Posts Tagged ‘HUnter Pence’

Hunter Quickly Home in PENCE-ilvania

July 31, 2011

Hunter Pence greets Phillies Mate Ryan Howard after Homer.

Hunter Pence got something from his new club, the Philadelphia Phillies, that he never could have gotten had he been traded to the New York Yankees. He got uniform number 3. No further explanation should be necessary. If it is, stop reading right now. You’re in the wrong house.

The very believable early coverage of Hunter Pence walking onto the field in a Phillies uniform in Philadelphia for the first time on Saturday were quite convincing of the young man’s matching desire and capacity for being at home with his change of teams. As he walked into the pre-game foray, he waved at fans in the stands, signed autographs at the railings, and generally hobnobbed with his new Phillies teammates as though he had been with them for five years.

The telling comment on Pence fell easily from his lips at the early media conference held to welcome him in one of the stadium’s internal meeting rooms. In expressing his thrill to be playing for a contender, Pence remarked that it was also good now to be with a team “that really wants me.” Stretch that sub-message out for proper size. In spite of what ball players say about baseball being  business and trades being a part of the game, players are also human beings. Getting traded, especially the first time, also feels like abandonment on one side and redemption on the other.

Hunter Pence is going to do just fine in Philadelphia. He was only one for five in his first Phillies game, but he also picked up an RBI on his first Philadelphia single from the number five hole in the lineup. Phillies clean up hitter Ryan Howard ought to be especially glad to see Hunter Pence hitting behind him now. Hunter’s presence there probably helped Howard get that pitch that he drove out of the park.

Good luck to the rest of the National League contenders from this point forward,  With the addition of Hunter Pence, the Phillies now look even more like the team to beat.

Welcome to Los Astros, Texas!

July 30, 2011

What do Nolan Ryan, Hunter Pence, and Roy Oswalt now have in common?

Today’s column is purely emotional. Most of us understand why popular, productive players get traded. We simply don’t like the quick and easy “it’s a business” explanation for why baseball does what it does. Logically, we all know too that the benign aim here is to replenish the talent in the farm system pipeline, but we also understand why that problem exists. It exists because the club allowed the farm system to miss on talent judgments and high choice signings for, what, about a decade? An MLB franchise cannot operate that ineffectively for that long without paying a serious price and – here it is.

Last night, the Astros lost Hunter Pence in a trade for high potential younger players of the Philadelphia Phillies, but we didn’t simply lose him to  the need for rebuilding. We lost him due to the sorry past decision-making that left our club’s farm system in shambles. With the right people and mindset, we could still rebuild our farm system without trading away the heart and face of the franchise, but the club is still looking for the shorter corner on change – even if it means trading away their best, most popular player to get there.

Back in 1956-57, a fellow everyone called Trader Frank Lane because of his propensity for dealing away anybody and everybody was serving as General Manger of the St. Louis Cardinals. In 1957, Lane tried to trade Stan Musial to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Robin Roberts. When Cardinals owner found out about it, he quickly snuffed the trade and soon got rid of Lane. The Cardinals kept the heart of their club and preserved his iconic place in Cardinals history.

Well, sure, Hunter Pence is not Stan Musial, but he was the heart of the Astros lineup. He looked like ballplayer, He dressed like a ballplayer. And he played like a ballplayer. But he is an Astro no more. There was no one in place to stop this trade. That sad trek of Pence back to the Astros dugout in the fifth inning last night is a visual that will burn in the hearts of all fans who care about him forever. We could see Hunter fighting back the tears as he accepted the goodbye hugs of his teammates on his way back to the clubhouse and out the door on the way to Philadelphia.

The clip of that sweet-sorrow parting plays on in my head.

As a result of this latest stinging loss, I have created a reliquary of Astros Sad Departures in my own head, I’m christening the place this morning as “Los Astros, Texas,” the spiritual hall of all traded, lost, and driven away Astros. The list includes only those true Astros who made the mistake of speaking back to management or ownership, or for resenting their devaluation by ownership, or being caught up in the whirlwind of Astros GMs that made trades to see what differences they might make, or of being caught up in the tide of trades that some GMs prefer to make with any club known as the Philadelphia Phillies.

Los Astros, Texas: The Astros Sad Departures Reliquary, so far, includes these select resident members: Rusty Staub, Joe Morgan, Mike Cuellar, Jimmy Wynn, Bob Watson, Nolan Ryan, Billy Wagner, Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, and Hunter Pence.

Please note that each of these losses has inflicted universal stomach pain and heartache upon all orange-souled Astros fans. Unlike the trade of Brad Lidge, a deal largely influenced by the closer’s history of major chokes in the post-season, or the minor deal that sent an injured and older Larry Dierker to St. Louis, these other listed icons were snatched from our arms at moments they represented hope for the future.

Hunter Pence: On a happier night at the Houston Baseball Dinner, 2008.

I finally got to meet Hunter Pence at the June 24th dedication of the Jimmy Wynn Baseball Training Center on the near north side. Hunter showed up in jeans and his firebrick red Astros jersey. In a brief conversation with Pence and Bob Watson, I asked Hunter if he knew that Bob Watson held a place in baseball history as the man who scored the game’s one millionth run.

“Wow,” Pence said, as he turned that intense, full interest, awesome stare upon the older retired Astro icon, “I didn’t know that! That’s really something.”

Watson sort of deflected the credit. “They are scoring runs at a faster clip and playing more games these days,” said Bob Watson. “In your lifetime, you now have a chance to become the man who scores baseball’s two millionth run.”

“That would be sweet,” Pence said quietly as eyes and smile lit up to do most of the talking.

Hunter may get that two millionth run someday too. It just won’t be as an Astro.