The power of Pence's ping pong
“Sounds crazy, right?” said Pence, his eyes intense as always. “It works your fast-twitch muscles. You react. I just got a bunch of different friends and we didn’t play games. It was just rallies, as hard and as long as we could.”
Pence’s brother, Howie, mentioned something to him a few months ago: The more ping-pong he played in the winter, the better his seasons turned out to be. While not the most scientific observation in the world, it struck a chord with Pence.
And so the paddles came out, and no need to rally for service.
“It might be a coincidence,” he said, “but it was worth a try.”
Pence didn’t just spend all winter slamming and side-spinning shots. He overhauled the rest of his training regimen, too – and it involved a Superman-like exercise that was as much about clearing mental hurdles as physical ones.
His trainer stacked a bunch of metal footstools until they were nearly 5 feet tall. Then he told Pence to get a running start and jump to the top.
“The first time, I fell flat on my back – I mean as hard as you can fall,” Pence said. “I thought there was no way I could do that. I’d only risk getting hurt.”
Then he watched as his trainer, a 275-pound bodybuilder, leapt to the top in his first attempt. Something in that moment clicked for Pence: He just needed to see it could be done. From then on, his mind wouldn’t limit what his body could do.
Pence tried it again, and this time he wasn’t tentative. By the end, Pence was doing three sets of 15 jumps each. He was leaping tall buildings in a single bound. He felt like a man of steel, too.
“That changed everything,” he said. “Hitting is the exact same thing. It’s about strength and skill, but my belief is it’s the mind that’s most important. That’s the mindset I’m going to have all season – I won’t tell myself I can’t do something.”
That includes hitting at AT&T Park, a mental barrier some hitters never clear. Pence might have reasons to doubt, too, after hitting .219 in 59 games as a Giant following the July 31 trade that brought him from Philadelphia. His historic triple-hit double aside, Pence wasn’t a huge force in the postseason, either. With sliders away his bane, he struck out 17 times and walked just twice in 65 plate appearances in the playoffs.
Yet Pence also drove in 45 runs in his 59 regular-season games as a Giant, he cracked 100 RBIs for the first time in his career, and he provided adequate lineup protection for NL MVP Buster Posey.