A reflective Rhys Hoskins sees a chance for ‘closure’ in his return to face Phillies

2 months ago

Rhys Hoskins on throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 1 against the Miami Marlins of the NL wild-card series: “That’s a moment I’ll be able to talk about forever. I’m super grateful I was able to get that. But it’s not the same. It’s not the same.” Read more

MILWAUKEE — Two hours before the first pitch, Rhys Hoskins looks out of the dugout through the pale evening light and considered the void that lay within and beyond.

It is still there. The sting. How could it not be? Less so now, and getting dimmer by the moment. But, hey, to live is to feel. The deeper it goes, the longer it takes. What would any of it have meant if he could sit here and say that he’d completely moved on?

“I think the most difficult part for me is that the ending just didn’t match the rest of it,” Hoskins says from his perch in his new home dugout at American Life Field. “I don’t know what that ending is supposed to look like, but it didn’t match the rest of my time there. In terms of the energy I put into it, the energy we got from the city, from the communities we were able to be a part of. It just didn’t feel right. And, yeah, that was sad. I hated that part of it. I guess I got a little bit of that, ‘Hey, this might be last time,’ throwing out the first pitch in the division series. That’s a moment I’ll be able to talk about forever. I’m super grateful I was able to get that. But it’s not the same. It’s not the same.”

» READ MORE: ‘Of course I had it circled’: Rhys Hoskins returns from injured list in time for Phillies homecoming

The ending sucked. There’s no shame in acknowledging it. Sometimes it goes like that. Things happen, and there is nobody to blame. Fate, circumstance, and their cold disregard. Those are the only culprits. It doesn’t make endings any less difficult.

Hoskins understands this better than anybody. He is a thousand miles away and getting more comfortable with it every day. He has much more than most men can hope for at the age of 31: his wife, his dog, his health, $34 million guaranteed, a spot in the middle of an exciting young lineup. He knows this now as well as he knew it six months ago, when the Phillies informed their longtime first baseman that they would not be making him an offer in free agency.

Nothing that has happened in the first two months of this season would suggest that the Phillies miscalculated. They entered Sunday with a big-league-best 41-18 record, on pace for 112 wins, the first team in the majors to 300 runs, a 7½-game lead over the Braves in the NL East, a 4½-game lead over the Dodgers for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

Down in the minor leagues, there is a kid who turns 20 next Sunday who is raking from the right side of the plate. High school draft picks don’t typically warrant a mention one year into their pro careers. But, then, high school draft picks don’t typically do the things that shortstop Aidan Miller is doing in A-ball: 10 steals, five home runs, nearly as many walks as strikeouts.

Miller is already older than Mike Trout was when he made his big-league debut. Two years from now, he will be the same age as Trea Turner was when he broke into the majors. Alec Bohm will still be under contract, as will Turner, and Bryson Stott, and Bryce Harper. So, too, will Nick Castellanos. And Brandon Marsh. And Johan Rojas.

The combined price tag for that group will jump considerably between now and then. Bohm, Stott, and Ranger Suárez are all looking like players who will need $20 million-plus per season on any long-term contract extension. That would more than offset the $45 million they will shed when J.T. Realmuto and Kyle Schwarber’s deals expire, even before the Phillies contemplate how to replace both players.

It did not come as a surprise that they did not see Hoskins in their plans.

Still, it is a shame.

The lack of closure, more than anything. For Hoskins. For the Phillies. For anybody who spent seven years watching them build each other into their current forms.

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When Hoskins returns to face the Phillies on Monday as a member of the upstart Brewers, he will play his first game at Citizens Bank Park since Game 6 of the 2022 World Series. At the time, he had no inkling that he would not get another chance. He had another year on his contract, another year to accomplish what he’d been drafted to do.

Then came the torn ACL a week before opening day. He spent the 2023 regular season rehabbing, the postseason pushing himself to get back on the field. He was on the doorstep when the NL Championship Series began. Things may have been different if the Phillies had won Game 6 or Game 7. The hardest endings are the ones you don’t see coming.

“In a way, it’s part of it — moving all over the place, making new homes, meeting new people,” Hoskins says. “But, it’s not fun, just from a human standpoint. I think the hardest part, you spend close to a decade making relationships, nurturing relationships. You get to know people. And then those relationships end, at least in the way that we knew them. You aren’t around them every day. So, yeah, that part of the business sucks. But, like I said, it’s part of it. Luckily, we are given beautiful opportunities to do the same things elsewhere. I miss those people. Of course I do.”

Robert Frost’s three-word summation of life still stands. It goes on. You either go with it, or you go mad.

Hoskins has landed in a good spot. Even better than being wanted is being needed, and the Brewers need him in a way that the Phillies never did. He is one of three hitters on the roster over the age of 28, and one of four with more than 1,600 big-league plate appearances. Among the 30 major league teams, only the Guardians have a younger lineup.

“One of our pillars,” Brewers managers Pat Murphy called him.

That’s true in the clubhouse, where Hoskins’ locker has its own gravity, and in the lineup, where his power bat serves as the connective tissue in a lineup whose style of play reflects its youth. They put the ball in play (a .259 team batting average, second in the majors), they reach base (a .335 OBP, which ranks first), and they run often (78 steals, which ranks third). Despite Hoskins’ two-week absence with a hamstring injury last month, his 27 RBIs are tied for third on the team.

“It’s different, right?” Hoskins says. “Coming from Philly, I definitely wasn’t young there, but I also wasn’t old. From an age standpoint and from a service-time standpoint, it’s different but it’s still nice. With all the youth, there’s a ton of energy. I’ve learned they’re really comfortable with each other because they came up together through the minor leagues. When I first got the call with the Phils, we had a little bit of that too, where a bunch of us got our shot in the big leagues together. You can create really good chemistry that way, and I think that showed in the latter half of my tenure there.”

» READ MORE: Should the Phillies replace Taijuan Walker with Spencer Turnbull? It’s complicated.

Milwaukee’s decision to sign Hoskins to a two-year, $34 million deal was the latest master stroke by a front office that has established itself as one of the most resourceful in the majors. Its controversial trades of a couple of veteran star pitchers now look more daring than disheartening. Starter Corbin Burnes landed them 25-year-old infielder Joey Ortiz (.882 OPS this season), while Josh Hader netted them a promising young arm in Robert Gasser (2.57 ERA in five starts), and a valuable trade chip in outfielder Esteury Ruiz, whom they later used to acquire a premiere power-hitting catcher in William Contreras.

The end result is a young, energetic team that has a commanding 7½-game division lead and a 36-23 record that put them just 1½ games behind the Dodgers for the National League’s second playoff seed. While the Brewers’ staying power will depend largely on the resilience of an injury-riddled rotation, the Phillies would be foolish to take them lightly.

“Yeah, it was tough to swallow,” Hoskins says. “It still is tough to swallow. But hopefully I’ll get some closure from that perspective when I go back. I’ve seen the way those people and the fans of Philly react to people coming back who made an impact there. It’s special.”

He will deserve it. All of it. And much more.…Read more by David Murphy


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