LOVE AT FIRST sight is innately irrational, an unreasoned leap of faith. Still, it's not hard to explain why Philadelphia has so quickly embraced Hunter Pence with open arms. And wallets. Already, Pence No. 3 jerseys dot the stands at Citizens Bank Park.

Philly fans like players who care as much as they do. That's a requirement that, if met, almost trumps all other considerations. When Lee Thomas was the Phillies' general manager, he'd always advise newcomers (who just may have heard how demanding the paying customers could be) that they should be sure to run out every ground ball. If they did that, they'd be fine. It was sound advice.

Pence didn't need to be told. He went through a growth spurt while attending Arlington High School in Texas that left him, in his own estimation, "goofy and a little bit uncoordinated. I wasn't anything special."

After his junior year, he made a life-changing decision. Baseball would become his priority.

"I decided that I was going to sacrifice everything and do everything I could," he said, sitting in front of his locker after yesterday's scheduled game against the Washington Nationals was rained out. "I always loved baseball. It was my favorite sport. And I always had the work ethic. But I was going to do everything I could to pursue baseball until they took the jersey off my back.

"When I woke up in the morning, I was going to do everything I could possibly do to get better. When I went to bed at night, same thing. Throughout the day, I was going to find a way to be the best I could. That was just my mind-set. Whether it involved running, weightlifting, hitting, throwing. Try to do as much of everything as I could."

His family pitched in. His dad traded a watch to a local trainer for 2 weeks of instruction. He began haunting a batting cage near where he lived. He spent so much time there that he became close friends with the owner, who he now considers a second father.

"I gave up all my summers, my free time. It was all dedicated toward baseball. I mean, I still had fun sometimes. But I was pretty strict on myself," he said.

It was the beginning of a passion that would later reflect that of the phanatics who follow his new team. It's just the way he is, and Philadelphians have developed a sixth sense that allows them to promptly separate the fakers and the slackers and the hollow men from those who care enough and are strong enough to prosper here.

"I love to compete on and off the field. When I'm playing ping-pong, it's not going to be easy. I'm going to talk trash to you while I'm trying to beat you. That's what sports is about," Pence explained.

Obviously, he had raw talent. But there have been plenty of talented players who didn't make it here or, at a minimum, failed to connect with the populace.

It's kind of a cliché to note that Philadelphia loves an underdog and roots for players who make the most of what they've got. But that's Pence in a nutshell. It's not stretching the point to suggest that he willed himself to succeed. Eventually, he became good enough to be drafted in the second round out of Texas-Arlington by the Astros. Then good enough to make a pair of All-Star teams. Finally, good enough to convince the Phillies to give up four players, including top prospects Jarred Cosart and Jonathan Singleton, to pry him away from the Astros 2 days before the trading deadline.

"I feel very welcome. I feel Philly's a good city that my personality fits in with. I like the city's mentality. Like, 'Bring your lunch box to work and let's get after it,' " he said.

In 14 games since, Pence has batted .327 with three homers and 11 RBI. The Phillies have gone 12-2 since he joined the middle of the batting order. Clearly, that's helped, too.

But even before that, even before he came to the plate for the first time, he was given a standing ovation. He suspected ahead of time that he might fit in just fine.

"I loved [Phillies fans] even when I was on the other side. Even on my Twitter, they would blow me up with all kinds of trash talk. I feed off that kind of fire and intensity. I like it when it's intense. It's fun to play against [fans who] care because then when you beat them, it's more satisfying," he said with a laugh.

"They were fun. They got all over me on Twitter. They even made fake retweets that I wanted to play in Philadelphia. 'Retweet @HunterPence9. I can't wait until [Astros general manager] Ed Wade trades me to Philadelphia.' "

In that way, it almost seems inevitable that he would end up here someday.

"I guess when you've seen the opposing side you're a little nervous about coming here. These guys are crazy. Then when you see how awesome they are to you when you play here, you see that passion. Who wouldn't want to play for a city like this?" he said.

Nothing lasts forever. The fans have made him feel like a king, he said, but he also understands that he has a daily responsibility in return. He gets it.

"I know when I come to the field, I'm here to give everything I have every day. Whatever that is. And if I don't, I want to hear about it," he said. "I'm not going to accept that."

Last Friday night, former Phillies first baseman John Kruk was officially added to the team's Wall of Fame. He closed his acceptance remark with these words: "You hear players, media people, say that it's tough to play in Philly in front of these fans. To those people I say, 'You didn't have the guts to succeed here.' "

Anything can happen in baseball. There's no reason why Pence shouldn't remain a favorite here for a long time. But this much is certain: If something goes wrong, it won't be because he didn't have the guts or didn't care enough or didn't try hard enough.