BOSTON -- So maybe it never comes to this, Tommy Hottovy walking into the Red Sox clubhouse with what catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia called one of the biggest smiles he has ever seen, then jogging from the bullpen to the mound for his big-league debut Friday night, if Tom and Linda Hottovy had not been there the traumatic day he vowed he would never pitch again.
This was back home in Parkville, Mo., just north of Kansas City. Tommy Hottovy was 6 at the time, pitching in a kids’ game. He hit one batter with a pitch, then the next one, too, and then he was crying. The coach came to the mound to ask what was wrong.
“I know how much that hurts,’’ the inconsolable child said. “I don’t want to pitch anymore because I hurt them.’’
Linda Hottovy is smiling broadly as she tells the story. “All the way driving home,’’ she said, “I remember him crying, ‘I’ll never pitch again.’ ’’
The moment passed. Tommy Hottovy got back on the mound and has refused to abandon it ever since, through parts of six seasons stuck in Double-A and a year’s absence from the game brought on by Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.
Was there ever a time he lost hope?
“Not Tommy Hottovy,’’ Linda Hottovy said.
“He’s never been a quitter,’’ Tom Hottovy Sr. said. “I had a feeling this year something was going to click, I really did. Just his dedication.’’
And then on Thursday night, the phone call came, his son on the other end of the line, asking, “Hey Dad, what are you doing for the weekend?’’
Tom Hottovy Sr.’s first thought was for his daughter-in-law, Andrea, 34 weeks pregnant with the couple’s child. He thought that maybe she needed some help.
But then his son broke the news: He had been called up to the big leagues, an impossible ascent for a guy who came to spring training without a spot on the 40-man roster, without even an invitation to big-league camp.
That touched off a mad scramble in Parkville. The Red Sox, in one of those acts of generosity that sets them apart from many teams, arranged for plane tickets and a hotel room for Tom and Linda. Two of their other children, Tim and Nicole, both younger than Tommy, also came, as did a small group of friends, including his high school coaches, Steve McDaniel and Dave Baker.
Other friends organized parties back home to watch the game on TV at a local sports bar and pizza pub, “with fireworks and horns,’’ Linda said. Andrea Hottovy, too close to the end of her term to travel, joined one of the gatherings, but was on the phone with Linda when the bullpen door opened in the sixth inning and Hottovy, No. 68 in your program, made his way toward the mound.
“I’m just going to try and soak it up,’’ he had said before the game. “Take a mental picture of where I’m at, then clear it and get to work.’’
Hottovy, a sidearming left-hander, was facing the left-handed-hitting David DeJesus, with Coco Crisp on first base. On Hottovy’s first pitch, Crisp stole second, now in scoring position to extend Oakland’s lead to two runs. But Hottovy induced DeJesus to ground to Dustin Pedroia. The inning was over, and so was his first taste of the big leagues.
Afterward, he stood just outside of the Sox clubhouse, posing for pictures with his family and friends. One more sister, Holly, was due to arrive on Saturday.
And how nervous had he been?
“We just asked,’’ Linda Hottovy said. “He was fine when he threw his first pitch. But when he turned around and saw all those people, he was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ ’’
But on this night, this was the last thing Tommy Hottovy saw as he came off the mound: All those people cheering.