A Trip to the San Diego Bullpen Turns 'pussycat' Padre Pitcher Andy Hawkins into a Tiger
A lot of National League managers dream about beating Andy Hawkins. That's good. It means they're paying attention. Because in real life they're not actually beating Hawkins very often. With an 11-1 record at press time and an earned-run average hovering around 3.20, the 25-year-old ace of the Padres staff is this season's most unexpected success story.
Well, fellas, if you want to beat this strapping 6'3", 205-pound native of Waco, Texas, here's a hint: Don't impugn his home state or the state of his manhood. That's what Hawkins' own manager, Dick Williams, did. And that's what lit the fire under the red-hot right-hander. Last year, after 14 starts, Hawkins was a mediocre 4-3 with a bloated ERA of 5.20. Then the acid-tongued Williams ripped him—both face-to-face and in the papers—for being a "timid Texan" who pitched (gasp!) "like a pussycat." Adding insult to innuendo, Williams also banished Hawkins to the bullpen. Andy backed a few hitters away from the plate with a well-aimed, down-and-in fastball, and pitching began to be more fun. It all came together in the World Series when he gave up only one run in 152/3 innings, earning the Padres' only victory.
A first-round draft choice out of Waco's Midway High in 1978—mom Lynda and dad Mel, who works at a bank, still live nearby—Hawkins first came up to the Padres in 1982. For the next two seasons he ricocheted between the majors and Triple A like a ping-pong ball on speed. Now, thanks to Williams' gut probe, Hawkins should be here to stay, though his rise is a little more complex than just an increase in pitching mound macho. Last year, while in bullpen exile, he teamed up with reserve catcher Doug Gwosdz (called "Eyechart" for reasons made obvious by his last name). The ever-vigilant Eyechart spotted a flaw in Hawkins' delivery. Andy's control improved. His fastball picked up velocity. His curve broke more sharply. Suddenly he had something to be aggressive with. Then last spring, Hawkins—possessor of good but not Gooden-like stuff—added a new pitch to his repertoire: a "cut" fastball that combines the nastiest attributes of a slider and a serious heater.
Though Hawkins won't quibble with the results—"Things are great now"—he's still somewhat nettled by William's sissy-baiting motivational techniques. "The headlines and the names really made me mad," says Hawkins. "It infuriated me then; it bothers me now. Respect means a lot where I come from. If you can't hold your head up and look at yourself in the mirror, then something's not right." As for Williams, a self-proclaimed "arrogant, no-good s.o.b.," he's satisfied that Hawkins is currently state of the art in the masculinity department. "Hawks is coming after the hitters now," Williams has said. "He's a very nice person, a gentleman, but on the mound you've got to be a little mean now and then."
At home in a California Modern house outside San Diego, Hawkins—who signed a two-year, $430,000 contract in February—reverts completely to very nice guydom. "He spoils me," blushes the former Jackie Taylor, his 26-year-old wife of six years. "We were high school sweeties." Andy also dotes on 3-year-old Katy. "She's just awesome, like her mama," says down-home Hawkins. "A fire-breather and a real go-getter."
Gradually the transplanted Texans are getting used to Southern California, both to its peculiar customs and its lingo. "It's awesome," gushes Andy. "I've eaten my share of avocados and grapefruits. But," he's quick to point out, "I haven't eaten any quiche."
Just as well. Dick Williams wouldn't much like that, though it might make 11 other National League managers smile again.
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