Throwback Thursday: LaTroy Hawkins
Editor’s Note: Welcome to another new series on “It’s All Relative.” We’re calling this one “Throwback Thursday.” Each week we’ll either catch up with a former Fort Wayne Wizard/TinCap, or we’ll delve into a chapter of Fort Wayne’s rich baseball history that dates back to 1862. And sometimes, we may even include a photo from Instagram.
Who better to begin our “Throwback Thursday” series with than the man who had the greatest individual season as a pitcher in Fort Wayne franchise history? Sure enough, he was on the very first Wizards team in 1993. And he’s still kicking today in his 19th year in the majors as a reliever for the Mets. Without further ado, “Throwback Thursday” presents a conversation with Fort Wayne great LaTroy Hawkins…
John Nolan: Before we reminisce about your time in Fort Wayne, you’re in Colorado right now with the Mets. What has this week been like out there in Denver where you’ve had a couple of games snowed out?
LaTroy Hawkins: This week has definitely been pretty taxing on both teams. But what can you do? Mother Nature decides whether we play or not, and she’s not giving us any good feedback right now. I think we got like 10 inches, they said, they removed from the field that dropped down Monday and they removed it on Tuesday so we could play that doubleheader. It’s been a tough road trip. But hey, it’s part of the game, and we just have to try and find another time to make it up later in the season.
JN: Being from Gary, Indiana, you’re familiar with snow of course, but in your 19 year career in the majors, have you ever experienced anything like this before?
LH: Not in the major leagues. I was thinking about it yesterday, it was funny because when we got to Fort Wayne in ‘93, the stadium wasn’t finished and there was a lot of snow on the ground. And we went on a 10-day road trip so I did see snow my first day in the Midwest League. We went west, I think, and there wasn’t as much snow but we had snow in Fort Wayne when we landed and took the bus to see the new stadium.
JN: Yeah, that was 1993 when you were in the Midwest League with the then-Wizards when you were a Twins prospect. Is that the first thing—the snow—when you hear Fort Wayne mentioned today? Or what else maybe pops up when you hear Fort Wayne?
LH: No, that’s not the first thing that comes up to my mind. I remember being privileged enough to make that team. I just thought of how excited I was, and how excited my family was gonna be, that I was gonna be able to pitch so close to home in my third year in professional baseball. So that was the first thing, I was excited family and friends would get a chance to travel over to Fort Wayne and see me play. The first two years I was in Fort Myers and Elizabethton, Tennessee—family didn’t get much of a chance to see me. So being in Fort Wayne was definitely a sigh of relief for me. And I knew every time we left Fort Wayne, except going to South Bend, we were going through Gary, Indiana, so I liked that part of it also.
JN: In ’93 you won the Midwest League Triple Crown for pitchers with 15 wins, a 2.06 ERA, and 179 strikeouts. To this day actually, you hold the Fort Wayne records for strikeouts in a season, in a single game, most complete games, shutouts, and it was only in 2009 and last year when your marks for wins and ERA were topped. So I guess besides being close to home, you have to have some good memories from playing here in Fort Wayne, right?
LH: I do have some good memories. I do remember I didn’t start off so well. Andy MacPhail came down to watch me pitch. I came in in relief and threw a couple innings. After the game, (manager) Jim Dwyer, myself, and (Rick Tomlin) our pitching coach, he called us in his office and he told them to put me back in the rotation and not to bother me anymore. From that point on, I don’t know, it clicked. It clicked. I definitely made Andy MacPhail look good, and whenever I run into him, we always talk about that moment in the office and how it changed my career.
JN: You mentioned the manager that year, Jim Dwyer, and the pitching coach, Rick Tomlin. Matt Lawton was the only guy from that club who like yourself made a name for himself in the majors. Do you still keep in touch with any coaches from that staff or teammates like Matt?
LH: I haven’t talked to any of the coaches from that staff, but Matt Lawton, we’re still best friends to this day. His daughter’s a sophomore in college. She’s my goddaughter. I speak with his wife, his son Chaston. We’re still good friends. They come to our house for holidays. My family goes there for holidays in the summer. So we’re definitely still close—very close.
JN: The organization in Fort Wayne has transformed over the years. For one thing, affiliated now with the Padres instead of the Twins. The name’s changed to the TinCaps, playing in one of the finest facilities in minor league baseball in Parkview Field. But as you alluded to earlier, ’93, that was the first year, the return to professional, affiliated baseball in Fort Wayne. And I guess you didn’t even have a stadium to start with. What was that experience like of being with a fledgling organization?
LH: I think it was pretty exciting for us because we got there, the stadium wasn’t finish. We went on that long road trip and came back and it was like the stadium was built overnight for us. It was a great facility and right across the parking lot you had the hockey team and you had the Fort Wane Fury. It was just a great town. We had a lot of fun there. I think I still have a couple of buddies who were on that team who still live in Fort Wayne. I have another friend, Ben Jones, who’s a Fort Wayne Wizards alum, that met a great young lady. He’s married and still lives there with his wife and his three daughters. Fort Wayne is definitely a great place. A lot of players stayed there after their careers were over with. We just had a blast. I was around a bunch of great ballplayers. Ken Tirpack was on that team. He’s a scout now for the Indians. I’m still in contact with him. Anthony Byrd—he’s living in Atlanta. Still in contact with Anthony. Being there, lifelong friendships that were definitely made, it’ll always be one of the better times of my life.
