence said. Lets get this win is what were saying.
And so far, it's been nothing but wins since Pence joined the Phillies. The team is 12-2 since the trade with the Astros and Pence is batting .327 with three homers, 11 RBIs and a .381 on-base percentage. Better yet, Howard, the cleanup hitter Pence was acquired to "protect," is batting .333 with six homers and 17 RBIs in the 14 games since the trade.
Sure, Howard is known as a strong finisher, but Manuel says it isn't so much about Pence's addition to the roster behind the cleanup man that has spurred the Phillies. With Pence, Manuel says, the Phillies' entire lineup is much better. He is a piece that has been missing since Jayson Werth departed.
I think it has to do with having better balance in our lineup and getting more guys on base, Manuel said.
Pence agrees with his managers analysis.
I see our offense as pretty strong, we can battle any night, Pence said. Ryan Howard is leading the league in RBIs. The guy is unbelievable. All the way up and down there are people who can hurt you. We know it's not easy to face this lineup because there are so many hitters you have to bear down on. Normally there are two in most lineups. We go Rollins-Victorino-Utley-Howard-myself-Ibanez, when Polanco is healthy, there's no break. Everyone is capable to do damage. And don't forget about Chooch. He's going to drive in runs and hit line drives everywhere. If you sleep on him, you get hurt, too.
Man of the people
Pences allure so far has been twofold. On one side he has been extremely productive on the field as indicated by the numbers. The second part is that he looks just like the quintessential Philly fan favorite when plying his trade. He doesnt exactly look smooth on the diamond, with his pigeon-toed batting stance and choked up swing.
When running and throwing Pence is a mess of effort and elbows and other limbs unraveling in an awkward distilling of energy.
No, there is no mistaking that Pence is giving a max effort.
But where Pence has really endeared himself to the Phillies fans has been through simply acknowledging them. When he takes the field for the top of the first at the Bank, Pence makes sure to wave to the fans in the right-field seats before warming up. Who knew that such a simple act could go so far?
Regardless, its sort of an example of the artist and his audience being one in the same. Pence loves playing baseballthats pretty evidentand he puts his passion and enthusiasm right out there on display with the 45,000 folks who fill the ballpark every night. In fact, Pence said he felt a bond with the Philadelphia fans when he came to town for games with the Astros. Pence enjoyed the back and forth with the fans, particularly in how they would send him messages via Twitter. He says he fed off it, and now that hes with the Phillies, the fans passion fuels him even more.
I feel very welcome. I feel like Philly is a good city that my personality fits in good with. I like the city's mentality bring your lunchbox to work and lets get after it, Pence said. I feed off of it, I really get excited just watching how Utley goes about it. And Victorino, too. I feel like I have similarities to both of them. I feel really comfortable with who I am here on this team and in this city. I know when I come to the field Im going to give everything I have on that day. Im not going to accept anything less. My goal every day I wake up in the morning is Im going to give all I have on that day and I'm going to get better every day.
Its very difficult to not be won over by the native Texans positivity. Besides, an attitude like that will make Pence a favorite regardless of slumps or ineffectiveness. Though they are different types of players, Pence has a demeanor not unlike former Phillie Jim Thome in that he enjoys all peopleeven the media.
When told he has Thomes old locker, Pences smile spread from ear to ear.
Jim Thome. I like that, he said.
He also likes the move from Houston to Philadelphia, too. Born in Fort Worth and raised in Arlington outside of Dallas, Pence is a Texas boy through and through. Aside from a bit of time in the minors, Pence has spent his entire life in Texas, so it would be easy to understand the apprehension about coming to Philadelphia.
But thanks to his family and friendsand all those followers on TwitterPence says the transition has been smooth. His family drove his truck from Houston to Philadelphia had his clothes cleaned and foundfurnished his apartment all while he was on the Phillies 10-game road trip.
Then again, Pence says his family is just as excited as he is to be playing for the Phillies.
When I got back, my car was here and my parents already had my place furnished, he said. Its like the coolest place Ive ever beenIm overlooking Philadelphia with all the windows everywhere. Im by the water. I see a bridge, I can see the buildings Its beautiful and I love it.
Sounds like Philly is falling for Pence, too. Then again, a bunch of his former teammates that spent some time with the Phillies kind of clued him in on what to expect.
They all had a little smile and said that you dont know what you are in for. You are going to have a lot of fun, he said. And they were right.
E-mail John R. Finger at email@example.com