TOMBALL, Texas – Please accept apologies right up front for a somewhat misleading headline. San Francisco Giants starting right-fielder Hunter Pence wasn’t physically at the Premier Baseball of Texas complex on Saturday; he had a few other pertinent matters to attend to.
It was announced Saturday morning that Pence and the Giants had agreed to terms on a five-year, $90 million deal that would keep the popular and productive two-time All-Star in the City by the Bay through the 2018 season.
Later in the day, Pence started his 161st game of the season for the Giants, and if he plays again on Sunday he will become the first Giants player in the San Francisco era of the franchise to start every regular-season game in a single season.
Despite his physical absence, Pence’s name was very prominent during second-day play at the 4th annual PG WWBA South Qualifier on Saturday. The Hunter Pence Baseball Academy (HPBA) is fielding a team in the 64-team event, which awards its champion with a paid invitation to the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., Oct. 24-28.
This is the first Perfect Game event Hunter Pence Baseball has been involved with in its three years of operation. The team is being coached by former Cardinals, Red Sox and Reds farmhand Sean Danielson.
Danielson and Hunter Pence were longtime friends who grew up with each other and played together as youths. The Hunter Pence Baseball Academy came into being after Danielson retired from professional baseball in 2010, got together with Howie Pence – Hunter’s older brother – and the two decided to open a baseball training and instructional academy.
“We started out with a couple of nets and doing private lessons,” Danielson said Saturday. “That led to clients wanting us to coach them on teams and in the last three years it has just grown significantly, faster than we expected.”
The academy now has teams ranging from 7u to 18u, and everyone involved with the organization follows a carefully crafted mission statement:
“To teach today’s athlete’s what it takes to make it to the next level but instilling the proper work habits both on and off the field. Our goal is to introduce young players to an academy that closely mirrors that of a professional organization.”
“We want to teach kids how to play baseball the right way,” Danielson said. “We want to focus on some details that get overlooked a lot in normal practices and things like that, just to give them that edge to separate themselves from the pack.”
The Hunter Pence Baseball Academy is located right on the border of the cities of Houston and Cypress, north of downtown Houston. Danielson and Pences were originally from the Dallas-Fort Worth area but everyone seemed to migrate southeast when Hunter was playing for the Houston Astros.
The academy has assembled a frontline group of coaches and instructors. Danielson, Howie Pence, Ryan Patterson, Phillip Allen and Chris Kolkhorst all played in the minor leagues and many of them enjoyed productive collegiate careers at the highest levels.
Hunter Pence is obviously a notch above the pack. He was a second round pick of the Astros in the 2004 MLB amateur draft and is winding up his seventh full season in the big leagues. He has played with the Astros, Phillies and Giants and was named a National League All-Star in both 2009 and 2011 while with the Astros. He is one of only four MLB players – Prince Fielder (Tigers), Joey Votto (Reds) and Billy Butler (Royals) are the others – that will presumably start their 162nd game of the season on Sunday.
“Hunter just gives so much; he gives and gives and gives and gives,” Danielson said. “He said, ‘If you guys are going to do this academy, I want to help out as much as I can; use my name, I’ll show up and do appearances, I’ll work with the kids.’ It was funny that the first day we opened, he was the person greeting everybody as they walked in, trying to get them to do lessons with us; it was great.”
Hunter Pence now lives in San Francisco but Danielson said Pence will travel to the academy to make personal appearances at least a couple of times during the offseason.
There are no superstars on the Hunter Pence Baseball squad that is playing this weekend, or at least none that have really stood out at this point in time. That can – and probably will – change of course.
None of the prospects on the roster, including nine high school seniors, has committed to a college yet but Danielson expects that happen in the coming weeks or months. All four of his seniors from a year ago went on to play college ball at some level, and as is the case with every other organization fielding teams at the South Qualifier this weekend, HPBA only wants its players to get noticed.
“The funny thing about baseball is you never know who’s watching,” Danielson said. “With the way the social media is now, a kid can come out here and get a great hit, and somebody records it and puts it on the Perfect Game website and people have access to it. This is definitely a way to put your name out there and kind of put yourself on the radar, because you can go anywhere from here.
“Our organization wanted to do that with our group through Perfect Game and we just really felt like this would be the way to get us on the map as well as some of our really good players.”
HPBA opened play at the PG WWBA South Qualifier Saturday morning with a 5-0 win over the Arlington A’s Red. Right-hander Brent Holcomb (2014, Cypress Ranch, Texas) threw a complete game seven-inning two-hitter with five strikeouts and no walks.
It dropped its second pool-play game of the day to battle-tested Nola Monsters Baseball out of New Orleans by a 6-1 count. HPBA right-hander Wyatt Richey, a 2014 “high follow” out of Richmond, Texas, pitched 3 2/3 innings of no-hit ball but he gave up two earned runs due to four walks and three hit batsmen. Another highly regard prospect on the roster is Andrew Whitten, an outfielder/catcher from Houston.
Offense was a real problem in HPBA’s first two games: the team hit a combined .146 (6-for-41) with only one extra-base hit. But this is Houston-area talent which ranks among the best in the country. The Pences might not be ready to take on the Banditos Black quite yet – few at this event are so equipped – but you can bet they won’t lie down.
The fact that Danielson has this group entered in this tournament at all speaks volumes about the talent he feels he has on this roster. He had always wanted to be part of a Perfect Game tournament but wanted to wait for the right time.
“I always knew what (Perfect Game) was but I didn’t know how to get involved; I always wanted to,” Danielson said. “When we saw the opportunity was right here in Tomball and I felt like I had the right team to compete at a high level, I jumped on the opportunity as quick as I could.”
Danielson put together a high school-age team in spring that played through the summer, but in his own words, “we could not play at a Perfect Game level.” As the team built itself up and autumn approached, he began getting calls from a lot of young prospects who wanted to play for HPBA. Players were added for the fall team and the result is the squad playing at the PG WWBA South Qualifier.
Hunter Pence Baseball will not be favored in its final pool-play game against the Fort Bend Texans 2014 Sunday morning. That’s of no consequence to Danielson, who only wants his team to complete its tournament run in a manner that would make the Giants’ Hunter Pence proud.
“I just want them to play good baseball; that’s all I care about,” Danielson said. “If we play hard, play solid, people will notice if we do that. If we don’t do those things, then we’ll go back and get to work and hit the drawing board. But overall, if we play our game we can compete with any team – it’s just the game of baseball. You can have the Yankees against the Astros and you don’t know what’s going to happen.”