Coming straight out of school into his first professional baseball start with the Winnipeg Goldeyes has changed pitcher Rich Hawkins' life.
Hawkins, 22, walked off the field after his final college game May 29 in Idaho and, as he and his coach shook hands, the coach told him "a baseball manager up in Canada was interested in talking to him."
Goldeyes manager Rick Forney gave Hawkins, a left-hander, his second professional start Tuesday night, his first at Shaw Park, when the Goldeyes played the Lincoln Saltdogs before 5,512 fans. He recorded his first pro strikeout in the fourth inning. He pitched six shutout innings, allowing three hits and striking out three.
"I just finished my college season and the thing was, I thought I was done with baseball because I hadn't talked to any scouts," Hawkins said. He completed his college baseball career just the week before with the NAIA Oklahoma City University Stars, where he had a 1.99 ERA and a 12-2 record in in 16 starts.
"When I talked to Rick, he told me I could come out with the team and he said I could start. It was kind of a dream come true," Hawkins said.
"Then I come out here (Winnipeg) and I see all this, the park and all the fans, it's a chance I didn't think I'd ever get again. Where I came from, we didn't play in front of crowds like this. Five hundred was probably a good day."
Hawkins, from Edmond, Okla., got his first pro start last Thursday in Lincoln, where the Goldeyes posted a 12-5 win in the final game of a four-game series against the Saltdogs. He pitched 5.1 innings, allowing five hits and four runs, walking one with plenty of run support.
"I'll take 5 1/3 innings from a rookie left-hander in his first pro start any day," said Forney, adding he was watching the college stats for a left-handed starter.
"He did a great job, probably deserved a little bit better fate, but a couple veterans got him late in the start. I remember pitching my first game. My legs were shaking so bad, I wouldn't have been able to pitch five innings."
Hawkins, also a designated hitter at Oklahoma City University, broke OCU's career ERA record with a 2.01 mark. He went 22-7 with 10 complete games, four shutouts and 151 strikeouts in 192.1 innings. He also had 46 hits, 12 doubles, two triples, two homers and 28 RBI with OCU ande was an honourable mention for the NAIA's All-American team.
Goldeyes veteran pitcher Ace Walker is from Prague, Okla., about 30 minutes from Hawkins' home town.
"Ace was one of the first guys I talked to here. We got to talking about hunting and fishing. It was just an immediate friend," said Hawkins, adding they've made plans to go fishing together in the off-season.
Hawkins said two days before his first start, he was "as nervous as I've ever been. Talking to all the guys here helped calm me down. Baseball is just baseball wherever you go," said Hawkins,
He has a year left for his degree in physical therapy, which he thought about before joining the Goldeyes. He talked to his mom, Kathy, about it and got the answer he expected.
"She said, 'Just go. It's going to be the time of your life.' "