Hunter Pence’s career resurgence earns All-Star starting spot
Hunter Pence was at it again Wednesday, talking about how much he loves baseball and how thrilled he is to be playing this season, in this moment, with his hometown Texas Rangers.
If anyone doubts him at this point, they haven’t been paying close attention to his story.
To summarize: 12-year veteran wasn’t ready to retire after trying 2018 season; felt need to reinvent swing; played winter ball to test it out; had to sign a minor-league deal just to get a shot; turned his work into an All-Star selection.
Pence’s feel-good story has been written dozens of times by various outlets.
But it hasn’t been told like a short documentary, courtesy of the LeBron James-founded Uninterrupted athlete-empowerment brand, that will hit airwaves Saturday for the first time.
The Pence Method goes with Pence to Los Angeles, where he started to overhaul his swing; to the Dominican Republic, where he endured highs and lows; and finally to Arlington, where the story has a happy ending.
There’s no narrator. It’s scene after scene of Pence, along with wife Lexi and others who believed enough in Pence to help him through one of the most difficult stretches of his career, woven perfectly together to capture his journey.
He hopes the show, which airs at 9 p.m. Saturday on Fox Sports 1, will encourage people facing similar long odds to keep believing in themselves.
“I felt like this story is my message,” Pence said. “Hopefully it can show someone else out there who has been told they can’t do something. To me, it’s a cool story. I had know idea where I was going to go, what was going to happen, and if I failed, at least I learned something about the game. I went for what I loved.”
Josh Kahn, Uninterrupted’s senior director/producer of original content, and his team captured moments that a pen and pad haven’t and couldn’t. They were at Doug Latta’s hitting facility near Los Angeles, at the home Pence rented in the Dominican Republic, and inside the clubhouse of Toros del Este of the Dominican Winter League.
Filming started in the morning and ran through the end of the baseball day.
The most telling moment was shot in the Dominican in December. Pence was on the phone with his agent, Danny Horwits, who had just returned from the winter meetings in Las Vegas with good news.
All 29 teams — he eliminated the San Francisco Giants, who had cut ties with Pence — were impressed, excited and intrigued about the journey Pence was taking.
Hearing that brought Pence to tears, though he called them tears of joy.
“There was a lot of doubt,” he said. “I lost my job. I wasn’t playing every day, and it hits your confidence. I wasn’t necessarily doing great right away. It took a lot of failing to really learn the swing change.
“When you’re going through that process, and when I heard that at the winter meetings at lot of general managers were interested, it was tears of joy. I felt super grateful and honored. It was like a light at the end of the tunnel.”
That scene did not hit the cutting-room floor, whatever that is in these digital days. It showed how much baseball means to Pence.
“It was amazing to see him battle through the ups and the downs, and stay really positive through them,” Kahn said. “Then to see that first-hand, that experience, that’s a big reason why we didn’t cut the scene at all. That raw emotion really came out. It was a special moment for him. You feel a certain way when you watch it, and to experience in person was really special. I was really happy for him.”
The documentary also reveals more about the joy baseball brings to the Dominican Republic. It shows how the other half to a ballplayer, in this case wife Lexi, supported Pence and coped with what he was going through.
She was all for Pence playing in the minors or even going to play in Japan.
“The dynamic, showing the familial elements of a baseball family, is much deeper than people think,” Kahn said. “Lexi’s involvement in the process is very significant and I think a huge part of his success, as well.”
Kahn has worked with other athletes during his career but said that none of them compares to Pence, whose energy is infectious and who has a unique outlook and awareness on life.
Pence, on the other hand, has never been camera shy.
“I’m pretty open,” he said.
But Pence was in a vulnerable situation during filming.
Neither Pence nor Kahn knew what the journey would entail. It was entirely possible that Pence wouldn’t take to the swing adjustments and that he wouldn’t make the Rangers’ roster out of spring training.
Failure was an option, even though it was never an option for Pence.
Kahn said the documentary would have aired there hadn’t been a happy ending because everyone at Uninterrupted was so captivated by Pence and the story being told.
“I didn’t know what was really going to happen. I had know idea what was going to happen last offseason,” Pence said. “I knew what I was doing was kind of crazy. That’s what I told them. They thought it was an interesting story.”
The Pence Method captures that in a way that hasn’t been told.
“I’ve worked with many athletes and I’ve seen them go through all sorts of journeys,” Kahn said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen one where a guy has followed all the steps and taken this hard road, and just to see him follow it all the way back to the top is pretty miraculous.”