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There’s a Hoskins’ shaped hole in my heart

So it goes

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MLB: NLDS-Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies
The Bat Spike, Oct 14, 2022
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Home Opener

Bottom of the 7th. Runners on first and second and no outs. With Harper coming to the plate during the Phillies’ home opener in 2019, Braves’ manager Brian Snitker decided the better of valor was loading the base and taking his chance pitting Luke Jackson against a young Rhys Hoskins.

The crowd booed as Harper walked to first, denied a chance to hit in his Phillies’ debut. Rhys ambled from the on-deck circle to the plate.

The 26-year-old watched a ball, stepped out of the box, stepped back in, choked up his bat, and stared at the ball in Jackson’s hand. In the broadcast booth, John Kruk mentioned this is why they talk about Hoskins having a chance to do real damage.

This game, played under a mostly sunny Philly sky on a cool Thursday afternoon, marked the start of Hoskins’ second full season in the majors.

He was first called up in late 2017 and over the course of fifty games the young right hander hit 18 home runs with a walk rate of 17.5%. Of course those kinds of numbers aren’t sustainable, and sure enough in the last few weeks of the season his bat cooled off, but the lesson was clear - this guy had power waiting to be unleashed.

During 2018, his first full season in the majors, Hoskins finished with an OBP of .354 and slugged .496. with 34 homers and a 128 wRC+ over the course of 660 PAs. His walk percentage remained above-average at 13.2%. His strike out rate of 22.7% might make you wince, but he crushed any doubt about his power or ability to work a pitch count.

Was any of that in the back of Snitker’s mind when he intentionally walked Harper to bring Rhys to the box? He didn’t have much time to double guess his decision.

Jackson let loose with his second pitch of the at-bat, a 96-mph fastball low in the zone. Hoskins’ front leg kicked up and with an easy swing he launched the ball into the reaching hands of the rapturous crowd in the left field stands. With that the game busted wide open and the Phillies took a 10-3 lead. To borrow a phrase from our friends on the radio, there was bedlam at the Bank.

Rhys Hoskins’ first career grand slam was one to remember, and it was one of many moments that would cement his legacy as a Phillie.

Before the pinstripes

Hoskins needed to complete fifty hours of community service to qualify for graduation from Jesuit High School in Northern California. At the time, his mother was in the midst of a fight against cancer that lasted more than a decade. Even though no one in his family was effected by muscular dystrophy, he decided to volunteer over the summer as a counselor at an MDA camp to earn the mandated hours.

Working with kids afflicted with muscular dystrophy and other neuromuscular diseases, seeing first hand the hardships and challenges other kids faced just to get by, and the trials and heartbreak their families struggle with, caused teenage Rhys Hoskins to reflect on how fortunate he was.

“It was something that I had never really faced and never really seen,” Hoskins told Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “My mom was sick, but she was always able to do everything. I left there reminded just how lucky I am that I get to live the life that I do.”

The following summer he returned on his own to volunteer again. After graduation he returned once more, this time as a camp leader in charge of one of the cabins.

Dingers for days

Travis Wood was on the mound for the Padres. Fourth inning. Rhys Hoskins stepped into the chalk box. His eyes were bright under the lights of Petco Park.

From the stands his family watched, excited.

Sacramento, where Hoskins grew up, is about 500 miles north of San Diego. Hoskins played college ball at Sacramento State, where as a junior his talent was recognized by winning the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year award. The Phillies elected him in the fifth round of the 2014 draft. Over the course of his first season in the minors he played 70 games and belted nine home runs with 40 RBIs, but his hitting was erratic.

“His legs weren’t in his swing every night,” Joe Jordan, then the Phillies’ director of player development, told Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia. “The timing, the bat speed and swing path were all good, but they weren’t consistent every night.” In the cages Jordan worked with Hoskins and from that was born his signature left leg kick.

He spent the next few years playing impressive ball and moving through the minor league system, reaching the Iron Pigs in 2017.

By August, the 24-year-old was called up to play at the Bank.

At the plate on that Monday night in San Diego, Hoskins showed patience. Wood delivered a curveball outside the zone and Hoskins watched it zip past for a ball. Another curveball clipped the zone for a strike. A fastball missed the zone and Hoskins let it go for another ball. A cutter for a ball.

With three balls and a strike, Hoskins swung on a fastball but his timing was just a hair off and he fouled it into the stands.

