HOUSTON - Feeling healthy after sports-hernia surgery and encouraged by his team's offseason moves - not the least of which was bringing back Jimmy Rollins - Phillies rightfielder Hunter Pence looks forward to tackling the great expectations that lie ahead in 2012.
"The expectations the Phillies have are to win the World Series," Pence said matter-of-factly over the weekend while on a short break from helping instruct some 160 youths at his annual baseball camp in West Houston.
That the past season ended in disappointment, at the hands of the eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series, will only serve to motivate him.
"We had a team that was really close to making a run there," Pence said. "It didn't work out [in the playoffs], but I became a lot better player because of some of the opportunities I was afforded, and I look forward to next year."
Never mind Pence's quality glove, productive bat and enviable work ethic. Realistically speaking, having the World Series as a goal ahead of a spring training was something out of reach for Pence, 28, during his first 4 1/2 years of major league service.
That's because he played for the Houston Astros, a team that has struggled since its lone World Series appearance in 2005 and is now rebuilding.
It was precisely the Astros' decision to rebuild that last July landed Pence in Philadelphia. Things are different when you play for a league powerhouse, and Pence isn't taking anything for granted.
"I'm very happy to be with the Phillies," said Pence, a two-time All-Star who finished 2011 batting .314 with 22 home runs and a career-high 97 RBI. "It's an organization that's done nothing but good. They made a sacrifice to trade to get me, and I'm very fortunate to put on the uniform."
Pence joined the Phillies 2 days before the trade deadline as part of a deal that sent four minor league prospects - including pitcher Jarred Cosart and first baseman Jonathan Singleton - to Houston.
He had batted .308 with 11 home runs and 62 RBI in 100 games for the Astros. He went .324 with 11 homers and 35 RBI the rest of the way (54 games).
Like many Phillies, he struggled in the playoffs, hitting just .211 with four RBI.
The Phillies gave Pence something to cheer about this weekend when Rollins agreed to a 3-year, $33 million contract with a vesting option for a fourth year worth $11 million.
Pence, an avid user of Twitter, likely would have spotted Rollins' now-famous "Gotta deal with me for 3 (4) more years!" tweet, except that, in true Pence fashion, he was too focused on the task at hand Saturday, which for most of the day included one-on-one instruction in the cages, an autograph session and even a Wiffle Ball home-run demonstration at the sprawling Baseball USA complex where his camp was held.
"It's something that's very dear to me," Pence said of the camp. "Ultimately, it's about teaching some baseball and giving back for all the people who did that for me when I was a kid."
Needless to say, Rollins' return was welcome news for Pence.
"He's an outstanding baseball player, really intelligent and a big leader in the clubhouse," Pence said. "I was hoping we would get him back."
He said he also is excited about the Phillies' offseason acquisitions, including closer Jonathan Papelbon, outfielder Laynce Nix, slugger Jim Thome, lefthander Dontrelle Willis and third baseman Ty Wigginton.
Pence seemed especially excited about reuniting with Wigginton, a former Astro who was an All-Star in 2010 with Baltimore.
"One of my favorite teammates ever was Ty Wigginton," he said.
Pence underwent sports-hernia surgery soon after the Phillies' elimination. He did about 3 weeks of rehab in Philly and the rest in Houston, where he resides in the offseason, owns a baseball academy and continues to be involved in the community.
"The recovery is going well," Pence said. "I'm going to be good to go . . . It's supposed to be a 3-to-6-week recovery, and it's going all right. I'm already good to play. I'm able to swing and run, and now it's just a little bit of working out the scar tissue."
Pence is under the Phillies' control through 2013. He is one of four players - Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick and Wilson Valdez are the others - who are arbitration-eligible for next season.
Pence said he leaves that part of the business to the professionals.
"It's something you really don't focus on," Pence said. "My agents at Beverly Hills Sports Council take care of that. I trust them."
Last winter, Pence became the first Astro since Rick Wilkins in 1996 to win an arbitration hearing. He made $6.9 million in 2011.
He is likely due a hefty raise for 2012, but Pence reiterated his priorities are elsewhere.
"I just focus on getting myself ready to play baseball," he said.
And finding a way to help the Phillies back to the World Series, of course.
"We definitely had a setback last year, but to me that's something we'll use to move forward," Pence said. "I learned a lot from it. I'm just focused on getting ready and being prepared to find a way to make it happen."