by Eric Nelson
Photos by Tom Dahlin
Aug/Sept 2003

Twins pitcher LaTroy Hawkins grew up in Gary, Ind., a city famous for steel mills, The Jackson Five and Glenn Robinson.

As a youngster Hawkins loved playing basketball, which made sense because Indiana is hoops heaven. From the inner cities of Indianapolis and Gary, to rural outposts such as Gnaw Bone and French Lick, basketball is the dominant sport in Hoosier country.

"We used to take the rim of a bike," Hawkins said, "and nail it on the side of the garage and play like we were in the Forum or over in Chicago Stadium."

Which meant Hawkins was just another normal kid in a state that goes hyper over hoops.

However, basketball wasn't Hawkins' only game of choice. When
Hawkins was 4 he took up baseball - a sport he slowly grew to love. "We didn't have any bats so we used broom handles," Hawkins said. "I remember breaking a lot of broom handles and making a lot of tape balls. We played with taped balls. Gloves? We didn't use gloves until we got into Little League."

Once it became apparent Hawkins had a baseball future, he got serious about the game. Suddenly the kid in basketball country began focusing on the little white ball as much as the big orange one.

"He talked about it all the time," said Hawkins' mom Debra Morrow. "Talked about it all the time, how he was going to be a baseball player, basketball player, whatever he was doing, he was going to do it well and do the best at it.

"He wanted to play sports, he wanted to play baseball.He didn't want to be out there gang-banging or whatever it is kids are doing.He wanted to go to school, play baseball and be famous. He wanted to be the boss, he always wanted to be the boss."

There was plenty of temptation and trouble on the streets of Gary, but Hawkins resisted its pull. Somehow he kept his goals on track, refusing to be derailed by the circumstances around him.

Most of the credit goes to Debra, a hair stylist, and dad Eddie Williams, who worked in the Gary steel mills for 33 years.

"I didn't have time to get into a lot of bad stuff," Hawkins said. "My mother kept me busy. I always wanted to play sports, I always wanted to be somewhere on somebody's team doing something. I think my mother did a good job keeping me active."

Hawkins also had help from his entire neighborhood. If he didn't have a ride to practice, one of Debra's friends would gladly pick him up and make sure he got there on time.

"It was tough, but people get misconceptions that Gary has always been bad," Hawkins said. "I think Gary turned for the worse in '92 and I graduated in '91 [from West Side H.S.]. Growing up we didn't have money, we were poor, but we left the house in the morning, played baseball, football and basketball all day, didn't think about lunch and came home for dinner when the street lights came on.

"Gary used to thrive a little bit. It wasn't always poverty and druginfested. Looking at Gary now, I think I had it easy growing up. I really do, because the kids now really don't have a chance.

"The parents are on drugs, the school system is not what it used to be. You've got asbestos in the schools. You've got kids being bused from far south Gary to the northwest side."

Hawkins wishes more of today's kids in Gary and other cities played baseball. He would like to see them playing on fields or in backyards, just like he did.

But Hawkins knows the reality of sports in 2K3. Kids want action. They want video games. They want a fast-paced sport, such as basketball. He knows that baseball, with its glacier-like pace, has lost its popularity with today's kids.

"I think it has," Hawkins said. "Kids would rather be in the gym breaking a sweat instead of outside in the cold trying to get ready for a baseball game. I think it has lost its appeal . . . baseball is a boring game. I love baseball but it was a steady process for me to love the game of baseball. I played baseball because I was good at it."

Hawkins is also good at keeping in touch with his mom. He calls Debra every day and she tries to catch his games on TV.

"He wanted to go to school, play baseball and be famous. He wanted to be the boss, he always wanted to be the boss."

- Debra Morrow

"I still get nervous to this day," Debra said. "Sometimes I can't even watch him. I have to go away from the TV. But, I turn around or something, and everybody in the house has it on."

According to Debra, Hawkins is more than just a pitcher, he can cook too. One of his specialties is a pineapple upside down cake that is "the bomb."

Another Hawkins trademark is his candid personality. Hawk-talk means not mincing words. For instance, Hawkins says baseball needs to market its stars better and needs to convince kids it is a cool game, like the NBA.

Perhaps baseball should use Hawkins as an example. Hawkins is a pitcher who washed out as a starter and closer, only to find a role as the Twins setup guy for Eddie Guardado.

Now, he is one of the top middle relievers in the majors.

"We are all closers," Hawkins said. "When it's our time to go out there and face the other team, we close out that team for that inning. Eddie is the closer by title, but we all close the game when we go in. That's the kind of mentality we take into the ball game."

Hawkins is thankful that ex-Twins skipper Tom Kelly stuck with him when his career bogged down a few years back.

"Hey, he saw something in me," Hawkins said. "He knew that at one time I would be able to get the job done. It took a little longer than a lot of people thought, but a lot of guys who come to the major leagues struggle at the beginning and end up having a successful career. It's not like it's the first time it's happened."

Hawkins also credits Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire and Pitching Coach Rick Anderson for staying in his corner when things looked bleak.

They are two reasons Hawkins likes the Twins and wants to stay in Minnesota. However, in June, General Manager Terry Ryan said he wouldn't talk contract with Hawkins or Guardado until the end of the season. Neither was happy, saying Ryan's stance meant they would not return to the Twins.

Both are likely to get more dough as free agents then the Twins can afford to cough up. Hawkins and Guardado weren't being ungrateful, they just wanted their contracts wrapped up before they hit the open market.

Because, if this bullpen duo winds up going the free agent route, it only takes one blow-your-socks-off offer, to knock the Twins out of the running.

No matter what happens, the folks in Gary should be proud of Hawkins. He is proof that with focus, determination and hard work, one can succeed.He is also proof that a basketball hotbed like Indiana can occasionally produce a baseball star.