Texas Rangers

‘We’ve got a long way to go, but I’m enjoying every bit of this journey’

Pence: Rangers hitters staying with approach on the road

Outfielder Hunter Pence says that the Texas Rangers’ offense finally started to see balls fall in on the road during two big weekend victories over the Seattle Mariners.
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Outfielder Hunter Pence says that the Texas Rangers’ offense finally started to see balls fall in on the road during two big weekend victories over the Seattle Mariners.

Just more than one month has passed since the dream came true for Hunter Pence.

The Arlington native wore a Texas Rangers jersey for the first time March 28 and was in the Opening Day lineup at Globe Life Park, where he had watched the Rangers play and imagined hitting home runs decades earlier.

Pence is a reserve with the Rangers, who have three outfielders whose careers are still dawning while Pence is on the twilight side of his. He is on the team to fill in when regulars need to sit and to fill in blanks when younger players have a question.

But Pence, 36, isn’t down shifting toward retirement in his 13th MLB season. He still works like he’s a rookie and is ready to play every day, and he has looked like he can still play every day.

Maybe more playing time develops. Maybe it doesn’t. Either way, after one month of the 2019 MLB season, Pence is thrilled with where he is.

Home playing baseball.

“I’m having a blast,” Pence said. “This is an unbelievable team, a phenomenal staff and a great team to play for in my hometown. We’ve got a long way to go, but I’m enjoying every bit of this journey.”

Everything the Rangers had heard about Pence being the consummate teammate and professional have rung true since he signed a minor-league deal with the team just before spring training.

His energy level, work ethic and professionalism set a high bar for younger players to reach, and that’s one of the reasons the Rangers pursued him in the off-season.

Players who come straight from the minors need to learn how to stay in the majors, from how to prepare every day to how to dress on road trips. The veterans aren’t babysitters, but they expect young players to take notes on how things are done.

“He’s one of the leaders just because of the presence he brings and the positivity he brings to the field every day,” left fielder Joey Gallo said. “I’ve never really played with a guy like that. He’s really great for the young guys and everyone in general. He’s a great addition to our clubhouse.”

The Rangers had an off day Monday before kicking off a quick five-game homestand Tuesday. Pence was in the middle of the Rangers’ big weekend in Seattle, where they scored 29 runs and collected 37 hits in victories Saturday and Sunday to snap a five-game losing streak.

The three-time All-Star went 5 for 11 with seven RBIs, four of which came Sunday. He drove in the game’s first run on a first-inning infield single, capped a four-run third with a two-run homer and added an RBI double in a four-run fifth.

After reinventing his swing in the off-season following a seven-year run with the San Francisco Giants, Pence is batting .321 (17 for 53) with an .898 OPS in 16 games. He is playing frequently against left-handed pitchers, and three of the other four teams in the American League West have at least one lefty in their rotations.

That’s an easy way for manager Chris Woodward to help keep Pence sharp.

“He’s getting an opportunity to get me into one game a series, and that’s been really nice,” Pence said. “I’m just here to help anyway I can. It’s about everyone, and whatever I can do to help, that’s what I’m here for.”

Pence has been helping in many ways while realizing the dream he had decades ago.

“He works his butt off every day,” Gallo said. “You could come to the field, and, ‘I’m not playing. Whatever.’ But he’s ready to play every day, ready to hit every at-bat. He’s stayed sharp and he’s made sure he does.

“I look up to him. He’s impressive to watch.”

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After 11 seasons covering the Rangers for the Star-Telegram, Jeff Wilson knows that baseball is a 24/7/365 business and there is far more to baseball than just the 162 games each season. There’s also more to Jeff -- like a family and impressive arsenals of Titleist hats and adidas shoes -- but sometimes it’s hard to tell.
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