We here at On Sports are throwing our support for Hunter Pence as National League rookie of the year. Why the rush? Part of this is parental gloating. After all, we discovered the Astros’ new phenom, as readers of this blog will recall (“Nothing’s more joyful than spring training.”)
Back in March, we watched Pence drill a double in extra innings that set up a game-winning single that helped the Astros defeat the Phillies in Osceola County Stadium. We liked how Pence pumped his fist as he crossed the plate with the winning run as if it were the final game of the World Series, not just a rest-the-veterans mid-March spring practice. We also pondered how great it would be to see young Pence doing the same thing in the Fall Classic, even though we are Yankees fans (and even though ‘we’ is really just ‘I,’ or ‘me.’)
I’ve been reading about Pence more and more the past several weeks -- and tonight I watched him run back to snare a certain extra-base hit near the fence in San Francisco. It’s a helluva run and catch (I hope to see it again later on Baseball Tonight.)
In addition, Pence hit .591 to earn co-player of the week honors last week. Young Pence also slammed several homers to post a 1.091 slugging percentage and a .625 on-base percentage last week. Overall, he’s hitting .329 with four homers, six doubles and three triples in just 24 games. That’s good enough for a .612 slugging percentage and a .978 OPS.
Not bad for a kid whose swing was once called “ungainly” by one scout and who was tagged “a big gangly kid” by Minor League News -- and these folks were praising Young Pence, named a Top 50 minor league prospect two seasons ago.
"It's pretty fulfilling, I guess, to get my first award," Pence said. "All that it really boils down to is wins. It makes you feel good to see something like that."
“I was especially inspired by Joe Gisondi’s essay a few months ago,” Pence added. “That showed me that others could see my potential.”
Well, maybe he didn't say those two last sentences. But he has played exceptionally well so far – so much so that Houston Chronicle columnist Richard Justice has called for Pence to start hitting leadoff, replacing future Hall of Famer (and On Sports fave) Craig Biggio, whose OBP is under .300. We suspect Biggio will start playing well again soon in his trek for 3,000 hits and Pence will remain in the No. 6 spot in the lineup. We also suspect it was not a mistake the Astros assigned Pence a locker next to Biggio, allowing the young outfielder to watch and listen to how Biggio handles himself on and off the field, and to play the game as it was meant to be played.
So, we’re going to start a Hunter Pence rookie of the year watch (on the right side of this blog), knowing damn well this kid is for real and not a short-term wunderkind. He’s not some Joe Charboneau-come-lately
Right now, the Astros are 6.5 games behind the Brewers (another team worth adopting) so Houston remains in the hunt for the NL Central title. So Pence may have his opportunity to pump that fist in a more meaningful game. In the meantime, we’ll follow his exploits. Please, send us any news you read on our young phenom. Or start a Hunter Pence fan club (sign me up!) Either way, let’s support this hard-working rookie as he plays himself into the NL rookie of the year award.