Hunter Pence, man, he’s a weird-lookin’ dude. His game is an awkward jumble of limbs and facial hair out of which eyes bulge in an apparent mixture of anger and surprise. I can only imagine what a first-time Pence observer must think when they see him and learn that he’s actually a really good player.
Between the unkempt hirsutism and the incongruous athletic ability, Pence is like a real-life version of Teen Wolf out there, only on the diamond instead of the hardwood or the squared circle. In fact, I fully expect him to perform handstands and back flips on the float for the parade that will inevitably follow another Giants’ even-year victory.
My dad has a neuro-muscular issue that affects his lower legs to the point where his calves are completely atrophied; it’s like a localized version of ALS. This affliction robbed him of the ability to run, forcing him out of sports in his teens and impacting his mobility ever since.
Pence, on the other hand, has made due quite well with what appears to be a pair of bendy straws sprouting forth from his hips. Somehow, in the midst of this whirling dervish that breaks at least two of Newton’s laws of motion, Pence has managed to fashion himself into more than just a sideshow act.
Over eight big league seasons, the Fort Worth product has put up a respectable .284/.338/.472 slash line while hitting 185 home runs and driving in 689. He’s been named to three All-Star teams, won a World Series with the Giants in 2012, and even took home the McCoveted Willie Mac Award, given annually to the Giants player who best exemplifies Willie McCovey’s spirit and leadership, in 2013.
As a result of all this, Pence has become a bit of a cult figure in Major League Baseball, inspiring legions of fans to create signs with clever phrases that portray the baseball player as sort of an anti-Chuck Norris. I mean, this is a cat who, in a supreme act of self-aware savoir faire, admitted in his World Series intro that he rides his scooter to the ballpark.
With that in mind, here’s just a small sampling of some of the Pence-centric phrases seen on placards from ballparks around the country (which includes, of course, the featured image):
Hunter Pence can’t parallel park
Hunter Pence likes the Godfather 3
Hunter Pence puts ketchup on his hot dog
Hunter Pence knows Victoria’s Secret
Hunter Pence remembered your birthday without Facebook
Hunter Pence wears a shirt when he swims
Hunter Pence pours the milk before the cereal
Hunter Pence hoards garden gnomes
And my personal favorite:
Hunter Pence doesn’t drink often, but when he does…he prefers Zima
Okay, that’s pretty funny. But was there really any point to all that, other than the one on my head? Well, yeah…sort of. The point is that Pence, whether in spite or because of his eccentricities, is a catalyst of sorts. He’s a touchstone for both teammates and fans, whether they root for or against the Giants.
And the best part about it: Hunter Pence revels in it. He doesn’t take himself too seriously and he appears to genuinely enjoy playing the game of baseball while also making it more fun to watch. Doesn’t every team want a guy like that, someone who the organization and its fans can sort of rally behind?
The Cubs have had some players like that before, guys who engendered a loyalty and camaraderie both in the clubhouse and in the stands. But have they ever had a guy quite like this?
Mark Grace had that old-school, grindy feel that made you realize he was getting more out of his God-given lack of athleticism than you would have. Plus, he didn’t use batting gloves. He was a hilarious spinner of yarns and buster of slumps, but he was also somewhat of a horse’s ass at times, to the point that he alienated many fans.
Sammy Sosa was another who conducted himself with a boisterous enthusiasm, playing with both the personality and physique of an animated character. Sosa too inspired signs in the crowd, though many were harshly derisive of his “alleged” cheating rather than being cheekily humorous like those listed above.
Perhaps the most apt Cubs comparison to the exploits of Hunter Pence would be the great Shawon Dunston, The namesake of baseball’s greatest sign, the Shawn-O-Meter, was freakishly athletic, a little quirky, and had a smile that lit up Wrigley a full three years before 8/8/88. He was never the best player on the team, but he was a great character and an integral piece.
I’d love to see a guy like that at 1060 W. Addison again. Starlin Castro is a bit too reclusive and aloof and Anthony Rizzo is likely more of the sterotypical leader. Kris Bryant is too dreamy and Jorge Soler may not be the guy to really energize the masses. So who does that leave us?
Could Javier Baez be that guy? If he’s able to harness that brutal swing, he’s already got one Pence trait down cold. Then again, does he possess or can he develop the easy-going sense of self-confidence and self-deprecation required to play that role? Does a guy with the MLB logo tattooed on the back of his neck take himself too seriously or can he use that as his own personal Hunter Pence sign?
And who knows, maybe the Cubs’ de facto mascot is a guy we’ve never even heard of yet. Maybe we never will. While, at the end of the day, I’d rather have my team hated for winning baseball games than have a player with such aplomb that the rest of the world embraces him too. But I’ll be damned if having a dude like that around isn’t a lot of fun.
I’m not all that excited for either team in the Fall Classic, to be honest. But I have to admit that seeing Pence out there with his googly eyes and his weird beard just put a smile on my face. I’d love to wear that same smile while watching some goofball in blue pinstripes circle the bases on the big video board in left field next season.
Then again, I also prefer baths, eat pizza with a fork, and can’t shuffle playing cards.