By Fred J. Robledo
Nobody tells a story like longtime Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, and being part of one of his many tales means you must have done something special. Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew died May 17, losing his long battle with esophageal cancer, and Scully was reminiscing later that night, talking of Killebrew’s playing days during his Dodgers television broadcast against the Milwaukee Brewers as only Scully can.
Then he ended his story by saying how appropriate it was that on the day Killebrew died at age 74, his grandson hit a home run in a high school playoff game. That grandson is Damien High School’s Chad Hockin, who hit a solo homer in a 3-1 victory over Redondo Union in the Spartans’ CIF-Southern Section Division 2 wild-card game – mere hours after Killebrew’s passing. (To continue click thread)
“I know someone who works at Dodger stadium; they told me the story and how I got mentioned,” Hockin said. “I was proud, and others were proud of me. I wasn’t trying to hit one out, but to do it on that day is pretty special.”
Killebrew, known for his tape-measure homers, is 11th on Major League Baseball’s all- time home run list with 573, most coming during his days with the Minnesota Twins, who are honoring him in a home game tonight at Minnesota’s Target Field.
For Hockin, a sophomore third baseman with a .294 batting average, his power is just starting to show. He’s a big kid – 6-foot-2, 190 pounds – but his home run last week was just his third of the season, and what a time to get it – under the pressure of a playoff game while honoring one of the greatest home run hitters ever.
“When it left (the park), I thought how special that must be for him and his family,” Damien coach Al Leyva said.
For Hockin, it hit home right away.
“He (Killebrew) was known for many things, and hitting homers was one of them,” Hockin said. “I felt something. I don’t know if it was him watching down on me or anything, but I felt something, and it made a lot of people in my family proud, but at the same time, we still miss him.”
Hockin’s mom is one of Killebrew’s nine children, and though Killebrew never saw Hockin play baseball, Hockin said they talked baseball many times over the years.
“We’ve gone to Cooperstown together, I went to a lot of his camps; he was the one of the nicest people you ever met,” Hockin said. “It’s an honor to say he is my grandfather. And though he never actually saw me play, he helped me. He would look at video of my swing and help me out; we were close in that way.”
Days before Killebrew died, he announced to the world he was giving up his fight with cancer and would spend his final days at a hospice in Scottsdale, Ariz., with his wife, Nita, and other family by his side.
Hockin’s younger brother Grant Hockin, only a freshman, is also on the Spartans roster. Both had to deal with the news from home.
“When we found out one day at practice that he (Killebrew) was going to a hospice, Grant took it pretty hard,” Leyva recalled. “Obviously it was difficult on both of them, but Chad being the older of the two, he kept his emotions closer (to the vest). But you can tell it was a tough time for both of them.”
And how fitting is it that Damien is still alive in the playoffs, and that Chad Hockin has suddenly become a home run force? After finishing third in the Sierra League and beating Redondo Union, the Spartans recorded a far bigger surprise, knocking off rival Glendora, the Baseline League champion and defending Division 2 champs 6-4 in the first round.
In Tuesday’s second-round game on the road, Hockin went nuts, belting a two-run homer and a three-run homer in Damien’s 7-5 victory at Sherman Oaks Notre Dame. That gives Hockin five home runs.
Damien (17-12) will host Orange County power Mission Viejo (20-13) in Friday’s quarterfinals at 3:15 p.m.
“I’m sure if you ask him (Hockin), the baseball looks like a basketball right now,” Leyva said.
“He almost connected on two others (against Notre Dame), missing with pop-ups, but all the credit goes to his work ethic. You have to remember that he is just a sophomore and had a real solid year for us offensively and defensively. The thing about him is he always puts in the extra work, even on weekends.
“Right now you’re seeing that hard work pay off, and yeah, he’s playing with a lot more confidence. Since that day (Killebrew’s passing), he’s been one of our biggest, if not our biggest, contributor.”
For Hockin, that’s exactly how he wants to honor his grandfather.
“He (Killebrew) didn’t get to where he was because he was just good,” Hockin said. “He worked at it. He worked at it every day. That’s what I want to do. That’s probably the best way I can honor him, by putting in the work.”