Wood hurled another fastball. This one hung in the zone. Hoskins’ timing was perfect. The ball landed in the stands in left field.

It was his first home run in the majors. His family were on their feet, ecstatic.

In the dugout, his teammates acted like nothing happened, so Rhys strode up and down the line giving high-fives to empty air. Finally they swarmed him in celebration.

And then he did it again in the seventh inning, this time homering off Craig Stammen and becoming the first Phillie to hit his first two home runs in the same game since Scott Rolen.

The Phillies lost, 7-4. It wasn’t unusual. It was August 14th, 2017, and the Fightins had the worst record in baseball. But as Hoskins rounded the bases and stepped on home plate for the second time, something changed. There was a shift - a palpable feeling that some corner had been turned, that with a single swing of the bat the team found themselves on a new road. Sure enough, Hoskins became a cornerstone of the rebuild and the Phillies climbing from the basement to reaching the World Series just a few years later.

Spike a bat and Jayme buys the beer

He was met with boos when he failed to dig out a throw from Alec Bohm to first base. The crowd booed him earlier when he struck out in the first. There were a few who even booed him when his name was called during pregame player introductions.

It was Hoskins’ first postseason game at home in South Philly. The Phillies took one from the Braves behind Nola and gave one up behind Wheeler in the NLDS before traveling to the Bank for Game 3. Hoskins had gone for 1-for-18 at the plate.

Fans were frustrated.

Hoskins was more frustrated.

In the bottom of the third, all the frustration exploded. Spencer Strider fired a 94-mph fastball down the middle of the zone. Rhys let loose. The ball vanished into the maelstrom of jubilant fans in the left field stands.

He turned to the Phillies’ dugout and, still holding his bat, threw up his hands, his face revealing pure elation. Then he slammed the bat into the dirt and he took off around the bases.

The Phillies went on to win the game 9-1, and go onto take the NLDS from the Braves in Game 4.

The bat spike was hewn forever in the team’s annals as the symbol of the 2022 season. It represented the team’s struggles in the opening spring months under Joe Girardi and every obstacle they surmounted along the winding road back to October ball. It symbolized the sheer joy and excitement of victory in the face of an opponent so many had believed would finish triumphant over the Phillies. It exemplified the culture and camaraderie of this team - without thinking, Hoskins’ first instinct was not to pound his own chest but to turn to his teammates in the dugout and share the delight and pride of the moment.

Jayme met Rhys in high school. He convinced her to join him at the MDA camp where he volunteered. They’ve been together ever since.

Anyone who follows her online knows that she’s the funny one. Her humor reflects a sincerity for the city and the team. While she remains relatively private, and despite growing up a Giants fan, online she’s as hard core a Philadelphia fan as you’ll find.

The week following Rhys’s famous bat spike. It’s Game 5 of the 2022 NLCS. The Phillies are up three games to one. A win sends them to the World Series for the first time since 2009.

Jayme Hoskins wanders over to section 104 and Tweets she’s buying beer for the first fifty fans who show up.

It’s always appreciated when spouses cheer on the team and express their love for the city and people of Philadelphia. Jayme takes it to another level by joining the fans where they live. She adopted the role of vocal Phillies’ supporter and team advocate and ran with it.

Believing in a cause

The Muscular Dystrophy Association invests tens of millions of dollars into research to find treatments and cures for the group of disorders that fall under the umbrella of muscular dystrophy. They provide real material support to people afflicted with and affected by neuromuscular disease.

Started in 1950, MDA employed a strategy of enlisting the help of celebrities to fundraise and increase awareness.

Some of you might be old enough to remember the Labor Day weekend MDA Telethons hosted by comedian Jerry Lewis. The Telethons featured names who were high profile at the time - Carol Burnett, Billy Crystal, Eddie Murphy, Jerry Seinfeld. While they ran, the Telethons raised almost $2 billion.

Eventually the weekend long Telethons came to an end. Times changed. New ways were needed to draw attention and raise money for the fight against muscular dystrophy.

It needed - and still needs - people like Rhys and Jayme Hoskins.

When Rhys won the minor-league service award while playing at Reading and had to chose an organization to receive a grant, he chose the local Philadelphia chapter of MDA.

As soon as Rhys was promoted to the majors and arrived in Philadelphia, his and Jayme’s decision to use their newfound platform to champion MDA made a significant impact on the lives of real people across the Delaware Valley. In 2018, he and Jayme hosted the Philadelphia MDA Muscle Walk at the Navy Yard. In 2019 the event raised nearly $140,000. The couple went on to spearhead other fundraising events such as the Go Yard for MDA.

