I was not a fan of the Hunter Pence trade back in 2011. I remember being in a hotel room with my family during the trade deadline that summer, desperately hoping that the Phillies wouldn't make that trade. I was sitting on the bed when my phone beeped, and I knew what the screen would say when I picked it up. I didn't want to look.
It's not that I thought he was a bad player. I just didn't think he was worth four prospects. I didn't think he was worth giving up Jonathan Singleton, Jarred Cosart, Josh Zeid, and (eventually) Domingo Santana. Seriously. The Phillies sent four players to Houston in exchange for Hunter Pence. Four.
For me, Pence came to symbolize everything the Phillies were doing wrong. They were in win now mode, but they also seemed to be salting the earth they trod on their way there. I envisioned Ruben Amaro Jr. standing on top of his desk, holding a stapler in one hand and a three-hole punch in the other, declaring "If we do not win, then we must lose!" and then barricading the door to his office until the ecstasy wore off. I disliked Pence not because he was bad (he was pretty awesome after he was traded to the Phillies, at least in 2011), but because I felt his very presence on the team was wrong and unnecessary.
It was even easier to hate Pence in 2012, when the Phillies very suddenly went from winning 102 games to being on the shitty side of mediocre. He wasn't hitting as well as he had in 2011, which was convenient, but I probably would have felt that way regardless. I wanted him to be traded not because I wanted new talent on the team, but because I wanted him gone. He was a reminder of the fruitless, painful 2011 postseason. When the Phillies traded Pence to the Giants that July, the Phillies got catching prospect Tommy Joseph, whose as-yet-unrealized future would contain multiple concussions. The Giants got their spiritual leader.
In 2012, the Giants flew to a World Series victory not on the back of Pence's hitting, but on the back of his inspirational speeches. Hunter Pence, gangly weirdsmobile and spaghetti-limbed dervish of baseball, had found where he belonged.
And seeing that, seeing how Pence fit in so well with the Giants, annoyed me even more. The Phillies of the last 7-8 years have never seemed comfortable with that kind of emotion. Or even emotion at all. They're like Catholics. "Well, evangelism and inspirational spiritualism is fine for all of *those* Christians. We've got our quiet homilies and recitations of faith and silent, serious prayer." The emotional, speech-giving Pence is not one that could have existed on the Phillies. But that guy is almost tailor made for the San Francisco Giants.
Hatred is taxing. It's not hard, but it's exhausting. And as this postseason has worn on, I found myself less and less willing to spend energy hating Hunter Pence. The vitriol is fading, and when you compare it to how I feel about the Giants and Cardinals, it barely registers anymore. Because none of it was Pence's fault. He was traded to the Phillies and then away from them, and none of that was his doing. The whole time, he was just being himself. He's one of those players who doesn't seem to obfuscate or give a pat answer to reporters. The guy you see is who he is, and he's that way all the time, incapable of tempering himself.
And that's what's been eating away at my long held hatred. He's so comfortable with who he is, and that person is so odd and delightful that it seems wrong to hate. When he'd give another speech to his teammates, or hang out with Daniel Bryan, or make an appeal for his stolen scooter, I'd give a cursory eye roll, but deep down I was always thinking "Man, that guy is just living life his own way!"
So I give up. I'm done hating Hunter Pence. I wouldn't say I like him yet, but it takes too much energy to hate him. Especially when there's so little to actually hate. If your whole body could sneeze, that's what Hunter Pence looks like when he plays baseball. I'm powerless against such genuine oddness.