Hopkins To ItApril 23, 2012
Baseball players fighting to climb the organizational food chain relish a change in scenery. As long as the promotion is up and not down, an assignment switch usually means progress has been achieved.
But what happens when a player stays put? Wisconsin Timber Rattlers infielder Greg Hopkins (@StJonnyHopkins) is back in Appleton for an encore performance, determined to make his return engagement with the Brewers Class A affiliate a brief stint.
“Something clicked when (former Brewers infielder) Craig Counsell spoke with us in spring training,” said Hopkins, selected by Milwaukee in the 24th round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. “His main message that I got from him was it doesn’t matter where you are, it doesn’t matter what level you’re at, you’ve got to get better wherever you are. To be able to get to the big leagues, you’ve got to get better where you are. I really like that message.”
Following his Pioneer Rookie League debut in Helena, Hopkins hit .229 with the Timber Rattlers a season ago with seven home runs and 53 RBI. He knows those numbers need to be better over the course of a full season, with the template created to help raise those digits and his expectations over the long haul.
“I just learned a lot playing a full season, because it’s definitely a different beast coming from a short season of college ball,” said Hopkins, who was drafted out of St. John’s University. “I’m taking what I learned from last year during that first full season and how to prepare for the grind of every day and if I continue to learn from one full season to another, piece things together and taking the information from guys who have been there, I think that’s going to help and I’ll keep moving up.”
Lessons learned include padding your baseball resume with defensive versatility. Hopkins has bounced around the diamond again this season including stops at three of the four infield spots. The nomadic lifestyle seems to suit him.
“I think it actually helps,” said Hopkins. “I’ve played second base here and felt really comfortable and I kind of like bouncing around back and forth. It’s just new, and Matt (Erickson) talked about having me be ready to play every position in the infield this season and I kind of like that.
“I grew up playing shortstop and then moved to third at St. John’s and then started playing a little bit of second base here. I like third base because you’re going to get some rollovers, some hot shots, a little bit of everything and you never know what’s coming.
“I want to be that utility guy who can do whatever I can to help out and get better.”
Sounds like another Craig Counsell in the making. That’s fine by Hopkins, who sponged the sage advice from the Brewers recently retired “jack of all trades”.
“Another thing I got from him was to really focus on the preparation and trust you’re preparation wherever you are, trust the process and take it from there,” said Hopkins. “If I’m here in Wisconsin, or Huntsville or Milwaukee or whatever, I have to trust myself and my preparation because if I put the same work in every day there’s no second-guessing.”
Trust has been the buzz word for Hopkins during his second go-around with the Timber Rattlers. With Counsell’s counseling, Hopkins has learned that the process and the preparation equal results when it’s game time.
“The biggest thing for me is to trust the fact that you get so many at bats, and whether you have a good series or bad series, bring it every day,” said Hopkins. “Like Counsell said, if you get your early work in, good or bad, don’t take it to the field, just understand if you get the work in you can separate the practice from the game, go out and trust it. And so far, I’ve been doing that.”
The opening month in the Midwest League is still a small sample size for Hopkins to measure his new-found approach at the plate, but he certainly feels better prepared to ride the wave of another 140 game season without allowing the ups and downs to spoil the fun.
“I feel like I’m hitting the ball pretty well, even though I might not have the numbers to show for it,” said Hopkins. “In the past, I might have let that get to me a little bit, but this year, it’s a new year and a new opportunity there for the taking.”
With an infectious enthusiasm for the game Hopkins never looks back and questions his choice to pursue his passion on the diamond, despite the fact there were options growing up just south of Boston in Mansfield, Massachusetts.
“I played a little bit of everything…baseball, basketball, soccer, in the neighborhood with my brother and his older friends,” said Hopkins. “Basketball was my favorite sport growing up and I decided to play AAU basketball one year and not baseball. My baseball coach said to my father ‘he’ll be back next year, trust me.’ I enjoyed basketball but just missed it and have been playing baseball ever since.”
Trips to Fenway Park as a kid persuaded Hopkins to wear number 5 with the Timber Rattlers last season as a tribute to one of his Red Sox idols, Nomar Garciaparra. But Miller Park provided the latest and life lasting memory for Hopkins when he parked a first inning three-run home run and drove in four in Wisconsin’s 5-1 Border Battle win over Peoria last June 29.
“He threw me a 1-2 fastball middle in and I tend to like that pitch so I just reacted,” said Hopkins. “The next thing I know I’m running around the bases. Coming in though, I kind of blacked out a little bit, and Reggie Keen had to wake me up. But it was cool.
“It’s awesome, and I’m very lucky to be able to play in the game last year and looking forward to it again this season. You get to be a big leaguer for a day and hopefully it’s a taste of the near future.”
Following in the footsteps of Craig Counsell is certainly the dream Greg Hopkins will chase, but not the one that lingers in his subconscious late at night. That dream is tangible and touchable and a swatch of the fabric that drives this ballplayer to not only push himself, but spread the love and lessons of the game to others.
“To me it’s about focusing on the relationships in your life and enjoying your surroundings and the people you meet,” said Hopkins. “If you really focus on that, good things will happen. If you’re a good person, and you’re good to others, it’s going to come back around.
“I want to use baseball as a platform to help others and spread the word. A lot of kids look up to us and we were in their shoes not too long ago. That’s the reality that leads to the dream. If you get to the big leagues you can preach on the highest level.
“The dream is here, it’s now, in the present, the moment. That is the dream.”
(Photos by Brad Krause)
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