Competition fuels Hawkins' desire to play on
Pitching for his 10th different team, reliever has good shot at breaking camp with Mets
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Someday, when it's all over, he'll go back to his ranch north of Dallas and raise Black Angus cattle and be perfectly content.
Someday. But 40-year-old reliever LaTroy Hawkins isn't quite ready yet. Which is why he signed a Minor League contract with the Mets, why he was at Joker Marchant Stadium on Friday as a non-roster invitee, why he pitched an inning in a 3-2 loss to the Tigers.
"What keeps bringing me back? I think the competing. I love to compete," he said, standing in front of his locker in the cramped visitors' clubhouse. "Baseball is in my blood. And as long as I'm blessed with my physical ability to be able to do it, I'll continue to try to do it."
As it stands now, Hawkins appears well-positioned to be on the Opening Day roster when the Mets host San Diego at Citi Field on April 1. If he does, it will be his 10th different team. And that doesn't begin to tell the whole story. He spent the first nine years of his career with the Twins. Since then he's spent two full seasons with the same team just once, the Brewers in 2010 and 2011. But he insisted that having to start over again with a new team almost every year isn't that difficult.
"Naw, not at all. Baseball is like a brotherhood. It's like we're all in the same neighborhood, and you leave one house and go to the next house then go to the next house. That's the way I look at it. And I know somebody on each team," he said.
He doesn't know anybody better than Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter. They were Minnesota teammates for over a decade and then again last year with the Angels. They live down the street from each other in the offseason and work out together in the morning. Hawkins stayed with Hunter in the Lakeland area Thursday night. And Hunter said his friend can do a lot for the Mets.
"He's just a veteran guy. In the bullpen, he's always helped the guys, he's always giving back. He's like a brother of mine. Not just in baseball. In life," Hunter said. "So I definitely know he's going to work hard. He's going to pour out [his knowledge] to the young guys and show them how to pitch and how to study the guys before the bullpen is called on. And that's what he's going to bring to that ballclub."
Last season, Hawkins put up decent numbers for the Angels. He appeared in 48 games and had a 3.64 ERA. Yet, once again, he was granted free agency at the end of the season. He didn't sign with the Mets until Jan. 30. And he's a bargain. If he's added to the Major League roster, he'll makes a base salary of $1 million plus up to $300,000 in performance incentives: $50,000 each for 40, 45, 50, 55, 60 and 65 appearances.
Hunter said he can't explain why Hawkins has moved so often.
"Man, you know what? I've never understood that. Why? I just don't get it. But at the same time, he's going to do what he has to do. He never complains. He goes to a different ballclub and he's still the same. He doesn't change. He helps the ballclub, he'll eat up some innings for you, try to make that team better. He knows what he's doing," the outfielder said.
In his Grapefruit League debut Friday, Hawkins pitched a shutout inning, allowing two hits. He struck out one, and his other two outs were on ground balls. He had previously had one outing in a B game against the Marlins on Tuesday, allowing a run on a hit and a walk in two innings.
"I got a lot of work in today," he said. "It's not bad at all."
Hawkins has been around a long time. So long, in fact, that he now runs into former teammates who are now on staff with various teams. For example, he was a Cubs teammate of Mets first-base coach Tom Goodwin.
Hunter thinks Hawkins has plenty left. "The only story is his career. Still around. I mean, you're talking about a guy who has the body of Satchel Paige and probably can pitch until he's like 55. He's got that long, lanky body. Easy fastball that's 93-94, and he's 40 years old."
Hawkins didn't sign this year until two weeks before Spring Training, but said he was never worried that he wouldn't find a job.
"I wasn't concerned. I've played long enough that, if this was my last year, I'd have been fine, too. But thanks God it wasn't. That's how I look at it," he explained.
Someday it will happen. Hawkins just isn't quite ready yet.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.