Leading Off With Denny Hocking05/10/2011 12:22 PM ET
Baysox Hitting Coach Denny Hocking played 13 years in the Major Leagues with the Minnesota Twins, Colorado Rockies and Kansas City Royals. Now in his second year as a coach in the Orioles' organization, Hocking recently took some time to talk the Bay Watch about his career. An excerpt of this interview was featured in the Bay Watch program, this is the interview in its entirety.
Who is the best athlete in your family?
Probably my mom. She was involved in tennis, and still plays golf. She was a tomboy, she was probably the best athlete. I had an older brother, 18 months older than I am. He was always better than me at sports, but he wanted to be a rebel and didn't want to cut his hair, so he didn't get a whole lot of opportunities to play sports in high school.
Who did you grow up rooting for? Who were your favorite players?
Being from Sothern California, I liked to watch the Dodgers. Every time my brother and I would go out and play baseball in the front yard he would be the Pirates and I would be the Dodgers. I was always familiar with guys like Davey Lopes, Steve Garvey, Ron Cey and Bill Russell.
What was your draft experience like?
I came home from junior college one day, I opened up a piece of mail and handed it to my friend and said, 'What does this mean?' He read it to me. I could read, I was capable of reading, and he said I'd been drafted. I asked what that means, and he said I could go sign a minor league contract and go play in the Minor Leagues. I said ok, and then a couple days later I got a phone call from the Twins organization and they said a scout would come out to my house. The scout came out and said they didn't want to sign me, they wanted me to go back to junior college for my sophomore year and learn how to hit left-handed and to learn how to strictly play shortstop. That was my entire draft experience. MLB Network wasn't at my house.
How was your ascent through the Minors?
It was good. You learn what you learn during the season, but a lot of my learning, maturing and growing as a player was done in the instructional league with guys like Al Newman and Jerry White and Steve Little, guys who were actually on the big league staff of the Twins now. I went through each level, and the first time I repeated a level was Triple-A. It was a good experience. After my Double-A season I got called up to the big leagues.
Over 1,300 players were drafted in front of you, but a very low percentage of them played 13 years in the Majors. What set you apart from all those guys?
Probably work ethic. I was never great at anything, but I knew that the deck was going to be stacked against me. If you go out and have a bad year when you're a 52nd round draft choice, chances are you are not coming to spring training the next year. It was putting my nose to the grindstone and getting after it. I like to think the fundamental side that the Twins continue to teach to this day was the one thing that allowed me to enhance my career.
When did you start playing multiple positions?
When I was out of options with the Twins. They said I was not going to make the club as any everyday shortstop, so unless I learned to play other positions I was not going to make the team.
How long did it take you to learn to play the other positions?
About an instructional league. I'd like to think I'm a good athlete, not as good as my mom of course, but it was one of those things where fundamentally you put yourself in a position to succeed. As far as learning to play the right side of the infield it just becomes a footwork thing.
Was it tough to play strong defense when you were being moved all over the diamond?
No. My daily routine when I got into the locker room, when I saw I was playing a position I would focus on that position for that day. When I was not in the lineup, I would try to figure out who I would be going in for. I did a lot of work at second base. I was a defensive guy for almost an entire year for Todd Walker. Occasionally when you are going to other ballparks, trying to get the configurations of the outfield and how the ball is played out there, if the ball snakes or not on groundballs, getting backdrops and things of that nature. It wasn't that hard.
Which position was your favorite?
Shortstop is definitely my favorite position because you really get a chance to take hold of your team on defense and be kind of a coach on the field. I had earned the respect of my teammates, so you could move guys and play guys accordingly. That was probably my favorite position.
What are a couple of your best memories from your playing days?
Going to the playoffs in '02 [with the Twins] for the first time since they won the World Series in '91 and just being around a good group of guys that liked to work hard and overachieve. There were constantly times where we were not as talented as the team in the other dugout. But playing the game fundamentally, the right way, throwing strikes, playing defense getting big hits was the name of the game for the Twins. Being around 24 other guys who had that same goal was probably the most memorable thing about my career.
Do you have any memories of playing the O's?
It was always a lot of fun to come play the Orioles. They were always super good when I was still playing in the big leagues. The stands were always packed, the inner harbor was jumping. We were playing them when [Mike] Hargrove was here and they were going to the playoffs religiously. It was good to come measure yourself against a good quality team like that.
You did some radio work after your playing days, how was that experience?
A lot of fun. I hosted a national baseball show for FOX for three years and hosted a college football show for FOX for three years that was syndicated to 300 affiliates. You're going out to a wide range of people and I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the college football as much as I enjoyed the baseball aspect of it. I did it with [Rob] Dibble, who I thought was fantastic. [He was] very opinionated, very straight-forward. You had to work at it. It was nice getting players on, and coaches on that I had had relationships with and you can take interviews down a different route as opposed to questions they always have to answer. Something may have happened through the course of your playing experience with a player that you can ask them about it later. It is kind of cool, and you can give the listening audience a different feel for an interview.
Who were some of your favorite people to interview?
Garrett Anderson, I knew a lot about him. I had known him since high school. Michael Young, when I had Michael Young on I was able to really talk about the finer points of hitting and about a daily routine, and when you are facing certain guys what your mindset is so hopefully the people who were listening at the time were able to get a little broader experience of what it is like to be in the batters box as a Major League hitter.
