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Where Are They Now? Former Twins IF Denny Hocking

In 1989, the Minnesota Twins used their 52nd round draft pick to select a catcher named Denny Hocking from El Camino College, a junior college in Torrance, California. Drafted in a round that no longer exists, Hocking not only became the lowest-drafted player to play for the Twins, but he spent 13 seasons in the big leagues including 11 seasons with the Twins. Since his retirement following the 2005 season, Hocking has continued to have an interesting life in and around the game of baseball. Recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with Hocking who is now the manager of the Clinton LumberKings, the Midwest League affiliate of the Seattle Mariners.
Image courtesy of Seth Stohs, Twins Daily (photo of Denny Hocking meeting with Kernels Manager Toby Gardenhire and the umpires before a game.)
“It was opportunity that I made the most of. That’s all!”

That statement from former Twins utility man Denny Hocking is certainly true and maybe even an understatement as he continues to work in the game nearly 30 years later.

Hocking grew up in Torrance, California, were he was a great athlete. He had basketball scholarships to a couple of the California colleges, but he chose to stay home and continue playing baseball.

He joked, “I thought I could play baseball a couple more years.”

Hocking chose to play at El Camino College and pursue a degree in journalism. He played several positions on the field, but primarily he was a catcher. “I played everywhere but pitcher, shortstop and first base. I caught every other game. Catch, play right. Catch, play third base. Catch, play center. And I think every time the Twins came to see me I was catching. I think I was drafted purely on arm strength and athleticism..”

Hocking was a very good athlete, and he had a very strong arm. It was enough to catch the attention of a Twins scout.

“Draft Day was probably a little different for me than it was for Royce Lewis.” Hocking surmised. “I had no idea about the draft.”

The MLB Draft was a little different in 1989. It wasn’t a big production on TV, and the internet wasn’t even covering it. I mean, the internet was still in its infancy. Hocking learned that he had been drafted when he “got something in the mail.”

Hocking recalled, “You’ve been drafted in the 52nd round by the Minnesota Twins. But what does that mean?”

Hocking acknowledges that he had no idea.

“Minor Leagues? I had no idea. That week, we got in the car and went to Inland Empire which was San Bernadino at the time and watching a minor league baseball game. I drove up to Visalia to watch the Twins farm team play up there. It was the year that Chuck Knoblauch was drafted and he was there.”

Soon after, the Twins scout came to the Hocking home and said, “Congratulations on getting drafted, but we don't’ want to sign you.”

What? Not exactly a ringing endorsement for a drafted player, but when you hear the rest of the story, it does make a lot more sense.

“He wanted me to go back (to school) and play shortstop, and I wound up going back and strictly played shortstop my sophomore year. Two of my friends who hit left-handed taught me how to hit at the junior college level. I was hitting left-handed for less than a year when I put an Elizabethton Twins uniform on and went and played professional baseball. It brings back a lot of memories”

Back then, there was a system called Draft-and-Follow. Whereas currently teams need to sign their drafted players by July 15th, teams used to have until the following draft to sign their drafted players. In this example, Hocking could go back to El Camino, play the next spring and then sign with the Twins before the 1990 draft.

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Right-handed pitcher Mike Trombley was a teammate of Denny Hocking for many years. Of the utility man, Trombly said, “Hock was one of the most talented guys on the Twins team. Switch-hitter with a rocket arm and a good glove. He could play so many positions. Why was he a 52nd-round pick? Simply put, he was overlooked.Once you saw him play, we all knew that. Hock was also a great guy in the locker room. Funny.

Trombley also shared a store about Hocking.

“We were playing a spring training game in Ft. Myers and (Jose) Canseco hit a rocket to Hock at second base. It skipped off the hard clay and hit Hock in the mouth. Trainer and coach ran out there to help him. There was a lot of blood. They couldn’t understand what he was saying because of the injury, but Hock was trying to tell them he had a dip in his mouth. Funny now, not so funny when it happened.”

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When you consider the round in which Denny Hocking was drafted, he really didn’t spend a lot of time in the minor leagues.He signed in May of 1990. In 1992, he had hit .331 with over 180 hits in Visalia. Not wanting him to be selected in the Expansion Draft, the Twins added Hocking to their roster. He spent 2013 in Double-A. He was ready to go home for the offseason after a solid season at AA in 1993 when his manager, Phil Roof, gave him some great news.

