Heckling has been a tool in a baseball fan’s arsenal since the game began. It starts when you’re young and yell things like, “We want a pitcher, not a belly itcher!”or “No batter, no batter!” It gradually progresses to “Hey spaghetti arm!” and “Where’d you get that arm? At a garage sale?” and “Grab some pine, meat!”
There are many ways to irritate players of the opposing team, and sometimes those heckles get under the skin of the athletes. I’ve heard stories of players who don’t take the hassling well and respond with anger to the fans, which of course just makes it worse. But there are just as many stories of players who have responded with grace and humor, and have shown a lot of class in doing so. Right now, Hunter Pence of the Giants is ‘that guy’ who is being heckled by out-of-town fans and is returning the favor in the spirit of fun.
Before we get into the actual heckling, we need to talk about Hunter a little. Everyone who has seen him play realizes that it looks like his body parts aren’t connected to each other. He’s known for his physical awkwardness in addition to his personal character. When he came to the Giants in 2012, first baseman Brandon Belt, nicknamed the Baby Giraff for his tall, lanky frame, commented that he was glad there was now someone on the team as awkward as him. Hunter has capitalized on his strange body movements in his highly acclaimed kids camp, Hunters Hitters, where he teaches the kids ‘running during an earthquake’ and how to hit like a major leaguer, although the style is all his and probably shouldn’t be repeated. It’s not the kind of advice the Junior Giants give their coaches, but it’s entertaining and worth a look.
Recently, Mets fans started showing up at games with random signs pointing out Hunter’s quirky personality. They’ve been very creative: “Hunter Pence eats kale so you don’t have to” points to his dietary habits, and “Hunter Pence can’t parallel park” because you don’t have to when you ride a scooter to work, as Pence does. Even Charlie Hustle, Pete Rose himself, got into the act with “Hunter Pence hustles his ass off” which is a good description of Pence’s playing style.
Since Hunter’s good at poking fun at himself, once the Seinfeld-esque signs started appearing he poked right back in response. One of my favorites is “Hunter Pence makes his girlfriend watch the Weather Channel — just for fun!” Be prepared for some public service announcements about weather from Hunter after the season ends.
One thing I haven’t noticed is a reference to Hunter’s first unofficial nickname when he came to the Giants. The story goes that Mike Krukow was walking to work the morning after Pence was acquired, when a very young fan stopped him on the street. “Hey, I hear we got Underpants!” the kid excitedly exclaimed. Mike had to think for a minute, and then realized that to young ears, his name said fast could definitely be interpreted that way. (Rumor has it that Hunter was heckled with that moniker while in the minors, when a fan misunderstood the PA announcer’s pronunciation of his name.) Krukow related the story on the radio before that day’s game, and hoped that the Giants fans wouldn’t start wearing undies on their heads. I spotted a few in the early days of Pence’s time with the Giants, but fortunately the trend has died out.
I’m hoping the Hunter Pence signs continue to the end of the season. No comment on whether it’s a distraction from how they’re playing right now . . . it’s also just plain fun, and shows some of the heart of this team.
In case you’re interested, here is some further information on heckling: