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Nightengale's Notebook: After decades apart, LaTroy Hawkins gets to celebrate MLB success with his brother

USA TODAY
USA TODAY
 2021-07-11

DENVER — The harrowing telephone call came to LaTroy Hawkins’ home nearly 24 years ago.

It was his mother.

It was about Ronald, LaTroy’s younger brother.

Deborah was sobbing uncontrollably trying to tell LaTroy the news, and he couldn’t quite make out the words.

Ronald Sewood had been convicted, along with two others, of carjacking and using a firearm in his hometown of Gary, Indiana, and now was receiving his sentence on Dec. 2, 1997, in the Federal District Court in Hammond, Indiana.

Three-hundred and twenty-seven months.

“I was in shock, complete shock,’’ Hawkins, 48, who pitched for 21 years in the major leagues, told USA TODAY Sports. “The judge didn’t say it in years. He said it in months. My God, 327 months! I had to calculate how many years that would be.’’

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There it was, in black and white, 27 years, 3 months.

“I couldn’t believe it,’’ Hawkins said. “It blows your mind. You see people get less time who are murderers and drug kingpins. Nobody got killed.

“But at the time, carjacking was new to the books. They were trying to make examples to deter people from doing that. Everybody in that era got excessive sentences, and they enhanced their sentences to the max.’’

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LaTroy Hawkins with his brother Ronald Sewood. Via Latroy Hawkins

Ronald Sewood, who had the same mother and grew up together with Hawkins in Gary, missed virtually all of Hawkins’ career. He was in prison at Greenville, Illinois., during most of Hawkins’ stint with the Minnesota Twins. He was in prison in Florence, Colorado., when Hawkins signed a free-agent contract with the Chicago Cubs. He was in prison in Milan, Michigan, during Hawkins’ World Series run with the Colorado Rockies in 2007.

And he still was in Milan when Hawkins retired after the 2015 American League Championship Series with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Now, after being pardoned and released early from prison at 7:44 a.m., Feb. 5, 2020, Ronald Sewood will be together again with his big brother.

They are in Denver for Major League Baseball’s All-Star Weekend, where Hawkins will be managing the American League in the Futures Game on Sunday afternoon at Coors Field.

They’ll hang out during the Home Run Derby on Monday.

They’ll sit together Tuesday and watch the 91st All-Star Game.

And, in between, meet the game’s biggest and greatest stars, from the past to the future.

“Man, I can’t even express what this means to me,’’ says Sewood, who’s now engaged and works at a manufacturing company in Gary that makes seats for SUVs. “There’s nothing I can do to make up for lost time – and I missed a lot of time – with my family, but this will mean so much to both of us.

“I know how special my brother is because of all the struggles and challenges we had growing up, but he was able to use his talent and abilities to escape this environment. He showed us all a way out, not only with his ability to play sports, but he talked to us about family responsibilities. He was always by my side, making sure I persevered, breaking that negative stigma, and being the man I should be.

“LaTroy is not only my big brother, he’s my hero, too.’’

Hawkins never abandoned his little brother during the past quarter-century. He visited him several times a year, bringing along Sewood’s two daughters (Alaya and La’Aniiah) and their mother (Deborah), who passed away unexpectedly on July, 24, 2020. They spoke several times a week with Sewood permitted 300 minutes of monthly phone service, with no calls allowed for more than 15 minutes. Hawkins sent money every month so his brother could use the vending machines, along with spending thousands of dollars for online courses, newspapers and magazines.

“Ronald was never a bad person,’’ Hawkins said. “I knew he wasn’t the person that people said he was. He just got in trouble with the wrong guys at the wrong time. I never left his side. You learn to deal with stuff, you cope with it. I just wanted to be the most supportive big brother I could be.

“Now, to be able to experience this with my brother, I can’t tell you how excited I am. He never got to experience the big-league life with me like other brothers have, and he was such a big baseball fan.

“We used to dream about being in the big leagues together.’’

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LaTroy Hawkins in July 2015. Nick Turchiaro, USA TODAY Sports

Hawkins and Sewood played baseball together all of the time in Gary. There were games when Hawkins pitched and Sewood was behind the plate at West Side High School. And when they weren’t playing baseball or basketball, they were watching baseball on the family TV.

