CLEARWATER, Fla. – She would tell him to persevere. Just like that.
Keep going, Rhys-ie. Keep trying. You’ll get it, Rhys-ie. I know you will.
He still hears it in his head, in her voice, “Persevere, Rhys-ie,” just like that, going on nine years since she’s been gone.
Maybe that’s why he ended up in baseball, too, though who’s to say exactly how and why these things go the way they do. But what happened is Rhys Hoskins kept at the baseball thing, all those hours and days and years spent hitting some and missing more, because that’s the game. Everybody misses more. The difference is most go home. The rest, they persevered.
“There are so many parallels between this game and life,” he says. “This game is going to offer you nothing but failure. Time and time again, nothing but failure. Like life. Like baseball. So grab your bat and get back in the box. You’re going to get more at-bats. And keep wanting to step in the box.”
The Rhys Hoskins story played out last summer at the bottom of the NL East, the division decided months before. So, yeah, the kid with a funny name – you say that “Rice?” “Riss?” “Ryez?” (It sounds like “Reese”) — hit some home runs in the homer-happiest summer ever. In fact, he hit 18 in 170 at-bats, across 50 games. Historic stuff.
There was Judge and JD and Bellinger and Stanton and then some guy in Philly, oh yeah him too, and what was the name again?
There’d be time to get to know him the next year, to measure the swing and see what it looked like out from the shadows of pointless games played in the fat of a rebuild, against other people’s rebuilds, and thinning rotations, all the stuff that made Rhys Hoskins interesting if not yet relevant. No, that would come the following season, starting from zero with everyone else, starting with the assumption the Philadelphia Phillies had found the homegrown young man around whom they could retake an organization.
And what makes it so promising is where Rhys Hoskins came from, all that persevering that’s already behind him, all that kindness and perspective and eye contact and get-after-it that came with him. He wasn’t drafted out of his high school outside Sacramento. He was barely recruited by colleges but ended up at Sacramento State. Maybe it was because his life wasn’t just baseball. He played football, in part because the quarterback, Nick, had been his friend since the two were in diapers. And Nick needed a receiver. He also played basketball, because he liked playing basketball, and that seemed a good enough reason for everybody.
Then, his mom succumbed to the cancer that had been killing her since almost before he could remember, and every day he watched her live anyway, and wring every smile and kindness from that very day, and if she’d never actually said the word he still hears in her voice, she wouldn’t have had to.
So Rhys Hoskins kept showing up. More than that, he tried to make his days count as much as she made hers count, tough as that was. And when she was gone his dad would stand behind the batting cage, or sit in the bleachers, or dial his phone, and he would say, “Hey, quick hands, line drive up the middle,” and what his boy would hear was, “Persevere, Rhys-ie. Persevere.” Because it’s the same thing, really. When life gets hard and the failure comes time and time again, the challenge is to grab on to the simplest acts, the simplest notions, and to let them do the carrying for the next inch or two. Lose the noise. Lose the regret. Lose the fear. Stay in the middle of the field.
It sounds so easy that way. It’s not. And after hitting those 18 home runs in his first 34 games, he actually hit none – and batted .135 – in his last 16. So that’s when he went home — to San Diego, actually — for the winter, thrilled by what he’d done, reflecting on how he’d finished, sorting what baseball can be from what it usually is. He returned to a new manager (Gabe Kapler) and a position (left field) he’s only just getting to know and an organization that may have gotten better (Carlos Santana) and with plans to get a lot better (Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, etc.). He puts in his time, gets his at-bats, refines his footwork, and for the clubhouse talent show has expressed some interest in ribbon dancing. (“It’s not really a talent,” he says, smiling.)
The rest is what you already know about Rhys Hoskins. Quick hands. Middle of the field. Take a breath, Rhys-ie. Breathe. Persevere.
“That word,” he says. “It’s not always going to be easy. You have to persevere and know it’ll be OK in the end. Looking back on her life, I think she just showed that in her fight. In her zest for life. It taught me that there’s a positive in everything, even in life’s hardest things.”
Her name was Cathy. Is Cathy. It’s her voice he hears. He looks up and smiles, like it’s OK, like it has to be. He’s 24 years old. He’s trying.
“Not that it was forced upon me,” he says. “That’s just how life went.”
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