Playing in the major leagues is reserved for only a select few of talented athletes. Playing in the major leagues for 22 years is a feat only a small group of professionals can claim to achieve. I had the privilege to speak with LaTroy Hawkins who recently retired after a successful career as a relief pitcher for many teams in the league. Here’s how it went:
Jay: So many people talk about baseball losing fans because the game is too long, too slow etc. Players like Bryce Harper voiced their opinions saying that the game needs to be more exciting. Having been around the league for over 20 years, what’s your take?
LaTroy: Let me put it to you this way Jay- baseball is the only sport where going 3-10 is a success. So I get it when people say it’s a slower sport. But at the same time, what other sport do you have to try and use a round bat to hit a round ball with exit velocity of 100mph or more and try to turn a double play. It’s definitely a different skill set and it has to attract the right fans; baseball is one of the greatest sports in the world and it’s not going to go away.
Jay: What about players showing excitement after they’ve hit a home run? They dance in the end zone in football and no one has a problem with it. Does it fit in baseball?
LaTroy: I’ve got no problem with a player celebrating after a home run, especially when it’s a walk off, or a 7th inning come from behind tie or things like that. My issue is when players celebrate every home run because then it’s about showing up the pitcher. There’s a certain level of respect that you should have for your opponents and a lot of young guys are trying to do away with that. At the same time, it’s really tough to know where exactly to draw the line, you don’t want the umpires or managers calling this stuff and you don’t want players to police themselves either because it’ll get out of hand and we’ll lose more kids watching the game that way than we already are. Really it boils down to this: don’t over react in a way where if it was you in that situation you’d get upset- it’s that simple.
Jay: You played the game for an amazing 22 years! Has the transition from sport been hard since you’ve retired?
LaTroy: Not even one bit! In fact, Torii Hunter and I retired the same year and both of us handed in our jerseys when we could have come back and played which is a unique and amazing experience. Most players get pushed out because they can’t play anymore and my goal during my career was never to be released. I was traded to different teams, but I made sure I was always good enough to add value to any ball club I went to. The best time to retire is when they don’t want you to.
Jay: Are there certain elements of the game that you do miss?
LaTroy: You know what I really miss Jay- it’s the relationships I made during those years, and not just with other players. Many of the people we got to know on a daily basis like the security guards, the grounds crew, the guys in the parking lot that we got to know so well because we saw them all the time, and the club house guys. Those relationships were a treasure and they’re hard to replace. For now, I’m able to enjoy my family and follow the sport. I also do a lot of sports talk with ‘TuneIn’ radio app for your smart phone. The show is called MLB on TuneIn live and we break down all the big plays and stats around the league.
Jay: Sounds awesome. Are there other attributes that you’ve learned from playing professional sports that has helped in other areas of life?
LaTroy: Great point Jay and there’s no question that you can’t duplicate the competitive nature that you experience while you play sports. Additionally, sports is an unbelievable situation that has enabled me to work with so many different people. When I grew up in Indiana my high school was all black with maybe two Hispanics. From the day I got to Fort Myers, Florida, I was put together with so many other people; Japanese, Venezuelan, White, Dominican and so many others. We all worked together, focused on a common goal. That has taught me a lot about being able to work and act as a professional regardless of race.
Jay: You mentioned earlier the value of the relationships you’d developed over the years, particularly with the clubhouse guys. What type of interaction did you have with those guys?
LaTroy: Let me tell you something Jay- the club house guys play an unbelievable role for players around the league. In fact, a couple weeks ago the news reported that the Chicago White Sox players refused to pay their tips to the clubhouse crew. They made it sound like the players didn’t want to pay which is not really what happened. Back in my day in April of 2015 a similar situation occurred and this is what really happened. Every stadium has a visiting club house for every incoming team, and those club houses are owned by the team but are individually managed by a group of club house guys. Those guys make sure to find out what every single player in the league wants when they come to the ball park and they make sure to have it for them- and I’m talking about everything. Your favorite foods, drinks and anything else you want in the club house. Players are so appreciative of the service they get and they generally leave a nice tip and that’s how they make their money. The home team wanted to funnel a large part of that money to their own organization and told players that they were required to pay a percentage of their tip to the home team. The players who really felt a relationship with those club house guys absolutely refused and made sure the ones managing the club house got every penny of their tip- good for them! Those guys work hard and deserve every penny that comes with it. We appreciated their hard work and because of that we made sure to stick up for them when we saw they were being taken advantage of. No matter what you do in life do your best to satisfy your customers and if you have the opportunity to stand up for someone else don’t be afraid!