Boston Red Sox reliever Tommy Hottovy had pitched in 169 games over eight seasons before making his major-league debut one month shy of his 30th birthday last Friday against the Oakland Athletics. Over the years he had traveled thousands of miles, faced hundreds of batters, and made countless memories in his journey to Fenway Park. He shared some of his favorite moments with CSNNE.com.
Back on Campus: Hottovy played college baseball at Wichita State University and found himself back on campus after being drafted by the Red Sox in 2004. Hottovy lived in the dorms at UMass-Lowell during his first season with the Spinners. But unlike his time in college, he couldnt load up the car for this trip to the minors.
Lowell is great and the people are great, but it almost took me back a couple of years because I went to a big baseball program in college, Hottovy said. In Lowell, youre staying in the dorms, youre walking to the field, you dont have a car. Its almost like summer camp, but it was fun. UMass-Lowell dorms, there were no frills, you dont have anything. You bring two bags with you and thats it. I think they had chests, but we didnt even have any clothes to put in there because they fly you out and say, Youve got to bring a baseball bag and a clothes bag for June, July and August.' I brought one or two pairs of shoes, two pairs of jeans, two pairs of shorts, and as many shirts as I could fit in there. And I did have my laptop.
A Bus Ride of Errors: Portland, Maine is just under 400 miles away from Trenton, New Jersey. So when the Sea Dogs left in the wee hours of the morning, they should have arrived in plenty of time for an evening game. But a blown tire led to a 13-hour bus ride -- and a memorable experience for Hottovy.
Without question, the craziest bus ride was when I got called up to Double-A, he recalled. It was my second start and we were traveling to Trenton from Portland. The game was at 7 p.m. that night. We left at 5 in the morning and got about halfway there and blew a tire on the highway. So were stranded on the side of the highway and Im watching my watch -- its 2 oclock, 3 oclock, 4 oclock - and were still an hour-and-a-half away. We see its getting close and the guys not done with the tires, so we all got our bags from under the bus and get our uniforms. Everybody gets changed on the bus. We pulled in for a 7 oclock start at 6:30. Its my second start in Double-A and Im in uniform, getting off the bus at 6:30, havent stretched, just go out and try to get loose for a few minutes. (Pauses) I gave up eight runs in five innings (laughs). That was for me the craziest, but in the minor leagues, you cant even describe all the bus rides you have to take.
Brush with LeBron . . . Well, Almost: Hottovys travels have taken him to minor league cities all over the country. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Portland, Maine are at the top of his list, along with . . . Akron, Ohio? Its not exactly a coastal hotspot, but Hottovy had fun whenever he played there.
Parts of Akron, Ohio are pretty cool, he said. We would have games in Akron and the owner of the Sea Dogs would put on team dinners there at this sports bar. Everybody had 40 to eat, so we were like, What if we have a burger? Can we have the rest of it to spend on whatever we want? They said yes, so were there and were having a blast. LeBron James was having a party at their VIP room that weekend, and this was a Thursday, and they had to dip into some of the stuff they had saved for him. The owner was laughing about it, like youre drinking LeBrons whatever. It was pretty funny.
Knew Right Away about Clay: In 2007, Clay Buchholz and Hottovy were the first and second starting pitchers in the Portland Sea Dogs rotation. Their seasons would quickly go in different directions, though. Hottovy began struggling with tendonitis and was shut down for three weeks in July. The following month, Buchholz made his big-league debut. Rather than get discouraged, Hottovy used Buchholzs success as motivation to keep striving. On Friday night he made his Red Sox debut pitching in relief of a game Buchholz started.
We were the number one and two starters, Hottovy said. You could tell right away that he was going to be good. I mean, you just know. To me, thats encouraging. Some guys look at it like, I wish I could be there. But when I see a guy I played with play in the big leagues, that gives me hope and faith that Im here, I can do it too. I want to prove that I can.
From Fans to Lifelong Friends: When Hottovy began talking to two fans during a game with the Wilmington (DE) Blue Rocks, he had no idea that conversation would lead to a lifelong friendship.
When I was starting in the minor leagues, we would all sit up in the stands, he recalled. One day I was up in the stands in 2005 or 2006, I was charting and this older lady was sitting next to me with her granddaughter. It was her granddaughters first game she had ever been to. Im talking to her, explaining stuff and showing her how it works. After the game, I ran down and got her a ball and took it up to her. I thought that was the end of it. Well, that lady wrote in to the organization saying how awesome it was that I took the time out to talk to her and her granddaughter. Since then, her and her granddaughter, whos 15 now, theyve seen me pitch probably 20 times. Were really good friends now. They email me all the time, call me all the time. Theyve seen me play quite a bit when we go places like the Reading (PA) Phillies. Its crazy -- its amazing the people you meet through the experiences over the years.