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Gary’s LaTroy Hawkins still going strong with Mets

LaTroy Hawkins John Buck

LaTroy Hawkins, John Buck

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Hawkins highs

Wins — 10, Twins, 1999

Starts — 33 (twice), Twins

Innings — 190.1, Twins, 1998

Saves — 28, Twins, 2001

Games — 77, Cubs, 2004

Holds — 20, Brewers, 2011

Postseason — 5.1 innings, Rockies, two hits, one earned run in five outings, 2007

Playoffs — Twins (2002, 2003), Rockies (2007, World Series), Brewers (2011)

Teams — Twins (1995-2003), Cubs (2004-5), Giants (2005), Orioles (2006), Rockies (2007), Yankees (2008), Astros (2008-9), Brewers (2010-11), Angels (2012), Mets (2013).

Updated: August 2, 2013 7:24AM



Give LaTroy Hawkins points for longevity.

Now on his 10th major league team, the durable Mets right-hander has thumbed his nose at Father Time by overcoming four disabling injuries in the last three years. Among active relievers, he trails only future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera in career appearances.

Looking as trim as he did when he broke in with the Twins in 1995 as a starting pitcher, Hawkins did pack 50 pounds on his 6-5 frame after being drafted right out of West Side High School.

In recent years he has maintained his weight at 215, give or take a pound or two. Credit a diet heavy on vegetables and light on sodium.

New York is a long way from Gary, where his mother and grandparents still live. It’s even farther from Hawkins’ wife, Anita, who moved to Texas 13 years ago. They settled at a ranch near Dallas, where he raises Black Angus cattle between seasons.

Even though it’s a tough business because of chronic drought conditions, Hawkins is planning to increase his herd to 100 animals.

Ironically, “Hawk” seldom dines on steak. Maybe once in the last year. A fairly typical meal? During a midweek for a two-game series with the White Sox he treated himself to brown rice and jambalaya.

“A little spicy but good,” said Hawkins, who topped it off with a spoonful of cheesecake.

Later in the week Hawkins made his 33rd relief appearance in a makeup game at Colorado. It was his ninth straight outing without giving up an earned run. He pitched an inning, the norm for a setup guy, and picked up a rare victory.

Each trip to the mound could be his last, but bullpen coach Ricky Bones sends him out regularly. Velocity is not an issue for Hawkins, who prefers contact outs to strikeouts. It’s easier on his right shoulder, which has endured fatigue issues in the last few years.

So far so good. In 311/3 innings he has struck out 25, but walked only six.

“I’d much rather throw just two or three pitches to knock down hitters,” he said.

Hawkins relies on a fast ball, slider and a changeup.

Adding another pitch to his repertoire is no longer an option. He admits to having experimented with a split-finger fastball, but decided it wasn’t worth the risk.

“Too much stress on my elbow,” he explained.

A disciplined approach keeps him on track.

“On good days he can hit 93-94,” Bones said. “He’s consistently (around) 92 and does a good job of changing speeds.”

Bones admires the 40-year-old veteran for his positive influence on younger teammates as well as his pitching.

“He teaches them on and off the field,” Bones said. “He makes my life easier.”

In December, Hawkins seemed to be on the verge of involuntary retirement after the Angels did not renew him despite 48 appearances and a solid, if not spectacular 3.64 ERA. Fortunately, the Mets took a chance. Signed to a minor-league contract, he quickly showed he still had some gas left in his tank.

It cost them a mere $1 million base salary, chump change for a proven veteran even if performance incentives bump it up another $300,000.

Competition and comraderie are what motivates Hawkins. Eighty-two road games and nine different teams in the last 10 years is a price he is willing to pay to remain active.

“My kids love being in all these different cities, but it can be tough changing teams almost every year,” he said.

Waving his hand for emphasis in the visitor’s clubhouse at U.S. Cellular Field on Tuesday, he added, “I’d miss hanging with the guys.”

Despite love of the game Hawkins said he is not interested in coaching after retirement. Working in the front office sounds more appealing.

Considering his nomadic existence, someone jokingly suggested he should apply for traveling secretary, a job that currently belongs to Brian Small.

Meanwhile, he’ll continue to wear the familiar No. 32, which has identified him for most of his career. It’s a number he first wore in high school basketball, one of three sports he played for the Cougars.

He never formally requested it when changing teams, but it always seemed to find a way to his locker.

He grinned slyly. “In the minors (back in February) a kid was wearing it, but I gave him a little something for it.”

One of those angus steak dinners?

“A little more than that.”

One notable exception came in 2008, when he spent part of the season with the Yankees. Hawkins wore No. 21, which once belonged to Yankees icon Paul O’Neill. Diehard Yankees fans resented it so much that he quickly traded it in for No. 22.

The versatile right-hander has embraced every role, starting, setup man and closer, since being drafted out of high school in 1991. Asked which he preferred, he still misses taking the mound every fifth day, something he hasn’t done since the Twins switched him to the bullpen 1999.

“The further I get away from it the more I miss starting,” he said.

What might also motivate him is joining Rivera in the 1,000-game club. In the amazing Yankee’s 19th and final season, he leads the majors in saves. It’s a longshot for Hawk, who recently passed 900 games, but he could conceivably reach that milestone in 2014.

“Baseball is in my blood,” said the Gary iron man, who intends to represent the Steel City as long as he can compete effectively.

That’s an “A” positive.



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