April 10, 2008
The Houston Astros' Hunter Pence(notes) crashed onto the major league scene a season ago, aggressively becoming one of National League's top young outfielders and finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting. As an encore, Pence this spring crashed through a sliding glass door, shattering it and sending him to the emergency room. The Arlington, Tex., native healed, though his .186 batting average so far does not resemble last season's .326 mark. Houston fondly embraces Pence, hopeful he will continue in the tradition of Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Lance Berkman(notes). In return, Pence is active in the community, from personal interaction with troubled youth to a surprising allegiance to a popular Internet video game.
Q: How can you possibly fit in around here, because your last name doesn't start with a "B"?
Hunter Pence: Ha! There's a lot of us whose last name doesn't start with a "B." Yeah, the "Killer B's" have been around for a long time in Houston and have been a staple of the team, but we've had to move on. We still got Berkman and Brocail — I don't know if pitchers count as Killer B's — but you just gotta do your things … I could be one of the Killer P's. I'll take that.
Q: I'll bet I can guess your favorite player growing up.
HP: Take a guess.
Q: Rusty Greer?
HP: No. I liked him, though. That's a good guess. Pete Rose, George Brett. Those were my favorites but I followed the Rangers and I followed the Astros. I was a big Bagwell/Biggio fan. I liked a lot of the hard-nosed, fast guys — some of them were my favorites to watch. I liked watching Rickey Henderson.
Q: Did you see Nolan Ryan's seventh no-hitter in person?
HP: No. I really didn't get to go to too many games growing up. I watched them on TV because I was playing ball so much. I played 60-some games in the summer. I had other sports I was doing too.
Q: You were drafted in the 40th round by the Brewers in 2002. How could you turn down the, what, 40 pounds of bratwurst they offered you as a signing bonus?
HP: I wanted to sign [laughs] because this was the first time I got drafted and had a chance to chase the dream, but I wanted to get a few more years of college in.
Q: No interest in playing for the Longhorns out of high school?
HP: I definitely would have had an interest in playing for the Longhorns. I grew up a UT fan. I wanted to play baseball for (Texas) A&M as well — I rooted for Texas, as far as teams go, football — but I loved the operation A&M had going.
Q: You were leading the league in hitting at the All-Star break. Did they make you half of a trophy for that?
HP: Ha! Nah, I didn't get anything for that. It's kind of funny; my name wasn't even on the list until, like, two days before the end of the first half, so no one even knew I was leading it. Then, all of the sudden, right at the end, I met the quota for number of at-bats, and they're doing the All-Star Game, going over the leaders and, "Well, the leader of the league in hitting is Hunter Pence. Where'd he come from?" I thought it was pretty funny. It was neat.
Q: Why don't you make a deal with Mark Bailey so you can wear No. 6? Then you'd be Six Pence.
HP: Ha! Never thought about that. I grew up being No. 8, but I'm happy with nine. That'd be pretty funny. That's what they gave me, and I'll stick to it. That's a good play on words, though.
Q: If you called yourself "Hunter Pants," would you be camouflage or reflective orange?
HP: Hunter Pants. I'd go with camouflage. I've been called "Under Pence" a lot. But if I was Hunter Pants, I'd go with camouflage.
Q: As a precaution, are you never going to again wash a window?
HP: Um, I'm never going to run where there's a glass sliding door. I'm going to walk.
Q: And look. Were you looking?
HP: I don't … I really just … It happened so fast, like a quick decision to turn. I think I was looking. It's not that I washed it — it was a brand new townhouse, so maybe they washed it — but someone else had shut the door without me looking, so in my brain it was open. … You know what's amazing about it? How many people have told me they've done the same thing, but they didn't fall through, they just bounced off it. I'm the only one that's crazy enough to be running.
Q: What's the second oddest way you've ever injured yourself?
HP: Rolling down a hill. I was 16 at the Rangers game. They have a hill — it's outside, where you walk to the [stadium] — where you can roll and some people were racing. I, for whatever reason thought I was invincible and [dived] down it as fast as I could and separated my shoulder … I think I had a girlfriend at the time and I didn't want to do it, and she went and did it, and then I saw all these people racing. So, I was like, if I have to stand here I might as well go beat those guys. That was the dumbest idea ever.
Q: Is that the most extreme thing you've done to impress a girl?
HP: It wasn't to impress the girl, it was strictly out of boredom. It looked like fun. The craziest thing I've done to impress a girl. I don't, usually, go out of my way to do that. I just try to be a gentleman. It's yet to come.
Q: You made the dean's list in junior college but you join an Astros team with legendary smart guys such as Lance Berkman (Rice) and Brad Ausmus(notes) (Dartmouth). Where does your IQ fit in?
HP: I keep it on the low. I don't want to let anyone know that I'm smart. I don't think any of them know that I've made grades like that [laughs]. I want everyone in the baseball world to think that I don't know what I'm doing. It's kind of like my hidden trick that I know what's going on [laughs].
Q: Is Berkman always talking about the Alamo like he was there to defend it?
HP: Yeah, he does talk about that. He brings up all of the old wars. I think it's somewhat part of his humor. He'll just drop random battlefields on you and you've got to go, "What is he, some kind of history major?" and go look it up and see what he's talking about. It's generally pretty comical.
Q: Do you play World of Warcraft?
HP: Yeah. That's my hobby.
Q: I don't know too much about it — other than from the "South Park" episode — do you?
HP: The "South Park" episode is really funny, actually, and that's the only thing most people know about it: "Oh, you're a nerd in a basement." But really, it's for the competitive edge in me. I always have to be competing. There are different things you can do in the game, but all of what I usually do is play with my brother [Howie]; it's a way for us to keep in communication. It's like, two versus two where we go and battle two other people. You put your team together and battle it out.
Q: You've created your own avatar?
HP: Yeah, yeah, you have to have own character. There's, like, three different ones from which I choose, but my main one is a mage.
Q: OK. What does a mage do?
HP: They blow things up [laughs].
Q: If your bobblehead doll could talk, what would it say?
HP: We didn't get dressed up for nothing.
Q: Is your family in the oil business?
Q: Can't you ask your dad to lower the price of crude?
HP: Ha! No, he can't. I don't think he can do that. It's definitely not in our power. All we do is invest in oil wells and whatnot and, generally, we don't want it to be this high. I don't think anybody wants it to be this high. I don't know how all that works out, but it's not in our control. Back when it was really low, we couldn't raise it, and now that it's really high we can't lower it. Somewhere in between is where we'd like it to be.
Q: As the economy recedes, oil prices rise and tensions mount, what are the chances that Texas secedes from the union and becomes a republic again? Or has it already?
HP: No! Anything's possible, but I don't think that's going to happen.
Q: What's Happy Hill Farm mean to you?
HP: Man, it's a great organization. A great idea to help our kids who are having a tough time, to help lead them on the right path and give them an opportunity. Maybe their parents are having trouble. … A friend of the family – his mother – was a teacher there and told me about it. I said I wanted to check it out, and I spent a day there with a lot of the older kids. I'm just getting my feet wet with the organization; hopefully we can have a good relationship.
Q: OK, last question.
HP: These are interesting questions. I've never had an interview like this.
Q: Tell me about that.
HP: No, I can't. I shouldn't have mentioned that. I just took us from a place we were … no, it ain't happening.