“We were in the Double-A playoffs. I got taken out of the game, late in the game. I got to the clubhouse and called my girlfriend, who’s now my wife, and said why don’t you pick me up after the game tomorrow. Then after the game, the manager told me I was going to the big leagues in Texas, and I was like ‘What?’ I had to call her back and say, you need to get a flight to Texas.”

Over the next couple of seasons, he went back and forth between Triple-A and the big leagues. However, starting in 1997, Hocking had a stretch of six straight seasons in which, as a utility man, he played in over 100 games. In fact, in 1999 and 2000, he played in over 130 games a year with no more than 65 at any one position. In other words, it isn’t like recent Eduardo Escobar seasons where he comes into the season as a utility player and winds up being an everyday player because of an injury to Miguel Sano or the suspension of Jorge Polanco.

But Hocking earned the respect and the trust of legendary Twins manager Tom Kelly.

“TK was always known to be super tough on the young kids. That’s one way to look at it. But the way that he really was, he wanted you there early. So, if we stretched at 4:00, be sure to be there at 2:00. I’d show up at 2:00, and I’d be one of the last guys to get there. When I played and Kirby was there, I have no idea what time he got there, but he was probably there at noon. He wanted you to be early. When you got to the field, don’t sit in your street clothes. Put something uniform on to start getting your mind ready to play a game that night.”

Hocking continued, “He just held you accountable. I could rattle off thousands and thousands of things that he would hold you accountable on. I played for two managers with the Twins, both TK and Gardy, and they were both from the same cloth. You knew what their expectations were for each and every player, and as long as you met those on a daily basis, it was status quo.”

Did knowing that make it hard to play for those managers, or did it become easy because the expectations were clear?

“You just know how to prepare. I would walk into the field, walk into the clubhouse and look at the lineup, and if my name was on it, I’d say ‘OK, today’s my day to play.’ And if my name wasn’t on it, I would take it as, ‘OK, I’ve got six innings off today, but if it’s close, I’m going to get an opportunity to impact this game.”

Hocking knew his role on those Twins teams and not only accepted them but took it as a challenge and performed.

“I remember. I played a lot of second base when Todd Walker was there. Todd, I felt, was a very good defender, but I don’t think TK saw him like that. But Todd could flat-out hit. By May 1st, I knew my role. I was going to go in to play defense at second base when we were winning games. TK didn’t have to call me on the bench. Fifth inning would come around. I’m starting to stretch. Sixth inning, I’m really thinking about getting loose. Seventh inning, OK, he’s probably going to call on me soon because of the score. Todd would have an at bat in the seventh or eighth inning.”

Hocking then said that it became a non-verbal communication between him and Tom Kelly at that point. As Walker was walking to the plate, Kelly would look down at the end of the bench, and Hocking knew to look down at Kelly. Kelly would nod at him, and that simply meant that Hocking would be entering the game as a defensive replacement the next half inning.

“I knew why I was on that team, and he trusted me in that situation. And that’s what I preach to these kids. Be a trustworthy player. I know that if something happens to this team on a nightly basis, it’s not due to lack of preparation or lack of effort. Sometimes it’s just not going to work out.”

In that series in Cedar Rapids, Hocking had a fielder that wanted to make a play. Ben Rortvedt lined the ball to the outfield. The fielder thought he could catch it and was going to dive. As it was happening, he realized he wasn’t going to be able to make the catch, so he just tried to knock the ball down. It got by him and a single turned into a triple. He came into the dugout and explained the play to his manager. Hocking told him that he would never be mad at a player who is trying to make a play. It can be a learning opportunity. The fielder was prepared, and he gave 100% effort, it just didn’t work out.

Hocking gives a lot of credit to his manager, Tom Kelly, and the expectations that he set for his roster. Those are the traits that he has carried with him into his coaching and managing career.

“I manage a lot, and I communicate a lot as I learned through TK and Gardy.”

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Running around the clubhouse during several of Hocking’s Twins years was first-year Cedar Rapids Kernels manager Toby Gardenhire. Ron Gardenhire was a coach through Hocking’s first several years, and he later became the manager, so Toby was able to get close to the players and learn from them.


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Hocking noted, “I remember Toby always running around, catching a lot of heat from the guys. He grew up in the clubhouse. I remember seeing that he got hired and thought that was awesome. I watch what he does, and I’m impressed. There’s a ton of talent in that other clubhouse, but I’m impressed with how they work and how they play for him. You can watch a team, and they take on direct mannerisms of their manager, and I see a lot of his dad in him. I think he’s got a bright future.