My younger brother was diagnosed with congenital muscular dystrophy shortly after he was born. The older he got, the more his back twisted and he needed a custom built wheelchair. He needed special care. There was a month-long hospital stay as he fought pneumonia which took a severe toll on him. He passed away a week before his fifteenth birthday. Back then most insurance companies considered such conditions pre-existing and would often deny coverage for wheelchairs and hospital stays. Even today, the cost to take care of a loved one afflicted with muscular dystrophy is staggering for most families.

MDA steps in and covers these costs in many cases. They provide families with tangible support to take care of their sick loved ones, ensuring they can keep their heads above water.

How much did it mean to me personally that this was the cause Hoskins took up? To learn about his history working with MDA? More than I’d normally admit.

You can imagine the office of a publicist or agent in a suit, pacing back and forth in front of a disinterested athlete explaining how he or she needs to choose a charity to support. You know, for their image.

I don’t know how often that actually happens, if ever, but I suspect it’s not that uncommon.

Not so with Rhys Hoskins. His life doesn’t need that deep of an examination to reveal he’s a genuinely good guy.

Abandon all hope, ye who read on...

During a Spring Training game in Clearwater, Detroit Tigers’ Austin Meadows got a piece of Bailey Falter fastball and bounced it down the first base line. Rhys turned, took a few steps toward the grass to cut off the ball, then seemed to leap into the air and tumble to the ground doubled-over holding his left knee.

Torn ACL.

He was supposed to have been the lynchpin of one of the most intimidating lineups in baseball. Instead, his season ended during a routine play in a game that counted for nothing.

Hoskins’ contributions to the team cannot be understated. There are those who complain about his streakiness, and it’s true his bat could grow cold for periods of times, but so does nearly every other batter. His career OBP was .353 and he slugged .492. His career wOBA1 (from 2017 through 2022) is .360 and never dropped below .345.

His fielding was far from as bad as some have made it out to be. While it’s unlikely he would ever be nominated for a Gold Glove, and he committed some notable errors (ahem, NLDS), in 2022 he posted an Rdrs2, of 3 and UZR of 1.0, which are both a hair over average.

Throughout 2023, Hoskins’ presence was never absent from the clubhouse, even if it was from the field. Recovery was slow but steady. He arrived for the NL Championship ring ceremony on crutches and received a standing ovation. By the end of September he was taking practice every day and knocking balls into the stands.

There was hope he’d make the roster for the World Series. There was hope to see him on the field with a bat in his hand while wearing a Phillies uniform.

It was not to be.

We’re likely about to lose a lot more than a player who racks up RBIs. The clubhouse is losing a leader. We’re losing two champions for the city, champions for great causes, two genuinely outstanding people.

We wish Rhys and Jayme Hoskins the absolute best wherever they go. We are forever thankful for their contributions on and off the field, for being the people we didn’t know we needed, and for always caring.

We’ll miss you.

Sources

https://theathletic.com/139408/2017/10/27/hes-a-good-dude-hoskins-has-makings-of-stardom-on-and-off-the-field/

https://www.philliesnation.com/2022/06/before-his-walk-off-rhys-hoskins-and-his-wife-jayme-went-yard-for-mda/

https://www.inquirer.com/phillies/rhys-hoskins-muscular-dystrophy-association-phillies-volunteer-20190527.html

https://www.nbcsportsphiladelphia.com/mlb/a-mechanical-adjustment-kick-started-rhys-hoskins-career/397900/

https://strongly.mda.org/mlb-player-rhys-hoskins-mda/

https://www.mda.org/

1, wOBA measures the impact of offense with relation to scoring runs. While a walk gets you on base just as well as a hit does, a hit will advance runners further and more often than a walk does. wOBA takes into account the weight of every way a batter reaches base more than OPS can. The league wOBA average in 2022 was .305. Hoskins’ wOBA was .345.

2. Anyone who tells you that there’s a single stat that perfectly measures defensive ability probably thinks Derek Jeter deserved to win a Gold Glove in 2005. In my opinion, there is merit to the argument that using errors as a defensive metric is too subjective since they are at the whim of a scorekeeper, among other issues with it. Rdrs (Baseball Refrence) or UZR (FanGraphs), takes into account a variety of factors and better estimates overall defensive ability. For both metrics, the average is zero.