|Matt Hockenberry, image- Jay Floyd|
With baseball being the only life he ever envisioned, Hockenberry had a stroke of luck when he found himself out of the game in 2017. He received a call to interview for a new coaching position at the Phillies' lowest domestic level, as they were adding a second team to the rookie level Gulf Coast League and would need to fill a completely new coaching staff.
Described as extremely passionate, the Temple University product stood out as an individual that the Phillies wanted to talk to when it came time to interview prospective coaches.
"He's all about it", said Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan with a laugh. "He's all about it and he's going to be an outstanding teacher. He's learning, but he asks a lot of good questions and I think he understands that there's a lot to learn."
As a pitcher, Hockenberry enjoyed some success in his first couple seasons as a pro, posting nice numbers in Class A. In his first full season in the minors, he would record a 2.24 ERA in 42 games for Class A Lakewood. The following season, in 2016, he tallied a 1.39 ERA in 41 contests for Class A Advanced Clearwater, earning a promotion to Double-A Reading. There, he would notch a 5.79 ERA in three appearances.
He returned to Double-A last year to open the regular season, but Hockenberry surrendered hits to seven of the 13 batters he faced in four outings. He was sent back to Clearwater where the Phillies decided they had seen enough of him on the mound and he was dismissed in late July.
The time in between gigs with the Phillies flew by and now the 26-year-old looks forward to growing right along with the players he's working to develop.
“This has been the absolute dream job that I didn't ask for," Hockenberry excitedly shared. "It has been the most rewarding career that I think I could have ever asked for. You know, it’s not about me. It’s about the kids."
One of those kids is promising GCL Phillies West hurler Ben Brown, the Phillies’ 33rd round selection in last year’s draft out of Ward Melville High School in NY. The 18-year-old praises “Hock” for much of his success (3-2 record, 2.95 ERA, 11.8 K/9 in eight games).
“He just watched and he was so observant when I first started pitching in front of him in spring training,” Brown asserted. “I can confidently say he's influenced my career more than anyone else up to this point as far as pitching goes because I was not where I am now three months ago, when he first started working with me. He's been such a motivator to me mentally, he's worked with me on mechanical stuff (also).”
And not only has Hockenberry assisted with the growth of his young pitchers right out of the gate, he’s helping their battery mates as well.
“He’s taught me a lot just in the month and a half that I’ve been here,” said catcher Logan O'Hoppe, who was the Phillies’ 23rd round draft pick in June this year. “As far as communication with the pitchers and stuff like that, he’s helped me a lot with that and I’m really enjoying it.
“It’s just been sequencing different hitters as far as with pitches and just controlling the game behind the plate. Just overall I can tell he’s helped me a lot.”
A quality of Hockenberry that stood out and possibly helped him land the new role is his attention to the other language commonly spoken around U.S. baseball diamonds besides English. With so many Latin players throughout the sport, the York County, PA native always focused on building bonds with each of his teammates. A way to do that was to do his best to master the Spanish language.
Not only does it now help him form bonds with and communicate with his pitching staff, but it has inspired his multicultural group to help one another follow suit.
"I have witnessed, I have snuck up on, I have found out that my bullpen…they’ve been teaching each other Spanish and English," Hockenberry stated. "That’s one of the things that I pride myself on the most is being able to speak it myself to where the American guys realize that, 'Oh my God, our coach, he's a normal American, Pennsylvania guy that can speak Spanish. I should probably learn this.'"
Hockenberry has some quality mentors to learn from as he masters the techniques around teaching young pitchers. Led by Phils minor league pitching coordinator Rafael Chaves and roving pitching coach Carlos Arroyo, Hockenberry is well on his way to becoming an exceptional teacher, leader and inspiration to his players.
"I just think Matt's a really sharp guy," Jordan said. "He's got a lot of passion for what he's doing. He spends a lot of time there. He's not in a hurry to get in and get out. He's all about those players which is what we want. He's gonna be really good at what he does."