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Shane Carrier was with the Kernels when Clinton was in Cedar Rapids. He went to the same high school that Hocking’s daughters are graduating from. “I played the music in the batting tunnel when he would come and hit in the offseason.”

Carrier said, “I was 12 or 13, and he would help out a bit. He was always around. He is a cool guy. He’s funny.”

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After the Twins let him go after the 2003 season, Hocking spent a year with the Rockies and a year with the Royals (splitting time between MLB and AAA). He had other options for the 2006 season, but he didn’t want to spend any more time in the minor leagues and it was important to him to spend time with his young family.

When retired, he didn’t jump right into coaching. He knew the right people and got a job at MLB.com covering the Angels and Dodgers.

He spent time on air with Jim Rome, and he later met Andrew Siciliano (Red Zone Network) and appeared on-air with him once a week for a 15-minute hit on baseball. It turned into a regular show on Fox Sports Radio, a job he held until the company had some layoffs after an ownership change.

At that time, he figured he’d better get a job. A good friend of his was working in media relations with the Orioles at that time. He told Hocking that former Twins general manager Andy MacPhail was coming to Anaheim, and he could set up a pregame on-field meeting. That day, Hocking saw MacPhail in the dugout and walked toward him.

MacPhail saw Hocking as he approached. “Denny Hocking… 52nd round draft choice… as a catcher.”

Hocking responded to his former GM, “How do you remember me? Out of all the kids you drafted, and all the kids you’ve seen play in all of your years, you remember my draft round and what I was drafted as?”

MacPhail answered him, “I remember the guys that did things the right way. That really made me feel good, and I said, ‘Well, if you think that way of me, I’m looking for a job to get into coaching.’”

A series of e-mails were exchanged, and Hocking was named a hitting coach in Frederick, Maryland (Double-A). He noted that during those three years, “I would see my family for about ten days from Valentine’s Day to September 11th. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I had to be closer to my family. I just had to be closer to home.”

He contacted the Angels. Since then, he’s coached in a variety of roles in the Angels and more recently in the Mariners organizations. This is his first year as a manager in the Mariners organization for the Clinton LumberKings.

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It’s not always easy. Part of why he returned was to be closer to his family, and now back in coaching, Hocking will again have to miss some important events.

“The sacrifice that you make to be away from your family. I have twin daughters that will graduate this year. I will be back two days before they graduate, and I’ll see my son’s last days of middle school. I’ll be able to be there for important days like that. But.I’ve missed my daughters’ proms, homecomings, things like that. One of my daughters is currently training for the U20 National Team for women’s soccer. If she continues to do well and makes the cut,the World Cup is in France in August, and I will not be able to go and support her.”

Of course, the other side includes the relationship and team-building that he can lead as a manager.

“All I try to do is create a good environment and make these kids want to work and make them feel important and impact their lives. I see that. That’s the rewarding part for the crappy part.”

It’s clear that Hocking has been influenced as a coach and a manager by his years in a Twins uniform playing for Tom Kelly and Ron Gardenhire. He has had a long and fulfilling career in baseball and clearly still enjoys it.


Nearly 30 years ago, the Twins drafted him in a round that no longer exists. It’s a great reminder about hard work, being prepared and setting expectations. Hocking carved out an impressive big league career, turned into a radio voice for a few years and now is giving back to the game through coaching.

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16 Comments

Nice story. I seriously doubt that I knew Denny Hockimg was ever a catcher. A few years ago I went to CR for a game that was the end of a series, and the next day followed the team to Clinton for the first game of that series. The park was old but clean, with a lot of character. But definitely a step down from CR. I highly recommend a road trip to IA for those who like baseball. It's an easy drive, and it's not at all hard to tie in another activity like the Amana Colonies or catch Field of Dreams on the way home. :) BTW, the signs on the freeway coming into CR warning of photo speed tickets are for real. They may not use robot plate umps in baseball, but they do use robot cops in CR.
    • IndianaTwin and nclahammer like this

Great story and some good Denny Hocking memories.If you haven't checked out Iowa's minor league parks, I highly recommend them; good baseball road trip.

