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Hocking's Versatility Has Led to Longevity

Baseball: Twins' utility man from Tustin Ranch can play almost any position, and it has earned him a long-term contract.

June 27, 2000|MARTIN HENDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Denny Hocking is forging a nice little career by being a jack of all trades.

Drafted in the 52nd round in 1989, the 5-foot-10 Tustin Ranch resident has found life good in small-market Minneapolis, where the Twins trudge along 16 games out of first place but a versatile, blue-collar guy can still make a respectable living.

So good, in fact, that Hocking received a contract extension during spring training that will make him a millionaire in 2002, with an option for 2003 that either he or the Twins can exercise. Along with pitcher Eric Milton, Hocking is one of only two Twins signed beyond 2000.

Given the chance, he says he will always wear a Twin uniform, alternating among the seven positions he regularly plays.

"Someone came up to me and said that Rey Ordonez was out, and would I like to go to the Mets if the Twins asked me," Hocking said Monday after getting two hits and two RBIs in the Twins' 10-6 victory over the Angels. "I told them I would go under one condition--if at the end of the year they agreed to trade me back."

Either he's extremely loyal or a glutton for punishment, but Hocking, 30, is a valued commodity in Minnesota.

"Particularly on a club like ours, it's immeasurable what he can bring," said Twin coach Paul Molitor. "His ability to play [multiple] positions as well as he does adds to the flexibility of our team. He could very well be our best outfielder, he might be our best shortstop. Wherever he goes, he seems to make big plays."

Hocking set an American League record for second basemen last year by appearing in his 113th consecutive game without an error. Yet, in the series against the Angels, he played all three outfield positions and shortstop.

Hocking credits his development to Molitor, who retired after the 1998 season.

Only five Twins have played in more games than Hocking this year, and an added bonus is his improving offensive production. A career .240 hitter coming into this season, he is batting .285 with two homers and 24 RBIs. In his last 29 games, he is batting .346.

"The reason I'm in the big leagues is I do a lot of little things real well," said Hocking, who graduated from West Torrance High in 1988, and whose wife, Venetta, gave birth to two daughters in December, making him the only Twin with twins.

"I don't do anything extra special, but I feel like I can contribute whether it's a start in left field, a pinch hit in the eighth inning, or [as] a defensive replacement in the ninth inning. I feel like every time I come to the park and my name's not in the lineup, I'm still going to have a chance to have an impact on the game."

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