She is there, even if he cannot see or hear her.
But he can feel her.
Rhys Hoskins’ mother is not gone, he figures, as long as he remembers her.
Inspired by his mother’s plight against an insurmountable illness and her plea for him to achieve, Hoskins is on the cusp of reaching the big leagues with the Philadelphia Phillies. The one-time Jesuit High School and Sacramento State slugger will compete in Sunday’s Futures Game at Marlins Park in Miami, a showcase of baseball’s top prospects.
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Cathy Reynolds died of breast cancer in 2009 after staging a courageous fight for 14 years. A day before her funeral in Sacramento, Hoskins turned 16.
Three times, his mother thought she had beaten cancer. Cathy never wavered when the results came back grim. She remained a team mom of sorts. She attended games, handed out snacks and water, drove kids to practices, helped lead fundraisers.
“It’s your mom, so you never forget, and it’s the little things that pop up every day that remind me of her, something someone says that’s eerily similar to what she might say,” Hoskins said. “I think she’s looking down on me. I’m hoping to be a good person first. All the baseball accolades are nice, but what it comes down to, it’s that old saying: ‘What would you do if your mom was looking?’
“For me, it’s be a good person, a good man, things instilled in me by her and my dad.”
Hoskins, 24, is in his fourth season in the minor leagues. The Phillies drafted him in the fifth round in 2014 after he earned Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year honors. He entered the weekend batting .292 with a .581 slugging percentage for the Triple-A Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs of Allentown, Pa., located some 70 miles from the parent club.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound first baseman has 20 home runs after crushing 38 last season in Double A.
He is not the only one striving in his family. His sister Meloria is in graduate school at Johns Hopkins to study medicine. Hoskins became a protector of Meloria as their mother grew increasingly sick, and he’s still a confidant. The success and happiness of the Hoskins siblings is reflective of their parents. Their mother kept her maiden name of Reynolds as a lawyer.
“My sister is definitely a lot smarter than me,” Hoskins said with a laugh. “We’re very close. The word ‘perseverance,’ that’s what I think of with my mom. That was a new meaning for me. Her courage, her will to live, to shine through everything, her zest for life is something I don’t think will be matched in anything I go through in my life, and that’s an awesome example for my sister and me.”
From his father, Paul, Hoskins learned focus. Also a lawyer, Hoskins would advise his son to make contact on the ball, as far back to Little League, and not think about power.
Hoskins was also molded by Jesuit coach Joe Potulny and Sac State coach Reggie Christiansen.
“Rhys, with his circumstances, had to grow up really quick,” Christiansen said. “When he came on his recruiting visit to our campus, he was by himself. He was the most mature kid.
“I could tell right away how special he was. After he got drafted in 2014 and we’d won the conference tournament, he purchased 45 championship rings for the entire team. That’s just who he is.”
Christiansen renewed Hoskins’ focus. Potulny’s cheer and charm was infectious.
“Potulny’s love and passion for the game was something I’d never seen growing up,” Hoskins said. “It shows what it takes to be successful. You have to embrace everything. And I also learned that as humbling as this game can be, you can always be a good person, and that means something to me, to the core.
“Reggie and I talked just last night. We have an outstanding relationship. He taught me about the mental aspect of the game. You’ve got to do your homework and prepare for everything.”
Hoskins is prepared. He leads the International League in home runs, and he appears to be on the fast track to the Phillies, but is blocked by Tommy Joseph at first base.
“Rhys is doing everything he needs to do in Triple A, and the timing of the player’s promotion has to do with his own performance but also with opportunity,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “That’s a contributing factor for Rhys right now. But to his credit, he’s handled this year exceptionally well, both on and off the field, (including) his leadership skills. He’s obviously being rewarded not only by being selected to the Triple-A all-star team but also to the Futures Game. I think these accolades are all deserved, and hopefully it continues.”
Hoskins pushes forward without over-thinking.
“Baseball guys are perfectionists, especially with so much failure in the game,” he said. “It starts with inner goals and inner expectations. Sometimes, it can be more daunting than the outside pressure. The inner expectations are what drives a lot of us, especially me. I know how good I’m capable of being.
“My dad always reminds me how competitive I was even as a kid. I wanted to win every card game, every board game, every one-on-one pickup game in the backyard. It was in me at an early age, and it’s still with me.”
Hoskins said he appreciates every day, just like his mother did.
“You have to,” he said. “Something could happen today or tomorrow, and your career could be over. So all the little things matter, the bus rides, getting into another town at odd hours, the card games, the rain delays, the games, the things you do with the guys in the clubhouse – that’s what you ultimately remember when your time in the game is over. It’s been fun. It’s a small fraternity of people in this game, and we have a very unique relationship with each other. It sweetens the pot. Nothing is easy. It makes it all worthwhile.”
Hoskins talks to his father regularly by phone.
“When we talk, it’s not baseball,” he said. “It’s, ‘How things are at home? What’s going on?’ It’s nice to step away from the baseball field, and it’s good to just be a son.”
All-Star Futures Game
What: Exhibition featuring top minor-league prospects
When: Today, 1 p.m.
Where: Marlins Park, Miami
TV: MLB Network