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Chaplain question, Ortiz ‘gifts’ stay with Hochevar
Ex-Vol standout, current Major League pitcher addresses local FCA

A line drive off the head and a few line drives over, on and in front of Boston Red Sox's “Green Monster” wall are monumental moments in Luke Hochevar's life.

Hochevar, former Tennessee Volunteers national pitcher of the year and current Major League Baseball starter for the Kansas City Royals, outlined his maturation as a Christian and his place in Boston Red Sox history.

Those points highlighted a roughly 20-minute address to Knoxville Chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes members, plus other parents and their baseball-playing children, at Diamond Baseball Simcox Academy Saturday morning, Feb. 6.

Hochevar managed to recover from being hit in the head by a line drive early in his sophomore season at UT in 2004 and fulfill “a dream of mine,” to earn a spot on Team USA among the nation's top college talent.

But a nightmare scenario presented to him by the Team USA chaplain came during a practice.

The ex-Vol, and current West Knox County resident in the off-season, got emotional remembering the chaplain's question about his head injury: “'If you had died, would you have gone to heaven?’

“I just started crying, I was by myself in the outfield,” Hochevar added to roughly 65 attendees during the monthly FCA speaker series address. “From that day forward, my main goal was, every single day, to make my walk with Jesus closer.

“I've been blessed with opportunities to play this game ... but, in reality, it would mean nothing without God in my life.

“It changed my life.”

Soon to begin his fourth seasons as a Royals starting pitcher (13-26 career record, 5.88 earned run average), Hochevar recalled a rough outing in Boston July 9 last season that proved memorable.

“A couple of teams had told our team that I was tipping pitches to the hitters,” Hochevar said, but added because he had won four of his last five starts, “I wasn't worried about that. I was feeling pretty confident going into the game.”

Leading off the game giving up consecutive doubles to Red Sox All-star infielders Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, Hochevar then got lit up by designated hitter David Ortiz.

An opposite-field home run, it turned out, was Ortiz's 300th career blast.

“I'm part of history,” Hochevar said to audience laughs.

Though facing Boston staff ace and perennial All-star, Josh Beckett, and down 4-0, Hochevar corrected his mistake.

Before his next at-bat off Hochevar, Ortiz told the KC catcher, “‘This kid's telling me what he's throwing.’”

Midway through the game, Hochevar went back for a quick video look at his pitching. “Plain as day I was tipping my pitches. I was dropping my hands down around my waist.”

Through it all, “I ended up getting the win,” Hochevar said, though he gave up five earned runs and nine hits in six innings of work. But only one hit allowed after making the correction.

The next day in pre-game warm-ups before the Royals again played Boston, Hochevar said he “went up to David Ortiz and asked him to sign a ball, and said, ‘300 home runs, that's pretty awesome,’ and congratulated him. And I thanked him without saying for what.”

Before Kansas City left Boston, Hochevar would discover two baseballs in his locker “signed by [Ortiz enscribed] '300 career home runs, thanks for the cookie [home run pitch],’” the ex-Vol said to more audience laughs.

Also found in his locked was a signed Ortiz No. 34 jersey. “That does go to show you there are some really, really good guys in the game,” Hochevar said.

Asked who's been his toughest MLB batter to handle, Hochevar gave a not-so-marquee name: Jamey Carroll, former Cleveland Indians and current L.A. Dodgers second baseman.

“I don't think I've ever gotten him out,” Hochevar said.

Though a Christian, Hochevar said he maintains intensity to the point of being “ready to fight” during a pitching performance.

“As Christians we're viewed as soft people,” he said. “Actually, we're twice as strong — we've got God on our side.”

As for witnessing, sharing his faith with Royals teammates, Hochevar said “it's hard because they don't feel they need help.”

That's opposed to his minor league days, where Hochevar said teammates “were more open” to witnessing.

Saying he was “excited to see all the young faces that came out,” Hochevar gave a thumbnail sketch of his early life.

“I grew up in a Christian family,” he said. “My mom used to say, 'If you don't go to church, you're not eating lunch.’

“In Colorado, I grew up in a really, really small town where there was nothing but cows and sports,” he added. “My dad was a coach. ... I loved baseball, I thought I was pretty good at it, so I pursued it.”

But while maturing as a teenager in Colorado, “I could tell there was something missing,” Hochevar said of his need to mature as a Christian.

Arriving at UT as a freshman in 2003 and saying he grew as a Christian from that point, Hochevar said, “I realized wasn't truly having a strong walk with God. I was blessed to have that opportunity ... I was more involved in FCA" as a UT freshman.

After his speech, Hochevar said living in West Knox County with wife, Ashley, makes living the Christian life easier “because most everyone's a Christian.”


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