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Hock calm in the face of big decision

April 20, 2014 - Mitch Rupert
It's impossible for Colton Hock to ignore the radar guns pointed at him behind home plate. He's used to them, but he can't ignore them.

This is his life now, at least his baseball life. Every pitch of his season is scrutinized by those radar guns and the men who hold them. Those men are the ones who will decide his professional baseball fate in about six weeks.

On days the Bloomsburg senior pitches, his teammates will often walk into the dugout and tell him what teams scouts they've seen behind home plate are from. To Hock, it's no big deal. He's pitched in front of far more than the seven or eight scouts standing behind the backstop Monday against Loyalsock.

He's been all around the country in the last two or three years to participate in some of the biggest showcase baseball events the United States has to offer. His performances have been picked apart more than the nominees at the Oscars.

“He's a phenomenal kid. If any kid can handle it, Colton can,” Bloomsburg head coach Keith Thrush said after the Panthers beat Loyalsock on Monday. “It's tough when you see all those radar guns behind the plate when you're ready to throw. But he handles it real well.”

Hock is as cool as they come. Before a game and after a game he's as loose as could be. Scouts wandering in? No big deal. Scouts talking to him about his future plans or the draft in a few weeks? Just another day at the ballpark.

But more importantly than how he handles himself pre- and post-game is what he does in between those white lines of chalk. He doesn't pitch with the weight of the world on his shoulders. He pitches like it's a pick-up game on a sandlot and the only thing at stake is bragging rights.

It shows. A smooth delivery brings fastballs which will pop the catcher's mitt at as much as 94 mph. And when necessary, he throws a curveball which he can spin tightly more like a slider, or get on top of for a more rounded look.

In Monday's win over defending AA state champion Loyalsock, those were the only pitches he needed to help lead the Panthers to a 6-1 win. He got to the seventh inning and showed a cutter and a change-up just to show the scouts still remaining they were in his arsenal.

“A lot of the guys want to say I just saw a Braves hat, or I saw a Yankees hat, and I just say it's no big deal,” Hock said after 115-pitch effort which included 11 strikeouts. “I've pitched in front of 400-plus scouts before. Just take this opportunity and represent our program well.”

Hock has been turning scouts' heads since the summer after his freshman year at Bloomsburg when he attended a Phillies open tryout at Bowman Field. A lanky right-hander with a mid-80s fastball and a breaking ball which showed potential got the attention of Phillies scout Eric Valent who was running the open tryout.

It's been a steady progression of an amateur career for Hock who has played in the Area Code Games where invitations to tryout are sent based on the recommendations of Major League Baseball scouts. He's also played in the USA Baseball Tournament of Stars, an even for the best high school baseball prospects in the country.

It's a group of players he's rightly deserved a chance to play against and with. He's turned the attention he's gotten into a chance to play baseball next year at Stanford, something that has been a life-long dream for the kid who grew up a Yankees and Mike Mussina fan.

He's even gotten the chance to work with Mussina, who retired after 19 years in the big leagues following the 2008 season. Hock throws his curveball just like Mussina's knucklecurve, and Mussina taught Hock his cut fastball.

The 18-year old even has ties to Montoursville as his mom is originally from the area and his grandparents still live in Montoursville. His pitching coach, Hughesville graduate and former Major Leaguer Jason Phillips, also lives in Montoursville.

None of it has changed who Hock is of what he's all about, though. He still likes to go out spotting deer at night because, “I live in the country and that's what you do in the country.” And his individual success isn't nearly as important as his team's. Every question about him inevitably turns into an answer about his team and how they're putting in the same work he is. Following Monday's win he was excited about the prospect of meeting teammates to hit at 5 the next morning before school started.

Even as one of the best pitching prospects District 4 has produced since the days of Southern Columbia's Ryan Keefer, Mount Carmel's Dave Shinskie or Shamokin's Jared Petrovich, Hock's concern is about his team. Following Monday's win he said his focus had already turned to the next game against Montoursville and how it would be a key game in the Panthers reaching their goal of an undefeated regular season.

“I really don't do anything different than anybody else. The only difference is I go to bed at midnight and I'm up at 4 in the morning. I'm usually pretty tired by the end of the week,” Hock said. “There are 10 guys in the morning that are at the gym at five in the morning, in there trying to get better. We have so much motivation and we're all just trying to handle it.”

He likes to take time at night as answer emails, talk to his coaches at Stanford and keep scouts apprised on how his season is going. He likes to take the time to call family and friends personally instead of just letting them talk to his dad, Brent. He likes the contact and appreciates the interest in his budding career, even if it does keep him until midnight.

Besides, this is his life now. But there's no stress about it. The worst that could happen when the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft starts in June is he doesn't get picked where he'd like and he goes to Stanford where there will undoubtedly be even more radar guns pointed in his direction. Not a bad fallback plan.

Mitch Rupert can be reached at 326-1551, ex. 3129, or by email at mrupert@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Mitch_Rupert.

 
 

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