Sewood still remembers hitting his first home run in an organized game when he was 13, over the fence, past the gate, and into the woods. Well, guess who ran into the woods to find the ball and give it to his brother for a keepsake?

There was the picture Hawkins sent to Sewood in prison commemorating the first time he struck out future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey, Jr., actually twice the night of July 23, 1999, before Griffey took him deep at the old Minneapolis Metrodome.

Now, they can create new memories, take hundreds of pictures together, and reminisce about this weekend as long as they live. They’ll be joined, too, by one of Sewood’s best friends, Lamar Key, who’s a police officer in Aurora, Colorado. Key’s mother-in-law was the school teacher who put a note on Hawkins’ desk in June, 1991, telling him that he was drafted in the seventh round by the Minnesota Twins.

Thirty years have passed since Hawkins was drafted, 24 without having Sewood by his side, but instead of lamenting the time they lost, they’re making sure they take advantage of the years ahead.

“There’s nothing I can do to make up for the lost time, but I know the importance of spending time with your family, the responsibilities, and being the man of the household,’’ Sewood said. “What I did, that mistake, cost me a lot. It was disappointing, embarrassing, to be involved with people like that. I let my family down. It was so mentally challenging, and humbling. I struggled being away from my family.

“But my brother, he never judged me, or looked down on me. He just told me to keep my head up, and prepare a plan for when you get out. That’s what I’ve done.

“My brother, I want to make him proud, because he’s the man I want to become.’’

Hawkins, who remembers the pain of his brother not being by his side at his wedding, missing all of the family holidays, with Sewood not meeting his own grandkids until last year, says he’ll forever be grateful their mom was still alive when Sewood got out of prison. Sewood was able to spend two months living with their 94-year-old grandfather, Eddie “Fat Sam’’ Williams, who passed away in May.

“My brother still has a chance to make an imprint on society,’’ Hawkins said. “He has all of the tools, the smarts, everything. He’s motivated to stand on his two feet, and be a productive citizen.

“He missed a long time. A long, long time. We’re starting to make up for it.

“Two brothers sharing an All-Star week together, how can it be better than that?’’

The next Mike Trout?

The most intriguing player in the 2021 Draft is Will Taylor.

No question, he is the best all-around athlete.

Taylor, a five-tool player out of Dutch Fork High School (South Carolina), is so talented that he will be watching Sunday’s Draft from his dorm room in Clemson.

Yes, he’s a prized recruit for coach Dabo Swinney and the powerful Clemson football team as a quarterback and receiver.

“He can fly, I mean he can flat-out run,’’ Swinney said after he committed to the school. “Very confident kid, and just a ballplayer.’’

Oh, can he ever play ball.

Taylor, projected to be drafted as high as ninth overall on Sunday, could easily be the first pick if he told everyone he would play baseball.

Yet, as of now, he’s undecided.

He has a scholarship to Clemson to play football and baseball, just like Kyler Murray at Oklahoma, when he signed a contract with the Oakland A’s only to change his mind after winning the Heisman Trophy, and turning to the NFL.

Now, everyone awaits to see which way Taylor turns.

Taylor, who also was a track and wrestling star, really could do anything he wanted. Taylor, 6-foot, 175 pounds, is the fastest player in the draft, running the 60-yard dash in 6.45 seconds, stealing 21 bases his senior year while also hitting .455 with seven homers and an .869 slugging percentage. He’s a fabulous quarterback, leading Dutch Fork to a fifth-consecutive football title. He also won three state championships as a wrestler.

“There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll be in the major leagues,’’ said John Rhodes, who coaches Taylor’s summer league team, the Diamond Devils. “He has such a great skill set. He can fly, he’s strong as an ox, and he can hit. He’s one of the smartest and most driven athletes I’ve ever been around.’’

How good can he be?

“When I look at him, I see Mike Trout," ’said Darren Jones, one of his high-school coaches who has known him since he was 5. A center fielder with tremendous speed. He’ll get thicker like Mike Trout, but he’s so very versatile.