What is your favorite role in baseball - coach, player, fan or media?
The easiest part of baseball is the media side, because you never make a mistake. Playing, because you miss the adrenaline rush and the competitive aspect of it. The part of coaching is pretty rewarding when you get a good group of kids that want to listen to you, that trust you. When you are able to sit on a staff and be able to have good conversations and good relationships with your staff members winds up being pretty good too.
How did you get your start in coaching?
I saw Andy MacPhail when the Orioles were coming through Anaheim and I told him I was going to be interested in coaching, and he told me to send an e-mail. I sent him an e-mail, David Stockstill called me, and within that process I was offered a job in Frederick. That's how my coaching career started.
Having played seven different positions in the majors, does that give you an advantage working with players?
I would hope so. The one thing that I try to do when I am teaching these kids is let them understand that it is not me trying to reinvent the wheel. When I am teaching these guys about hitting, or about defense or things like that, I'm teaching them stuff that I learned at the big league level through Hall of Famers and coaches that are still there and the knowledge of baseball that I have accrued in the years of baseball that I've been around. It's not, 'Oh, Denny Hocking says this is the way that you should play this.' Denny Hocking is telling me how to play this position because he learned how to play it from Kirby Puckett. That's the part that I'm trying to relate to relate to these guys. If they were to Google me, my numbers aren't that impressive. They are not going to go, 'Oh my God, this guy hit .252 in the big leagues, gee that's great. I'm going to listen to everything he's got to say.' That is why I try to reiterate, I try to name drop guys that are in the Hall of Fame when I tell these guys things.
How many of these players had you worked with before this year?
Welty, Avery, Florimon, Rowell, Joseph for about a week, Mahoney, Miclat.
Do any of our players remind you of yourself?
All these guys are specialized in positions. If you were to ask me if I thought a lot of these guys could play in the big leagues, yeah. The longevity that they are going to have, who knows. That is strictly up to them and work ethic, and being able to adapt and learn. These guys are all pretty high-round draft picks. I'm sort of in a different category because they only have 50 rounds [in the draft] now.
How long does it take you to get comfortable working with players?
The best advice I ever got about coaching was from Sandy Alomar the year before I went into it. He said to get to know your players before you start coaching them. That's one thing that I really try to do. I've had relationships with some of the players from last year [in Frederick] and when I'm working with new players I like to sit back and see what I'm working with. Find out a little bit about them personally so all of our conversations aren't about baseball. Being with the same guys for so long, the conversations can get monotonous and that's the last thing that I want to do, is have them think that I'm talking just to hear myself talk.
You were part of some dreadful teams in Minnesota in the 90s, but you were also there when the became a playoff team in the 2000s. Do you see any parallels between those Twins teams and the O's?
I was fortunate enough to go to big league camp this year and could see what an emphasis Buck puts on fundamentals, and everyone talks about how that is the Twins way, the fundamentals, throwing strikes, getting hits, getting big hits and taking extra bases. Things of that nature that wound up making us successful in my times after getting teeth kicked in in Minnesota. I can see that same format being thrown out there for the Orioles this year.
How much work do you do in the community?
I did a lot. I was the only Twins player in their history whose wife gave birth to Twins while he was a player. That was a big promotional thing for them. My wife liked to be involved in the community. We worked with Garth Brooks, giving tickets away. The coolest thing for me, I hosted a thing called Twins Unplugged at local bars throughout the county. We'd go there after day games. Fans would come out and get to know more about the players. A little hands on experience and things like that. It was easy for me to do. You're always trying to do stuff for charity, to get your name out there and get the organization's name out there. As a role player, as a bench player, a lot of my time wasn't taken up as an every day guy so I could go to schools. I could go to caravans.
Is it hard spending so much time away from your family?
It's pretty tough, but I was fortunate that they were able to come see me right when the season started. It's one thing for your family to come out and see you, but it is a whole different world when you are able to be on the same staff as two managers that allow my kids to be a part of the team, a part of the experience, to be in the clubhouse. I am able to get my work done, not only for the pregame stuff but to incorporate my work with the players and also have my family around to be a a part of that as well.
Do you want your kids to follow in your footsteps and be professional athletes?
Yes! My wife played junior college basketball, so bloodlines are good for my kids to be athletically capable of competing. All three of my children do a very good job of competing. My soon in baseball and football, and my girls in basketball and soccer. The joy that I give out of it, is that we don't try to push anything on them. My kids are like, 'We have soccer practice today? Great, I can't wait until schools done and I get my homework done and we get to go do that.' That's the fun part of being a parent, and it helps that they're successful at it too.
What does your future hold?
Me and Gary, together forever. I think everyone that puts on a coaching uniform has aspirations of coaching in the big leagues. I think it's a different world in the minor leagues, you are developing guys and all that. I think it's a different agenda when you're coaching in the big leagues then when you coach in the Minor Leagues. That being said, I try to be a loyal guy. As long as the Orioles want me...You're trying to get yourself to the big leagues, but the only way that you can do that is by at the end of the day when the Field Coordinator, the Minor League Coordinator and the player development guys, come in and they look at who you are with every single day, that's the ultimate compliment. When players can speak highly of you to your bosses. As long as that continues to happen, I could really care less what happens.
Do you think you'll ever get out of baseball?
I doubt it. If I do, I'll get into the media aspect of it again.
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