Souhan: LaTroy Hawkins was a near quitter, then world traveler, now a manager

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On Sunday, LaTroy Hawkins will manage the American League team in the All-Star Futures Game in Colorado, meaning he will become a temporary mentor to a bunch of youngsters who would benefit from his career advice.

Before Hawkins became a star reliever for the Twins, or a happy wanderer who played for 11 teams over 21 seasons in the big leagues, he called home and tried to quit.

The Twins selected Hawkins — then a skinny kid from Gary, Ind., and now a special assistant to the team's baseball operations department — in the seventh round of the 1991 draft. The next year, a bunch of newly drafted players were sent to the Twins' rookie-league affiliate in Elizabethton, Tenn. Hawkins' name was not on that list.

He was 19 and weighed 170 pounds. He had passed up college basketball scholarships to play baseball. He called his grandfather, Eddie Williams, to say he was leaving the Twins.

"He said, 'When does college start?'" Hawkins said. "I told him the end of August. We were talking in early June. He said, 'Where are you going to stay until then?'

"I said, 'At your house.' He said, 'Nah. That's not going to happen. I don't let quitters stay at my house.' "

After telling that story, Hawkins began making beeping sounds, like a dump truck backing up. "I put it in reverse,'' Hawkins said. "I stayed with the Twins. And it all worked out.''

That was the first crisis in a unique career. After short stints in the big leagues in 1995 and '96, Hawkins' career ERA was 8.44. In 1999, his full-season ERA, as a starting pitcher, was 6.66 — the mark of the least.

His career ERA at that point was 6.16.

Those are numbers that got you sent to the St. Paul Saints when the Saints were a scrappy independent league team, not the Twins' Class AAA affiliate.

Hawkins' grandfather kept him from quitting. Two baseball elders refused to quit on him.

When Hawkins went through a slump in Class A, Andy MacPhail, then the Twins general manager, visited the affiliate at Fort Wayne, Ind., and ordered the staff there to give Hawkins the ball every five days, regardless of how he performed. "I got called into a meeting with Andy and I thought they were going to send me home," Hawkins said. "Then he ordered them to use me even more."

Once Hawkins reached the big leagues, Twins manager Tom Kelly, known for intimidating so many of his young players during the '90s, took a liking to Hawkins.

He saw untapped athletic ability, a live arm, a strong work ethic and an unwillingness to blame anyone else for his struggles.

"I would have meetings in TK's office, and I remember another defining moment," Hawkins said. "TK was a little rough, man, especially for guys who had never had a tough coach. For me, coming from my background and Gary, Indiana, he was right up my alley. I thought that when someone got after you, that meant they cared.

"He called me in, and I thought, 'Uh, oh.' Then he said, 'LaTroy, you keep doing what you're doing. As long as I'm here, I want you here. But if I see you stop working, you're out of here, because the guys upstairs, that's what they want — they want you out of here.'

"I didn't know if that was a good or a bad meeting when I came out of there. But TK saw more in me than I saw in myself, and I didn't want to let him down.''

Hawkins would become a dominating setup man for the Twins in 2002, would throw a 98-mile-per-hour fastball to get out of a jam and help the Twins beat the Athletics in the 2002 divisional playoffs, then would embark on an intentional ambassadorship around the major leagues.

He would befriend members of the LaTroy Hawkins Fan Club, treating them more as equals than admirers, and they would follow him around the country.

Hawkins made friends throughout the game, and country, because his grandfather talked him out of quitting, and because Kelly gave him reason to believe.

"TK was a blue-collar type of dude," Hawkins said. "He liked how I went about my business and he stuck by me. And, man, I love him for it. I really do."

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