“He’s just so laser-focused too. You think he’s a 35-year-old Navy Seal. He takes things seriously when other kids don’t.

“He’s going to be a professional athlete, no matter which sport he chooses. I know they said he can play both at Clemson, but with a program like Clemson, it’s hard to see him play quarterback in the Fall and they let him leave in the spring.

“Whatever sport he chooses, he’s going to be a great one, but I sure hope it’s baseball. Man, I tell you if he puts a full year into baseball, the sky is the limit. His baseball abilities are through the roof.’’

So what sport will he choose?

We’re about to find out.

“I think the family has gone back and forth,’’ Rhodes toldUSA TODAY Sports, “but if he gets picked high enough, I think he’ll sign and go to baseball. He wants to play both in college, but if he gets the kind of money he wants, I believe he’ll pro.

“I think he recognizes that his long-term future is in baseball, not football.

“I can’t wait to see him in the big leagues.’’

Buyer beware

So much attention has been on Vanderbilt co-aces Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker in this draft, but as history has shown, nothing is a sure thing. There have been 38 pitchers who have been drafted among the top 10 picks since 2010.

You know how many of those pitchers have a career record of 10 or more games above .500?

Just four: Gerrit Cole (110-59), Trevor Bauer (83-69), Aaron Nola (64-45) and Max Fried (32-16).

Around the basepaths

– Beloved ESPN broadcaster Pedro Gomez was a fixture at the All-Star Home Run Derby, and now that he’s gone way too soon, it’s only fitting that the book, “Remember Who You Are: What Pedro Gomez Showed Us About Baseball and Life” will be published on the night of the All-Star Game on July 13.

– The trade market will start heating up once the draft is over, and the Chicago Cubs may be the most popular team on the block. You name them, they’re available. The biggest return in the entire trade market easily will be All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel, who has a $16 million club option in 2022.

Also available are outfielder/third baseman Kris Bryant, shortstop Javier Baez, starter Zach Davies, outfielder Joc Pederson and relievers Andrew Chafin and Ryan Tepera.

Bryant would be an absolutely perfect fit for the Mets and their quest for a World Series title.

– The Miami Marlins are making it clear to outfielder Starling Marte: Sign a contract extension by July 30 or be prepared to be traded. Marte is hoping to stay.

– The Minnesota Twins may have the No. 1 starter on the trade market with Jose Berrios, who has rejected several of their long-term contract offers. Yet, unless the Twins are overwhelmed, expect him to stay. They can always move him a year from now before he hits free agency.

– Clubs can stop begging the Colorado Rockies to trade ace German Marquez. He isn’t going anywhere, the Rockies front office emphatically stated this weekend. Marquez is under control through 2024 with an $11 million salary in 2022, $15 million in 2023, and a club option for $16 million or a $2.5 million buyout in 2024.

– The Seattle Mariners’ hierarchy won’t talk about their plans, but GM Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais each are on the final year of their contracts.

– Until Mets starter Taijuan Walker was added to the All-Star Game, Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts was the lone Black player on the NL All-Star Team, just as he was the only Black player in last year’s World Series.

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Mets starter Taijuan Walker is an All-Star for the first time in his career. Brad Penner, USA TODAY Sports

– MLB plans to drop the seven-inning doubleheaders next year and revert to the traditional nine-inning games barring heavy resistance from the players union.

– St. Louis Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright, who turns 40 next month, believes that the tide is starting to turn with pitching starting to revert to the old-school philosophy.

“We got into a throwing mindset for a few years, where it was heave it as hard as you could and spin it as much as you could, and if it doesn’t work out, we’ll get somebody else up here and he’ll throw it as hard as he can," Wainwright said. "I think when players realize their careers are not going to be as long throwing instead of pitching, I think pitching will come back around. I hope.

“The art of pitching is a really cool thing, and I hope we don’t lose that.”

Amen.

– Matt Harvey's days in the majors may be winding down. He's 0-9 in his past 12 starts and is yielding a7.70 ERA, including a .322 batting average, and .432 with runners in scoring position.

