A former Astros player was in the broadcast booth for Friday’s game against Rangers, although he was not among the usual suspects.

Hunter Pence, who played for the Astros from 2007 to 2011 and still lives in Houston, provided color commentary on the game for Apple TV+, which airs select Friday night MLB games this season. MLB Network’s Stephen Nelson called play-by-play for the Astros-Rangers game with Katie Nolan on color commentary and Heidi Watney as field reporter.

Pence was drafted by the Astros in 2004, made his major league debut for the club in 2007, and played as an outfielder and designated hitter in Houston for most of the next five seasons, including All-Star seasons. in 2009 and 2011.

After retiring from baseball in 2020, Pence began a career in television. He was part of the Apple TV+ team that aired the April 8 Astros-Angels game in Anaheim, but Friday was his first time in the booth at Minute Maid Park — named after legendary Astros announcer Milo Hamilton.

“It’s pretty special,” Pence said. “Obviously my home is in Houston. I trained here every offseason and had my place here and had the cafe and the baseball academy. So it’s really an honor. You know, I have a lot of roots here, so being born in Texas and being able to call a game at Minute Maid Park is a big deal. The Milo Hamilton sequel definitely brought chills because I remember being young and not knowing much and just Milo’s magic – Milo’s magic I’d call it – and how he just lit up the room.”

Wide receiver Jason Castro and second baseman Jose Altuve are the only current Astros players who were Pence’s teammates in Houston, and both remember him fondly.

Castro recalled a 7 a.m. punching session during one of his first spring practices with the Astros. He was hitting the tee and Pence was in the cage next to him.

“We had this machine in Kissimmee that they called the Darth Vader machine because it was just this big black box that you would load balls into the top and there was a random feature that you could hit that would throw pitches random,” Castro mentioned. “He punches one after another, and when he punched he growled, almost like a tennis player. So he was loud and just raking, crushing that machine. He says, ‘Hey, I need a break, mingle with me.'”

Castro continued, “So I got into that and I think I like swings and misses or fouls like first 10 pitches because it was just different stuff. I was like, what the hell is this? And the speed was really hard. And I was like, ‘Hey man, I’m not loose enough to do this right now, I just started teeing off.’ So I walk out and he says, okay, yeah, no problem. He comes back and he starts crushing this machine again. I’m like, I don’t know how he does that.

Pence was in his final season with the Astros when Altuve was called up to the majors for his debut in July 2011. They were together on the Astros for just 11 days, but Altuve called Pence one of the best teammates he’s ever had. he ever had.

“He was a superstar and I was that guy coming in from the minor leagues,” Altuve said. “He really tried to help people. He wanted people to get better. He was just a great teammate, on and off the pitch, a great person. I’m glad I got to play with him at least while he was here.

Altuve, of course, has come a long way since then as a seven-time All-Star and five-time Silver Slugger who each week climbs higher in the Astros’ all-time record books.

“Man, he was such a light and he brought so much good energy and there was something extraordinarily special about him,” Pence said. “And I think that’s been one of the coolest stories just to look at his career and look at this guy who loved the game and you look at him in street clothes and say, oh, you know, you have to overcome the ‘he’s too small’, and he’s definitely proven that there’s nothing too small. He’s got power. He’s got speed. He’s got punching tool. And he’s got leadership. So his career has been amazing.

Pence’s career continued to take off after the Astros traded him midseason in 2011 to Philadelphia, where he helped the Phillies advance to the National League Division Series, where they lost. against eventual World Series champion St. Louis. The following season, Pence was traded to San Francisco, where he would win the World Series titles in 2012 and 2014. He spent the 2019 season with the Rangers before returning to the Giants for his final season.

The Astros never made the playoffs while Pence played for them, but he still has a soft spot for his time with the organization.

“(Craig) Biggio’s 3,000th hit was pretty cool,” he said. “I think it was one of the most spectacular. I think the memories and the friendships with him, (Lance) Berkman, all the people throughout your time with this team – that’s what leaves the most lasting memory in your heart, it’s your friendships, the fans and the people you meet.