For Hoiles, HR capped year of pain

May 12, 2000|By Ken Rosenthal

The last man to hit a home run with a runner on base against Pedro Martinez would like nothing more than to step into a batter's box again.

Instead, former Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles sits home in Ohio, out of baseball, in likely need of hip-replacement surgery.

It's difficult for him to walk, difficult for him to sleep, difficult for him to play with his two sons.

"To have to [retire] because of an injury -- and still to this day not be able to do much of anything -- it's just tough," Hoiles said Wednesday.

"I'm used to doing anything and everything, and being the best at it. Now I struggle walking out to the mailbox every day."

Hoiles, 35, was released by the Orioles on April 2, 1999, unable to play any longer because of a degenerative hip condition.

His last home run -- on Sept. 24, 1998 -- was a two-run shot off Martinez in the second inning of a 9-6 Orioles loss at Fenway Park.

Martinez has made 35 starts and pitched more than 260 innings since that homer. But of the 13 home runs he has allowed, all have been solo shots.

Tonight, the Boston ace brings his amazing streak to Camden Yards, and the Orioles might pay for his 1-0 loss in a 17-strikeout game against Tampa Bay, not to mention his five-game suspension for hitting Cleveland's Roberto Alomar.

Since the Hoiles homer, Martinez has gone 28-5, won the American League Cy Young award and helped cost Mike Hargrove his job in Cleveland with a heroic relief effort in Game 5 of the 1999 Division Series.

Hoiles, nicknamed "Tractor," has only broken down.

"That whole last season, I was wrapped up with bandages under my uniform," Hoiles said. "It was tough to squat. And once I got down, it was tough to get back up. It was tough to move laterally, tough to run, tough to do everything."

Hoiles caught 83 games for the Orioles in that final '98 season, producing 15 homers and 56 RBIs in 267 at-bats. It was a mammoth effort, considering his discomfort. By the following spring, his body could give no more.

Even now, doctors aren't sure what caused Hoiles' hip problem.

"Nobody can pinpoint it," Hoiles said. "I had bone problems when I was a child. I had the Forrest Gump get-up, braces on my legs, [supports] on my arms to make me walk. I had a back brace for a year or two. I had to wear insoles in my arches because I was flat-footed. Basically, my bones grew too fast for my body.

"I thought maybe it could have happened from that, and now the effects are showing. It could have been from playing football [in high school] and getting hit wrong, and now it's just starting to bother me. It could have been all the years of catching. It could be a combination of all those things."

Hoiles, paid $3.7 million under the final year of his five-year contract last season, initially accepted a job as a roving catching instructor in the Orioles' farm system. But he was unable to work, due to his physical limitations.

Hip-replacement surgery appears inevitable, and Hoiles actually scheduled the operation for this month, so desperate was he to return to a normal existence. He backed out, however, preferring to visit a specialist in San Diego first.

"Everybody I talk to says 35 years old is kind of early to have a hip replacement," Hoiles said. "I don't know if this guy is my last option prior to surgery or not. There might be someone else out there who says they can help me.

"If this guy can put it off for me for another five to 10 years, that's what I'm looking for. If he puts it off and I don't have to have it all ... that's my main goal."

Was an eight-year major-league career worth all this trouble? To Hoiles, the answer is an unequivocal "yes." Whatever toll catching took on his body, he said, "I wouldn't have traded it for the world."

He made lasting friendships, played with future Hall of Famers, appeared in two American League Championship Series. And for the time being, he is linked to the great Pedro Martinez.

"You want to know what's funny?" Hoiles said. "About a month and a half ago, I got a package in the mail from the Orioles. I opened it up, and there were a bunch of highlight tapes. They laid around here for a couple of weeks. I put 'em off to the side.

"A couple of weeks ago, I watched 'em. One of the very first things the tape showed was that Boston game. I saw Pedro on the tape, and said, `Why did they put that on the highlight tape?' The next thing you know, I'm taking him deep. I hadn't even remembered that I had done it."

Hoiles also hit a double off Martinez later in the game, and Calvin Pickering and B. J. Surhoff added solo homers. Martinez said yesterday that he neither knew nor cared about the last homer he allowed with a runner on base. But upon learning of his feat, Hoiles said it made him proud.

"Heck, yeah," he said. "That's pretty special. It's magnified because of who he is, the feats he has accomplished, especially in this day and age with the home runs. To be mentioned in the same breath, that I'm the last one to do that, it means a lot."

Hoiles joked that Martinez is "lucky I left the league," and that he is rooting for the pitcher's streak to continue (though not against the Orioles). Never one to mope, he speaks matter-of-factly about his hip condition, asking no sympathy. He wants only to be an active father for his sons, Dalton, 4, and Derek, 18 months.

"I go out and play with them, but it's not the same," Hoiles said. "I can't stay out and play. I can't chase a ball for a long period of time. I've got to take a step back and suck up a lot of pride. I can't do those things anymore.

"As the boys get older, they'll be calling on dad a little more. That's why I want to get something done. I just want to be able to walk normal, not play for 10 minutes and have to sit down like I do now."

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