Hunter Mense is nearing the next phase of his life. (Photo by Matthew Hicks.)
By Ashley Dunkak
Despite the urging of his parents during a difficult junior season of baseball, Hunter Mense did not want to see a sports psychologist. It was just one of those things.
Finally, he agreed. The two-hour conversation they had changed everything.
The sports psychologist with whom Mense talked was Richard McGuire. A professor at the University of Missouri who spent more than 25 years as the track coach there, McGuire is now in charge of the school’s sports psychology program. After visiting with McGuire, Mense played well for the remainder of that season. Perhaps more importantly, after the visit he decided he wanted to get a degree in sports psychology. Appreciative of the time McGuire spent helping him, Mense wants to have a similar impact going forward.
“The number one reason people start playing is because it’s fun, and the number one reason they stop is because it’s not fun anymore,” Mense said, “so you never want to lose sight of that, but sometimes we do. I hate when I see guys struggling through things, and it’s almost like it’s not even fun anymore, and it almost hurts me sometimes to see them like that, so I know as a sports psychologist it’d be beneficial to work with guys and get them back on the right track.”
Though he is still a player at the moment, Mense’s future lies in being a coach. Before the end of the season, he will return to the University of Missouri as a graduate assistant to the baseball team while he works on getting his master’s degree in sports psychology.
Mense’s professional playing career began when the Florida Marlins drafted him from the University of Missouri in 2006. He played in their organization from 2006 to 2010, starting with the low-A team in Jamestown (N.Y.) and working up to the triple-A team in New Orleans. He finished out the 2010 season as a pitcher for the T-Bones. Although he didn’t like pitching, he enjoyed his time with the team.
That positive experience is one reason he decided to come back to Kansas City in 2012. The other reason is his respect for the T-Bones coaching staff.
“I just figure while I’m playing I want to be able to pick their brains as much as possible, try to get as much out of them as possible,” Mense said.
The fact that one of those coaches he is learning from now is eight-time Gold Glove winner from the team that Mense loved as a kid is certainly a bonus. As a Liberty, Mo., native, Mense always cheered for the Kansas City Royals. Even now, in his family’s house there is a picture of Frank White and Mense, taken when the 27-year-old Mense was just a toddler.
After being up close and personal with White on a daily basis, the first baseman’s grown-up impression of the Royals great is no different than the one he had as a kid.
“He’s such a great guy,” Mense said. “He’s so willing to work with you, with whatever you need, and so willing to talk to you. He’s a great presence, and anytime you have a guy with that kind of accolades, it’s important.”
Mense changed his focus from playing to coaching after his first stint with the T-Bones in 2010. He returned to the University of Missouri to finish up his undergraduate degree in communications, and he started thinking about all of the people who helped him along in his baseball career.
“Not only my parents, but other people, so many guys that help you out and try to get you where you want to get to,” Mense said. “I want to give back and help other kids and players trying to reach their goals like I was able to do.”