Everything Hunter Pence does on a baseball field is different. From his stance, to his swing, to his self-described “unusual” on-deck ritual, he looks unique compared to everyone out there.
One of his biggest hits, a two-run double in 2012 to send the San Francisco Giants to the World Series, happened because he somehow made contact with the ball threes times in a single swing. It looked awkward. It was strange. And it was also peak Pence.
He’s embraced that part of his game, sharing photos of the strange faces he makes after making contact, and getting on board with some of the weird Hunter Pence signs fans started bringing to games.
So, it should come as no surprise that Pence’s unique qualities extend off the field as well. When he decided to be a part of a new business, Pence didn’t go the usual athlete route. He decided he wanted to help open a coffee shop. Not just your usual, run-of-the-mill coffeeshop, either. He wanted a coffee shop that could double as every nerd’s wildest dream.
Pence might not be the only baseball player who’s into coffee, but he’s almost certainly the only one who plays Magic: The Gathering, goes to video game conventions and posts MegaMan memes. Or, at least, he’s the only one who will proudly admit as much.
Pence is the self-proclaimed “ideas guy” behind a new coffee shop in Houston called Coral Sword. It’s a cafe that combines coffee, board games, comics, video games, podcasts and live streaming. In another word, paradise.
At first glance, you might wonder what business a baseball player has getting into this type of venture. But for anyone who has followed Pence on social media over the past few years, this is a no-brainer.
When Pence had the opportunity to team up with coffee expert David Buehrer, he was in immediately. That’s not an exaggeration. Pence called Buehrer one day to tell him he was interested in being involved in a coffee shop. Buehrer has opened a handful of them in the Houston area, and — unbeknownst to Pence — was looking to add another one.
“I was like, ‘Do you think it would be possible to make a coffee shop where you could play Smash Bros. and you could run tournaments,’” Pence told Yahoo Sports.
“He goes, ‘Well, we’re meeting at a location tomorrow and you should come by.’
“That’s how I got in.”
Buehrer had the cafe experience and provided the coffee, Pence and his wife, Alexis, brought the video game and live-streaming expertise, but they still wanted more. Enter comics guru Ming Chen, who you might have seen on AMC’s “Comic Book Men,” and Sanford Bledsoe III, who brings a strong mix of all those things. Bledsoe has owned an espresso bar, worked at a comics shop and has expansive knowledge of board games. Just like that, they built their dream team.
After three years of planning, Coral Sword — a reference to a weapon you can find in the Final Fantasy games — opened its doors Feb. 2, just days before Pence was set to join the Giants for spring training. While he said he was initially supposed to be more of a silent partner, Pence couldn’t stay away from the shop once it opened.
“I’ve been there every day [in February] helping it get it started,” Pence said. “Doing the little bit that I can when I’m done with my baseball work. I head straight there because that’s where I want to be. That’s not part of what they need out of me, it’s just something I love to do.”
Since the store has opened, Pence has appeared on its Twitch channel, gotten in the kitchen to make pizzas and has learned new board games that he’s “excited to show to some of our customers.”
Baseball is still Pence’s top priority, but he’ll still find a way to stay connected with his hobbies.
With Coral Sword thousands of miles away during the season, Pence will take his games with him. He plans to bring his Nintendo Switch on the road, and is hoping to get some Mario Kart tournaments going with his teammates. He’s also planning to bring the board game “Hey, That’s My Fish!” with him as well.
Once the offseason rolls around again, Pence envisions being more involved with the shop.
“I didn’t realize it was going to be as exciting and as fun,” Pence said. “I mean, I knew it was going to be building a place that we loved, but waking up and just going and getting to meet the neighborhood and meet the customers that come in, there’s just been some unique experiences.
“Honestly, I really just love the place.”
WANT TO PLAY WHAT HUNTER PENCE PLAYS?
We asked Pence to recommend some of his favorite video games, board games and comics in case you wanted to give them a try.
Board and card games: Settlers of Catan (depending on how many people you have), Hey, That’s My Fish, King of Tokyo, Exploding Kittens, Sushi Go and Munchkin. One of Pence’s long-time favorites is Magic: The Gathering.
Comics: Pence said he’s far from a comics expert, but read through “Saga” and really enjoyed it. “It’s kind of a Romeo and Juliet meets ‘Game of Thrones’ in space,” he said. Pence also mentioned “Rat Queens.”
Video games: “Fortnite,” “Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds,” “Mario Kart,” “Skyrim” (he originally played as a stealthy archer, but now has a two-handed mace character).
Some of his all-time favorite video games include: “Anything Blizzard.” “Diablo,” “World of Warcraft,” “Starcraft,” “Madden,” “Tecmo Super Bowl,” “Mortal Kombat,” “Super Smash Bros.” (he plays as Luigi) and, of course, “MLB The Show.”
“I used to love building a character and just getting after it,” he said. He doesn’t have to do that anymore, obviously.
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Chris Cwik is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik