By Rupsha Basu
Let me preface this by saying that this column is not about baseball. At least not really. It’s about fashion and, ultimately, art.
As baseball fans take to their television screens to watch the next World Series game, the sixth in a close contest between the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants, it is very likely most viewers will be engrossed in the stakes of the game and pay little attention to players’ sartorial decisions.
Others, like myself, have very little interest in the intricacies of the game and find themselves intrigued by the minutiae of apparel with which the players of Major League Baseball adorn themselves. What’s with the white pants? Doesn’t that seem a bit impractical? Is the reason they’re called “baseball caps” because baseball players were the first humans to don duck-beaked lids? How come baseball uniforms don’t glow-in-the-dark?
Fashion in the baseball world is not a topic that receives very much media buzz (a fact which surprises me considering how often uniforms and logos undergo changes). However, at such high-intensity games, like in the World Series, it makes sense that people have taken note of one player whose fashion choices almost rival his skills on the diamond in terms of noteworthiness.
Hunter Pence, outfielder for the Giants, regularly sports bizarre takes on classic baseball uniform staples. Without revealing my World Series allegiances or inciting controversy, Pence’s aesthetic antics, in my opinion, have rendered him deserving of the moniker “fashion icon.”
In addition to riding a scooter to work, Pence inexplicably wears his socks above his knees. While the age-old high socks versus low cuffs debate has been vivacious and ongoing for years, Pence circumvents the question entirely. Why satisfy the critics when you can reject social norms? The genius of the socks gimmick (because, let’s be honest â€” it’s totally a gimmick) is that it not only rejects popularized baseball sock trends, but also rejects societal expectations of sock-length. Maybe Pence is implicitly critiquing oppressive body image standards in the media. We will never know.
And that brings me to probably the greatest thing about Pence’s on-field persona: his theatrics. You may be wondering what theatrics have to do with fashion, and the answer is ‘everything.’ Fashion is a performance. Pence swings like a madman. He frequently faceplants in pursuit of the ball. His wild-eyed, tongue-wagging, bushy, ginger beard-sporting eccentricity make him a cross between a circus side-show contortionist and a genetically modified human face, at least in terms of the mesmerizing spectrum.
Pence also wears just one batting glove, like an early 1990s slugger. It’s ballsy (pun intended) and statement-making (what exactly that statement is, I’m unsure of, but that’s what makes it art). The artfulness is completely in the ambiguity. It is impossible to watch Pence without preserving a sense of irony. Doing so would be like reading out loud the poem “Jabberwocky” in a monotone.
Fascinatingly, Pence has become the subject of fans’ light-hearted ridicule, his name appearing on derisive signs like “Hunter Pence hates bacon” and “Hunter Pence can’t parallel park.” If I’m not mistaken, Hunter Pence has become the subject of a cult of personality. And he deserves it.
At the end of the day, it comes down to this: we as mere mortals have little in common with professional sportsmen blessed with immeasurable athletic ability. But, Pence’s presence makes the game of baseball that much more relatable for the rest of us, especially for the casual sports fan.
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