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No, Hunter Pence isn't about to turn bat flips into the haka dance. The Giants outfielder did, however, become inspired by the famous rugby team that helped put the ritual dance on the map.
The Giants gave Pence an epic send-off in San Francisco on the season finale in 2018, when his career was at a crossroads. Pence had just hit a career-low .226 with only four home runs, also the lowest of his career. But the open-minded outfielder felt he still has plenty of game left in his tank and found motivation off the field.
"I think one of the coolest stories I've ever read was about the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team, which is one of the most successful organizations ever to play in professional sports with one of the highest winning percentages I think of all time," Pence said Tuesday on KNBR's "Mark Willard Show." "One of the things that they said is, even if they won the world championship, they would immediately scrap everything they did and start from scratch, knowing they had to get better if they wanted to do it again the next year.
"To me, that really opened my mind. If you're winning the championship and you've done it the most and you're immediately scrapping everything, and going 'How can we get better?' I think that growth mindset, it raises the bar to excellence at a much higher rate."
Pence met with famed hitting coach Dave Latta in the offseason to re-work his swing. The two-time World Series champion even played for the Toros del Este in the Dominican Winter League.
Throughout his career, Pence has used one of the most unorthodox swings in baseball. It took months to train his body and mind to swing differently in his 30s. Pence signed a minor league contract with the Texas Rangers as he hit well in the DR, but he didn't fully feel comfortable until the spring.
"It kind of all came together in spring training," Pence said. "It took all that time to kind of master that new swing plane -- swinging with my top hand vs. my bottom hand and swinging under vs. swinging down."
Pence went on to hit .297 with 18 home runs in 97 games for the Rangers. His comeback was one of the best stories in baseball, yet he remained unsigned deep into the offseason before the Giants brought him back for an unlikely reunion in early February.
With analytics and launch angle taking over in baseball, many veterans are wary of changing their ways. Not Pence, though. He made his spring debut Monday and hit an RBI single to center field in his second at-bat.
Playing his own funky way certainly was a key to Pence getting this far in his baseball career. Being willing to change and adapt, however, has kept his career alive.
How Hunter Pence was inspired by All Blacks rugby team to change swing originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area