– The Padres and Dodgers, who have already had epic battles on the field this season, will now be battling in trade talks, as well, with each club is desperately seeking starting pitching depth.

– Normally, teams have promotional giveaways when a lousy draw comes to town to boost attendance. So it was a little strange that the Astros had three of their biggest giveways during the weekend with the Yankees in town.

Friday: The first 10,000 fans received a 2019 replica AL championship trophy.

Saturday: The first 10,000 fans received a 2019 replica AL championship ring.

Sunday: The first 10,000 fans receive a Jose Altuve T-shirt.

Certainly, a subtle reminder to the Yankees that the Astros knocked them out of the playoffs in 2017 and 2019.

– Padres broadcaster Mark Grant promised to walk from his home in Alpine, California, to Petco Park in downtown San Diego last week if the Padres came back from an 8-0 deficit to the Washington Nationals with Cy Young winner Max Scherzer on the mound.

“I am so hoping for a Padre comeback,’’ Grant said. “I want blisters and corns and bad ankles and blown-out knees and quads, hip replacement.”

Well, the Padres came back all right, thanks to a piece of history. Reliever Daniel Camarena became the first pitcher since 1898 to hit a grand slam for his first career hit.

The result? A 9-8 Padres’ victory.

Grant vowed afterwards that he’ll keep his promise, raising money for a local children’s hospital.

– The Red Sox will be immediately put to the test after the All-Star break: They play 29 of their first 32 games against the AL East, including 10 games apiece against the Yankees and Blue Jays.

– The greatest defensive players of the first half, according to Sports Info Solutions, are two Rockies players, even with Nolan Arenado gone. Take a bow, second baseman Ryan McMahon, who has saved 13 runs, and corner infielder Joshua Fuentes, who has  saved 11 runs.

– The two oldest managers in baseball just so happen to have their clubs in first place in the American League. We’re talking about you Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa, 76, and Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker, 72.

– Nelson Cruz, who has never produced a hit in the All-Star Game, is representing the fourth team in his career, the Twins, Rangers, Orioles and Mariners.

The only players to represent more teams are Gary Sheffield and Moises Alou with five.

– Lost in the Pacific Northwest was Mariners shortstop J.P. Crawford’s fabulous month of June: He hit .352 with 10 doubles, three homers and reached base 48 times.

“He’s just a guy who is a lot of fun to watch right now,’’ Servais said. “It’s been fun to watch him grow, and the confidence and how he carries himself on the field now is different than anything we’ve seen in the past.”

– You can go ahead and call, but the Tigers are making it clear that they’re not about to start dumping off their best players to extend their rebuilding process. It’s important they start changing the culture.

“When you get to this point and you're under .500, everybody thinks they can come and pick the players that are free agents," Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. Or you can come get a bullpen arm, what is deemed to be cheap additions for other teams. Where we're sitting, you have to come and pay for our guys if you're going to come and get our guys. We are trying to develop winners here. We're trying to maintain a high standard for us.’’

– The Mets, who have had 13 postponed games this year, have already played 10 doubleheaders this year with three more scheduled the second half.

It is the most doubleheaders by a team before the All-Star break since the Toronto Blue Jays in 1978, but the Blue Jays were playing nine-inning games. These are only seven innings, reducing the work load by 52 innings, or nearly six full games.

“I praise the decision on the seven-inning doubleheaders,’’ Mets manager Luis Rojas said. “The four less innings, they help a lot.’’

– The key to the Red Sox’s stunning first half? They are a major-league best 27-15 in games decided by one or two runs.

– The most welcome sight this past week was the return of Astros beloved third-base coach Gary Pettis. He rejoined the club for the first time 10 months after being diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

– Pablo Sandoval, the ageless wonder, said he and his kids now are trying all of the shots the learning from “Dude Perfect 101 Tricks, Tips and Cool Stuff,’’ which was on the New York Times bestseller list last week. “They make it look easy,’’ Sandoval said, “and it is not, but we have a blast trying.’’

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nightengale's Notebook: After decades apart, LaTroy Hawkins gets to celebrate MLB success with his brother

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