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BILL SHAIKIN / ON BASEBALL

Jamie Hoffmann was ready for his close-up

Dodgers rookie was a big star in his hometown of New Ulm, Minn., and is a star in L.A. after his first major-league homer.

May 25, 2009|BILL SHAIKIN

Jamie Hoffmann ought to do well in Hollywood. He has already been the star at a movie premiere, and he hasn't even been in a movie.

He smiled. He waved to the crowd. He signed autographs.

Someone had to.

This was in January, in his Minnesota hometown of New Ulm. The romantic comedy "New in Town" had just been released, starring Renee Zellweger and Harry Connick Jr., and was set in New Ulm.

The premiere, however, was held in Minneapolis, 90 miles away. The movie stars graced the big city.

The good people of New Ulm did not pout. They threw their own party, complete with a red carpet, 200 potluck dishes and, according to the New Ulm Journal, "local celebrities, who arrived in the fire engine, just like Hollywood celebrities ride to premieres in limousines."

Hoffmann was one of those local celebrities, and today he might be the biggest name in town. In January, after all, he was a minor league outfielder.

He made his major league debut for the Dodgers on Friday. And, when he started for the first time on Sunday, he homered, doubled and drove in four runs in the Dodgers' 10-7 loss to the Angels.

"It's pretty crazy," he said. "I've never been in front of 54,000 people."

It was a longshot for him just to be here. With Manny Ramirez suspended, Xavier Paul ill and Jason Repko injured, Hoffmann was the last outfielder left standing on the 40-man roster. When Andre Ethier could not start Sunday because of a toe injury, Hoffmann got the call.

In his first at-bat, he hit a three-run home run.

"I was floating around the bases," he said. "I didn't really come down to Earth until I came into the dugout and saw everybody."

James Loney pushed him out for a curtain call. Hoffmann, 24, had never taken one in his life.

"I didn't really know what was going on there," he said.

His reaction was pretty much the same when the Dodgers offered him a contract six years ago. The Carolina Hurricanes had picked him in the eighth round of the NHL draft. No one had picked him in the baseball draft.

He was a day away from heading to Colorado College on a hockey scholarship when a guy named Jeff Schugel dropped by and introduced himself.

Schugel grew up in New Ulm too, and he was back in town for a reunion of his American Legion team. He saw Hoffmann play in a Legion tournament and didn't leave town until he had signed him.

"It all happened in one day and one night," Hoffmann said.

Not that Hoffmann is immune to throwing an elbow, even off the ice. Later in Sunday's game, as he raced in from right field toward a pop fly, and as second baseman Orlando Hudson raced back, Hoffman knocked Hudson on his back with an inadvertent elbow to the head.

Did we mention that Hoffman stands 6 feet 3 and weighs 235 pounds?

"He's a big boy," Hudson said. "Of course he knocked me down."

Hudson, perhaps the Dodgers' most valuable player to this point, checks in at six feet even, and 190 pounds.

"I should probably know what I'm doing out there," Hoffmann said. "The guy is a Gold Glover."

Said Hudson: "Anybody could have done that. Me and Ethier have done that before. I've done that with the best in the game. It happens."

Hoffmann's life is in happy flux right now.

He's still paying for an apartment in Chattanooga, Tenn., where he started the season with the Dodgers' double-A affiliate. He left most of his clothes in Albuquerque, where he was playing in triple A.

And he left Dodger Stadium on Sunday with a baseball in a plastic bag, the ball he hit for his first major league home run.

They would have loved him in New Ulm even had he gone 0 for 4. He was already a celebrity there, one of three selected to pinch-hit for the movie stars.

Terry Steinbach, the former catcher for the Oakland Athletics and Minnesota Twins, joined Hoffmann as a local celebrity for the "New in Town" party. So did Ali Bernard, an Olympic wrestler.

The potluck feast, according to the Journal, included "at least three types of hotdish" as well as green bean casserole, brownies, tapioca pudding and sauerkraut balls. That last dish is served fried.

"My grandmother makes some pretty good sauerkraut every time I get home," Hoffmann said.

You should know this about the movie: None of the scenes were filmed in New Ulm. Not even the New Ulm sign is real, Hoffmann said.

"We don't have that sign up," he said. "It's a different one."

New Ulm is about authenticity. There is nothing fake about the town.

So we shouldn't have been surprised when we asked Hoffmann what he thought of the movie.

He has not seen it.

--

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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