- When I heard LaTroy Hawkins was retiring after the 2015 MLB season, I immediately thought of the late Kirby Puckett.
- To explain this, I need to back up a bit…
- LaTroy Hawkins was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 1991. (I was 8 years old) He’s been a Major League Baseball Player for the last 20 years. And has pitched in 19 postseason baseball games. He’s played for 10 different MLB teams, and has even struck-out the side in 9 pitches.
- Hawkins has been drafted, signed, traded, released, ejected, designated for assignment, claimed off waivers, a starter, a reliever, a set-up man, a closer, and a leader. And he’s had every kind of season there is: Healthy, injured, grueling, awesome, good, bad, and the ugly.
- On the pitching side of baseball, @LaTroyHawkins32 has had a career only a handful of pitchers can boast about. But boasting is not something Hawk does. You’ll never hear stories of his character come from his mouth. They can only be heard from others.
For instance: How LaTroy helped rebuild homes after Hurricane Katrina, or how he helped groundskeepers regain control of a runaway infield tarp, or the time when he assisted in subduing an irate airline passenger mid-flight.
Baseball is a team sport, but with so many individual stats and the pursuit of success, it’s easy for a player’s focus to drift towards themselves. LaTroy is the opposite. This guy measures success in relationships.
I estimate Hawk has had between 500 and 700 teammates over his career. But he also knows every umpire, every clubhouse manager, every team’s coaching staff, and a select number of mascots. And yet, his focus is building relationships and serving others.
Now my LaTroy Hawkins story.
Hawk and I were both with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2011. After a day game at Miller Park, the team flew to New York. The plane arrived in the early afternoon, and we boarded the player’s bus. Once in Manhattan just minutes from the hotel, I heard my name being called from the front of the bus.
My anxiety was instant. I assumed I had done something stupid OR maybe some of the guys wanted me to perform an impersonation. (maybe a Harry Caray or Kurkjian) Either way, it’s usually not good. In this instance however, neither was the case. When I reached the front of the bus, LaTroy sat me down.
“Anyone ever buy you a suit?” He said.
“A suit? No.” I said.
“Good. When we get to the hotel follow me.” He instructed.
“…” (this is me being speechless for once)
Minutes later, I’m traipsing around New York City with LaTroy Hawkins! All I could think was “This is freakin’ sweet!” and “Wait, why does he want to buy me a suit?” I followed Hawk into a store called Portabella, but before the door closed behind us, the owner was already hugging my teammate. I was busy looking at the walls.
On the walls were hundreds and hundreds of bats, balls, and pictures of anyone and everyone in baseball over the last 40 years! I saw a Miguel Cabrera bat, a Ryan Sandberg ball, a photo of Ozzie Smith mid-flip ALL signed! Floor to ceiling of personalized priceless memorabilia! When I was done gawking at the baseball history being displayed, and meeting the owner, I heard Hawk say, “Hey, hook Dilly up for me.”
Next thing I know I’m being measured for a suit! Two suits! As the tailor led me around the store, I asked him how he knows LaTroy. He told me he’d known him for years, and that I’m not the first teammate Hawkins has brought in here. “How awesome is Hawk!?” I thought. They asked me about buttons, pinstripes, 3-piece, socks, ties, dress shirts, French cuff, cuff-links, and belts! By the end of this shopping spree, I knew I had more bags than would fit in my suitcase!
Standing in the store with my eyes wide and my heart full, I struggled to find the right words. All that came out was, “Hawk, thank you! This is single handedly the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me.”
“No problem Dilly. Happy to do it!” Hawkins said grinning.
Then I said, “Hey man, can I ask why? I mean, why’d you do this?”
He said, “You want to know why I did this?” And without looking, LaTroy Hawkins pointed to the wall to his left and said, “Because this guy did it for me.” I walked over and saw a picture of the one and only Kirby Puckett.
Bonus Video: Spring 2010 “Harry Caray” Visits Brewers Camp