BOSTON -- Eric Hinske left the Boston Red Sox in 2007 after capturing a World Series Championship. Five years later, returning to Fenway Park and the city where he won it all still feels familiar.
Especially when you won here, it feels it was a home and it was a family, he said. You've got 25 guys grinding it out together and you win the last game of the year, it's a special thing. Nobody can take it away from you and it's awesome.
Hinske came to the Red Sox in August of 2006. After leaving Boston following the 2007 title season, he signed as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, where he played one season. In 2009, he joined the Pittsburgh Pirates and was traded to the New York Yankees that summer. This weekend Hinske, 34, is back in Boston as an outfielder for the Atlanta Braves, the team he has played for since 2010.
He enjoyed four straight postseason runs, including another title with the Yankees, before the Braves failed to make the playoffs last season. He says his time with the Red Sox during their championship hunt prepared him for the next stretch of postseason quests.
The experience, how to act, how to know what the bright lights look like (prepared me), said Hinske. It was fun. I got a lot of pinch hit appearances in the playoffs throughout those years and you can't tell anybody how to do it until you get there, so just preapres you for the next one and the next one and how to breathe.
He continued, Playing in Boston taught me how to play in a big market, how to go about your business the right way every day and not let the outside distractions in. It's hard to play in a big city like this and fans expect results. You've just got to do the best you can, work the right way, and take that out on the field every day.
Hinske still keeps in touch with many of the players from the 2007 Red Sox team. He lives near Dustin Pedroia in the offseason and speaks to Alex Cora on a regular basis.
My favorite was Alex Cora because it was my first year being a bench player, he remembered. I came over from Toronto in '06 and I got to play a lot in August and September because Trot (Nixon) was hurt, (Jason) Varitek went down. Then in 07 they told me I was going to be a bench player for the whole year. I was like, Ok, I have to learn how to do this. Alex helped me a lot because he was already doing it. I kind of followed him, got my routine from him, but all those guys -- David (Ortiz), Manny (Ramirez), Mike Lowell -- I loved Mike Lowell so much -- (Kevin) Youkilis, Pedroia, all those guys were great dudes, a great team, I still talk to all of them.
Whenever he returns to Boston, the fans reach out to him, too. Hinske still gets recognized, more so than any other city he has played in, and appreciates the outreach.
All the time, he said. They're the best fans in the game, for sure. Everybody knows you. Very respectful. It's a big city but it has such a small town feel. Everybody lives and dies baseball here.