Lutz Blog

Bob Lutz: Giants’ Pence was quirky during his Liberal BeeJays days, too

Hunter Pence during his time as a college baseball player at Texas-Arlington.
Hunter Pence during his time as a college baseball player at Texas-Arlington. Arlington Voice

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Hunter Pence is having a big World Series for the San Francisco Giants, batting .474 in the first five games against Kansas City with six runs scored and five RBIs.

It’s reminiscent of another big World Series he had back in 2003, this one the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita. Pence, then a junior-to-be at Texas-Arlington, went 7 for 14 in three games for the Liberal BeeJays, with two triples and a double. Liberal was eliminated early in the tournament after just one win and was a nondescript 22-18 during the season.

But Pence, it will surprise no one, was a ball of fire.

He batted .429 for Liberal that summer with seven homers, 12 doubles and four triples, even though he had all the quirks and fidgets evident today.

“You could see he had a lot of talent, but he really had to refine some skills,” said Seward County assistant baseball coach Mike Davidson, who was the BeeJays’ head coach in 2003. “To be honest, I would have never thought in a million years that Hunter would be where he is today.”

Pence was drafted in the second round of the 2004 major league draft by the Houston Astros and has had eight highly-productive years in the majors, the past 2 1/2 seasons with the Giants.

He doesn’t throw like most throw. He doesn’t swing like most swing. He doesn’t look like most look.

But the results look good. Really good. He’s been the toughest out in the World Series going into tonight’s Game 6 at Kauffman Stadium with San Francisco holding a 3-2 edge.

“His college coach sent Hunter to us that summer and said not to panic, that he would grow on us,” Davidson said. “He said Hunter would grow on us. But my first impressions were not what you see today. He could barely throw a ball from left field to second base. But he could run, really run. And the ball came off his bat different than anybody else we had that summer.”

According to Brock Kappelman, the BeeJays’ radio play-by-play announcer since 1998, Pence had a special work ethic.

“Real, real hard-working,” Kappelman said. “He was always the first guy at the ballpark and the last guy to leave. We have a crew that works on the field before and after games and he was one of those guys. He always wanted to take extra batting practice and I remember he worked a lot on taking fly balls that summer. In the wind out here, he was having a hard time getting reads.

“In the years I’ve been doing this, he’s been the most successful in-season player that the BeeJays have had. He had a really good summer.”

Pence took off in professional baseball, batting .304 in 333 minor league games with 70 home runs. His body filled out and he gained power without losing much of his speed.

At 31, he’s one of the best outfielders in the big leagues.

“When he was here, he was just a fun guy to be around,” Kappelman said of Pence. “Easy to talk to and never bigger than the game. He was always very respectful to baseball and to the BeeJays. He came here for a summer and really went about it the right way.”

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