 

Where's Denny Hocking now? Posting on this site of course! For quite a while now...
    • USAFChief, D. Hocking, Circus Boy and 1 other like this

Great article, thanks Seth!!!

It kind of makes you wonder what kind of long-lasting impact the current manager is having on the players. Are they assimilating the same kind of values? It sure seems like the current team makes a lot more fundamental (and mental) errors than Kelly's teams or even Gardenhire's teams did. 

    • Platoon likes this

It kind of makes you wonder what kind of long-lasting impact the current manager is having on the players. Are they assimilating the same kind of values? It sure seems like the current team makes a lot more fundamental (and mental) errors than Kelly's teams or even Gardenhire's teams did.

I don't know who's responsible, but regardless the teams record at the end of the year, this is not a fundamentally sound baseball team. And it's not just one or two players. Throws to wrong bases, missed cutoff men, guys picked off second, you name it, we got it. Sooner or later this orginisation has to clean up its style of play. Winning a game you played poorly doesn't change the fact you played poorly. It simply covers up the issue temporarily.
    • adjacent, 70charger and PDX Twin like this

Nice article Seth, thanks for doing it.

    • Seth Stohs likes this
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theBOMisthebomb
Jun 08 2018 10:37 AM

Nice story. I seriously doubt that I knew Denny Hockimg was ever a catcher. A few years ago I went to CR for a game that was the end of a series, and the next day followed the team to Clinton for the first game of that series. The park was old but clean, with a lot of character. But definitely a step down from CR. I highly recommend a road trip to IA for those who like baseball. It's an easy drive, and it's not at all hard to tie in another activity like the Amana Colonies or catch Field of Dreams on the way home. :) BTW, the signs on the freeway coming into CR warning of photo speed tickets are for real. They may not use robot plate umps in baseball, but they do use robot cops in CR.

Yes, going to a minor league game in Iowa is like being transported back in time. Fun times, worth a trip and it's close and affordable. And yes, the robot speeding tickets are for real. They tried to get me a few summers ago. I called and raised a stink, caught them on a technicality, questioned the legality of their process so they eventually dropped the ticket.
    • 70charger and Platoon like this

 

Where's Denny Hocking now? Posting on this site of course! For quite a while now...

Hadn't seen his handle in a while. Now we know what he's up to this summer.

    • USAFChief and Vanimal46 like this

Great work, how many catchers move to SS and are known for their glove?

 

Disclaimer: I understand that I'm about to comment on a life that is not my own and choices that are not my own. But . . .

 

A little taken aback by Hocking talking about missing so much of his kids' life. He made $5 million as a pro and is eminently qualified to be a high school or traveling baseball coach in his local area. He presumably missed a lot of their childhood when he was playing. I guess I just really don't get being so absent when you have no financial reason to be. Is being a minor league hitting instructor or coach so much more validating than coaching high school? Does he have a shot to manage in the big leagues?

Again, I get its not my life but I really wouldn't make the same choices and have a hard time wrapping my head around why someone would. Not seeing your daughter play in the World Cup would be a deal-breaking moment for me.
 

    • Platoon likes this
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tarheeltwinsfan
Jun 08 2018 12:24 PM

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer: I understand that I'm about to comment on a life that is not my own and choices that are not my own. But . . .

 

Everyone who works in pro baseball makes sacrifices regarding family time...just as high school coaches, law enforcement officers, teachers, doctors, sports writers, pastors, soldiers, and other workers do. I also appreciate taking my family to a ball game, being safe in my home because of law enforcement officers and soldiers who are ready to defend my family, if necessary. It's just the way it is for those of us who work for a living. At least we're not out hunting mammoths, as our ancestors had to do. 

The main question now, is who will play the lead in the movie Hocking - Utility Hero?Sadly, Brad Pitt is now too old for the part.Maybe he could play the role in the sequel that takes place during the LumberKing years.

    • USAFChief and Vanimal46 like this

The irony in this is that Hocking played every position on the field in the majors, other than catcher.He never pitched also.

    • USAFChief and Platoon like this
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Dave The Dastardly
Jun 09 2018 08:45 AM

I always enjoyed watching Denny Hocking play. The guy never did anything half-a$$ed. You always got a 100% effort even if it was only chewing tobacco.

Love me some Denny Hocking!
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yarnivek1972
Jun 09 2018 08:42 PM
I remember him taking a one hop smash off the bat of Jose Canseco. It knocked out a couple teeth as I recall.

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