SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - With Hunter Pence it's the eyes.
You walk up to some players early on a spring-training morning and the eyes look away. It's like — "This is way too soon for talk. Let me drink my coffee and get ready for life."
Not with Pence. His eyes are inviting. You might even say absorbing. They are open wider than most eyes, almost startled, and it seems he never blinks. Maybe he sees more than everyone else.
He is sitting at his locker, gazing around the clubhouse. That is what he does, he gazes. You ask for a minute of his time. You say the subject is awkward. He perks up. You say the subject literally is awkward. You tell Pence he looks awkward when he plays baseball.
You've been thinking about this, how his practice swings look like someone attacking poultry with an ax, how his outfield throws come at a curious angle. If he were a Little League player and you were his coach, you might try to remake him.
You tell him of this, speak of his awkwardness. Those eyes, he drinks you in with them.
"People seem to say that about me," he says. "When I'm playing, I'm more focused on what's going on. So, I don't totally know what it looks like. It's a reoccurring theme that whatever I do is awkward. I understand it may appear that way."
He takes no offense. You say, "So, there are two ways of perceiving. How you experience yourself — &‘I don't feel awkward.' And how you are looked at from the outside. And when you experience it yourself it just feels normal."
"Yeah, I'm just playing the game."
Pence has introduced one of the basic issues of Western philosophy. What is primary, internal or external reality? He will do things like that early on a spring morning.
You say, "I'm sure you see video of yourself playing. When you watch yourself, you're the outsider looking in. Does it look the way other people do it or do you see yourself at those moments as a little awkward?"
"You referring to hitting or outfield?"
"Hitting, for sure, but also the way you move around the outfield."
"My warm-up swing and my throwing are the two, when I would look, those really throw me off a lot. When I watch myself hit in an actual game, I don't judge too much on film. There are certain little things I am looking at to get better — being ready on time, where my hands are. The rest is looking at where the pitch was that I'm selecting.
"If I see myself throwing on film, I feel that does not look normal and also my warm-up swing but I can't explain it. It's just how it is. Ultimately, I understand that baseball is a fluid thing and everyone is different. And what I see when I'm looking at film, it's hard to remember what I was feeling at that exact moment. A lot of times anyone in sports is going to think they're doing one thing, but when you see it, maybe it's something else.
"Sometimes, I may think I have my hands really high or really far back. When I go look at the film it hasn't changed very much. Getting in a mirror can help if you're trying to change something. As far as my throwing, when I was in the minors they tried to make me throw over the top a whole bunch, but it just hurts my shoulder really bad."
How to help
Linda Bartizal's family has set up a GoFundMe account to help with medical expenses. To donate go here.