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Hot Stove reaches all levels

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Chris Hatcher, pitcher for the Oakland Athletics,speaks to the crowd at the 29th annual Pitt-Greenville Hot Stove Banquet in the Murphy Center on Tuesday.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Chris Hatcher admits that his path to professional baseball is unique as a Kinston native who was never really a big-time prospect until he flourished as a catcher at UNC Wilmington.

His story after he actually turned pro is even more interesting, which was one of his sticking points as the featured speaker at the 29th annual Pitt-Greenville Hot Stove Baseball League banquet Tuesday night in the Murphy Center at East Carolina.

Hatcher was focused on the youngsters in attendance when he said that baseball players need to be focused, passionate and ready to react. He is living proof as one of the players to ever be a regular catcher and pitcher in Major League Baseball.

Hatcher, who was coached by ECU head coach Cliff Godwin when they were both at Kinston High School in the early-2000s, also talked about the intangibles of the game. It was part of a night that included awards going to prominent baseball people in the area and big applause for the players and coaches of the 2017 Greenville North State team that had a remarkable run to the Little League World Series.

“I stand here a few days shy of six years of major league service time, still pitching and competing at the highest level, and I’ve said that all I wanted when I was growing up was to play one day in the big leagues,” said Hatcher, who was drafted by the Florida Marlins in 2006, later traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers and last year traded to the Oakland Athletics. “Throughout my professional career I have clawed and fought to be where I am. ... The hard work didn’t start when I reached pro ball, but it started when I first picked up a ball.”

Many people got a jolt out of the Little League players in attendance. The awards portion of the banquet featured coaches Brian Fields and Mike Vaughn sharing the volunteer coach of the year honor for their work with the North State squad that went to the World Series in Williamsport, Pa., and finished second in the United States bracket.

“I tell people all the time that (Vaughn and I) complement each other so well and it’s just been a joy over the last couple of years, and also Jake Allen because he helped us and we couldn’t have done it without him, too,” Fields said. “It was an incredible journey this summer and I do want to say thank you to everybody for all of the support and it was great seeing you up in Williamsport. I can’t thank you guys enough and it definitely helped us out.”

The hot stove organization’s president’s award went to Ernie Taylor, who was a described as “Mr. Everything of Pitt County American Legion baseball.”

Ryan Mills (individual contributor award) and BB&T (corporate contributor) were honored, and the amateur player of the year award was won by Bryant Packard. Scholarships went to Shamar Jordan and Robby Wacker from J.H. Rose.

Packard was a former four-time all-state player at D.H. Conley and is now a rising sophomore outfielder at ECU looking to build on a promising freshman campaign.

“One of my fondest memories is Packard and Spencer Brickhouse taking batting practice at Ole Miss as freshmen last year and everybody kind of stopping and looking like, ‘Those two guys are freshmen?’” Godwin said.

As for Hatcher’s transition from a catcher to pitcher, it stems from a minor league appearance in which the catcher was sent to the pitcher’s mound out of necessity because of roster limitations. He threw a clean inning and found out after the game that his fastballs were in the high-90s miles per hour.

“That’s when the wheels started turning, boys, and I knew what was coming,” said Hatcher, who added that his favorite stop in the minors was when he got to play in his home state in Greensboro.

Hatcher had already debuted as a catcher for the Marlins and worked his way back through the minor leagues as a full pitcher before breaking through again and appearing first as a pitcher at Wrigley Field in Chicago in 2011. He has remained a full-time hurler, making 49 combined relief appearances last season with the Dodgers and A’s.

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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