PHOENIX, Ariz. — As he approaches his 30th birthday, Giants right fielder Hunter Pence has learned to stop worrying about individual numbers. Pence instead focuses on preparation, whether that means expending maximum effort during marathon workout sessions, religiously playing ping pong to sharpen his fast-twitch muscles, or ingesting a unique diet.
As it turns out, Pence's transition from right fielder to reverend last season stemmed partly from years of preparation. How do you go from trade deadline acquisition to vocal clubhouse leader in two months? With plenty of practice. Because his father moved around often for work, Pence attended 12 schools before enrolling at Arlington (Texas) High, and he credits that experience with helping him quickly adjust after last season's trade.
"New situations never bother me," Pence said. "I've gotten used to making new friends all the time. I get along pretty easily with most people."
Pence was an immediate fit in the Giants clubhouse, but the transition from Philadelphia to San Francisco wasn't as seamless at the plate. A two-time All-Star, Pence hit just .219 in 59 post-trade games, with an OPS (.671) that was nearly 150 points below his career average.
Pence says he didn't feel any pressure to impress a team that had spent over a year trying to acquire him. He didn't really notice the dip in production, either.
"I was brought here to compete, and I gave my maximum effort and concentration every day," he said. "I remember I went out there every day, playing the game to win."
Pence paused and smiled.
"And it seemed like we won a lot of games," he added.
The Giants went 38-21 after Pence's acquisition, and they made history with two postseason comebacks that were inspired by Pence's wide-eyed speeches. Months later, Pence believes he has gotten too much credit for rallying the troops. He points out that the Giants still had to perform on the field and talks passionately about the contributions made by teammates.
In his first spring with the Giants, Pence interjects when asked about his role as a team leader, saying: "I don't know if I would claim any of that." But it's clear that teammates gravitate toward Pence just as much as they did in the postseason.
"I don't know how to explain it," said Brandon Belt, Pence's throwing partner before morning workouts. "He's just a really genuine guy. You can see through BS in a clubhouse, but what he says, he means. He's just got a really positive mentality about everything."
Nobody spends more time in the clubhouse at Scottsdale Stadium than Pence, and on any given morning he can be seen sipping from a large coffee mug and sharing workout or baseball philosophies with everyone from veteran Gregor Blanco to up-and-coming prospect Gary Brown.
While Brown has a unique wiggle in his approach at the plate, Pence takes unorthodox to new levels. From his sidearm throwing motion to the herky-jerky warm-up swings, Pence does little by the book.
Last September, Pence added an off-field habit that leads to just as many wide-eyed stares from teammates. He follows the paleo diet, commonly referred to as the "cave man diet" because it is based on eating only food that was around during the Paleolithic era. The focus is on fish, grass-fed meats, vegetables, fruit and nuts. Grains, legumes, dairy and processed foods are banned.
"It's just a program that I follow," Pence said, explaining that teammates give him weird looks as he "crushes" a plate of kale. "I didn't think it was a big deal to eat vegetables. Apparently it is."
GIANTS 6, BREWERS 1, at Phoenix
Matt Cain gave up four hits and a run in a victory over Milwaukee, but left after the third inning because of an upset stomach. Cole Gillespie and Wilson Valdez had two hits apiece for the Giants.