JN: Can you recall if you had a favorite place in Fort Wayne to have a meal or spend one of your few off days?
LH: You know, I didn’t spend many off days in Fort Wayne. I always got in my car and drove home to Gary so it’s hard for me to remember. But my buddy’s wife, Tricia, works at the Cork ‘N Cleaver. That’s definitely a great place to eat. If you go there, ask for Tricia to be your waitress.
JN: Alright, I’ll put that on the to-do list.
LH: We lived over at Canterbury Greens. So back then in A-ball, our favorite restaurant was that McDonald’s there in that shopping area. Yes, that was our favorite spot. That was what we could afford. That, and Wendy’s.
JN: Sounds about right. I guess some things don’t change. And so LaTroy, how about one of the highlights from your time after playing in Fort Wayne: 2004, the Wizards commemorated you with a bobblehead. What’s it like being turned into a bobblehead?
LH: That was pretty cool. I wasn’t there to receive the bobblehead. But I have a fan club in Minneapolis, and I think about six or seven of the fan club members drove from Minneapolis to Fort Wayne and were present to receive the LaTroy Hawkins bobbleheads. And they actually got me one, which was pretty cool. I was pretty excited to have my own bobblehead.
JN: And do you still have that in your house now?
LH: Yes, my daughter has it in her room. We still have our Fort Wayne Wizards bobblehead of myself.
JN: Looking at your career beyond Fort Wayne. You’ve sustained pretty incredible success now in your 19th season, again, currently with the Mets. How have you been able to have such longevity in the majors?
LH: It’s nothing I had to do with. I think it’s all from God. He blessed me with a rubber right arm and definitely blessed me to stay away from injuries. And I think that was the key: I was always able to say healthy my first 16 years in the major leagues. I think that’s the key to my longevity. There are definitely a lot of aspects on the field like getting guys out and throwing strikes but I really can’t take credit for it. Man, I’ve seen a lot of guys come and go with injuries. I was blessed enough to not get injured til 2010. That’s almost 19 years after my career started.
JN: During your 20-plus-year career in baseball, how have you seen the game change?
LH: Everything has changed. When I first came up we didn’t have interleague. All of my career up until this year we’ve had 16 teams in one league and 14 in another. Now we have a balanced 15 and 15 with the Astros going over to the American League West. I’ve seen numerous new stadiums go up. I’ve been around when there wasn’t a wild card, then there was a wild card, and now there’s two wild cards. So the game’s definitely changed a lot. The players are different. They’re bigger, faster, stronger. Last year, every team I played in I saw a guy throw 100 miles an hour. That just completely blew my mind. Back in the late ‘90s, early 2000’s you would’ve never seen that. There were a couple guys, but not one on every team.
JN: What kind of advice do you have for current players in Fort Wayne or even young kids to try to replicate your success?
LH: I like to tell the kids who have a passion to play baseball that baseball doesn’t have a makeup of what you should look like. You can be tall, you can be skinny, you can be short, it doesn’t matter, you can be successful in baseball. You have to find your niche and work your butt off to hone your craft. I’ve always said baseball is my job, so I was gonna work on baseball 365 days a year, not just when baseball season was going on. I think kids have to understand that baseball is definitely not an easy sport. You have to practice. You have to practice. You have to work. Baseball is a true example of you get out what you put in. If you don’t put anything into it, you’re not going to get anything out of it.
JN: I guess you’re proof that those words can prove true. On another note in keeping with current events, I know on Twitter (@LaTroyHawkins32), you’ve been pretty outspoken in your support of the new movie recently released, 42. Why do you recommend it so strongly?
LH: I just went to see it again last night with some of my friends from high school who live out here in Denver. I went with him and his family. It’s just a remarkable story that doesn’t just resonate for African-Americans. It resonates for all nationalities. Because what he did, didn’t just change baseball, he changed the way our country looks at minorities. And for him to do that in the fashion he did, knowing he had the weight of not just African-Americans on his back, but a nation, to carry on the way he did and be so successful is truly incredible.
JN: And finally, LaTroy, any message for the fans of Fort Wayne?
LH: Continue to support your team like you always have in the past. I definitely have fond memories of Fort Wayne. I still have some friends who live there, like I said, Ben and Tricia Jones, and they have three girls. So I still have ties. I’ve been there a couple times. I get in and out of there, not often, but when I do come in to see my buddy’s family and my family comes and we’re in and out. But I’ve still got great memories.
Special thanks to LaTroy for taking some time out of his schedule with the Mets to join us.
Let us know what you think of “Throwback Thursday” by tweeting @John_G_Nolan or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading.