Fan-favorite Pence always on the move

Fan-favorite Pence always on the move

HOUSTON -- Hunter Pence's transformation into true-blue Houstonian seems to be coming along just fine.

He's firmly entrenched himself as a fan favorite for the Astros after coming off a season in which he hit .282 with 25 homers and 72 RBIs and made his first National League All-Star team. And he's relocated to Houston from his native Arlington on a full-time basis.

But more importantly, he's slowy starting to get some feelings for the NFL's Houston Texans, not an easy leap when he grew up cheering the Dallas Cowboys.

"I'm a big Cowboys fan, but I'm becoming a Texans fan," Pence said. "I've lived and died with the Cowboys as long as I can remember, even though I should be a Texans fan because I met some of their guys and I am close to them. I've enjoyed watching them and I hope they do well."

Even if Pence's allegiances remain with the Cowboys, there's not much these days that could tarnish his image in Houston. He plays right field at Minute Maid Park with passion, waves to fans, signs countless autographs and makes sure never to say anything controversial. You might say he's too good to be true.

Some of his aging Astros teammates are still trying to work out the physical pain from last season's 88-loss campaign, but Pence is working out four days a week with strength and conditioning coach Gene Coleman and -- as always -- trying to perfect his hitting.

He's always moving, always busy doing something.

"I can't wait for Spring Training," Pence said. "I'm preparing to have a great season with the Astros. I'm coming to the ballpark and putting in the work with Doc [Coleman] and letting Doc show me the way. He's been doing it for a long time, and he knows how to get ready to play baseball. I'm doing that and trying to lay low."

Pence, 26, posted career highs last year in hits (165), stolen bases (14), walks (58) and games (159) and tied his career-best mark in homers (set in 2008). He's the only right fielder in Astros history to have consecutive 25-plus home runs seasons, and he led all Major League outfielders with 16 assists.

Still, he takes a back seat defensively to center fielder Michael Bourn, who won his first Gold Glove Award last season. Pence was one of the first people to call Bourn when he won the award.

"He's Super Man over there," Pence said. "He made some of the greatest plays. He really helps us out so much. I think the pitchers will tell you that as well, that any time the ball is hit anywhere in the vicinity, you're thinking he's going to catch it. He definitely earned the Gold Glove, and I'm happy for him."

Pence could find a Gold Glove in his future, too, but he'd like to keep improving offensively.

He was inconsistent at times in 2009, hitting .388 in May and .245 in June, July and August. He rebounded to hit .288 in September and October. He batted just .268 with runners in scoring position and was 0-for-11 with the bases loaded. That's why Pence was hard at work in November.

"You always do your tee work and are in the cage," he said. "We have a cage and a pitching machine [at the ballpark] and people to throw to us. I listen to everyone, and I want to find a way to shorten up and be short to the ball and long through it."

And Pence isn't only working on his swing; he's having a winter baseball camp to help others, to be held Dec. 21-23 at The Legends Sports Complex in The Woodlands, Texas. He'll be one of a handful of professional baseball players to give instruction to kids ages 6-18.

"Hopefully we can get some good instruction and have some fun," Pence said. "That's what it's all about."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.