This feature on baseball slugger Phil Hiatt appeared in the Pensacola (Florida) News Journal on July 30, 2000.

Hiatt caught between Rockies and a far place
Majors seem a long way away for Pensacolian despite big stats

By Ed M. Odeven
News Journal correspondent

Tucson, Ariz. — Sometimes being darn good at your job doesn’t guarantee a promotion. Such is the case with Pensacola native Phil Hiatt.

Despite his gaudy power numbers this season, the slugging first baseman has remaining with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.

The problem?

The parent club, the Colorado Rockies, already has an established star at first base named Todd Helton — who is putting up all-world statistics in the friendly confines of Coors Field and elsewhere.

Thus, Hiatt plays a waiting game. Fortunately, he has also played the game on the baseball diamond with the best of them this season.

PhilHiatt_P01
Phil Hiatt

Hiatt leads the Pacific Coast League with 55 extra-base hits, is second with 126 hits, second with 84 RBI and his .326 batting average is 13th best in the league.

Hiatt said he’s pleased with his productivity but isn’t thrilled with the team’s recent struggles.

“Yeah, (for me) it’s going real well right now,” he said Thursday after the Sky Sox (51-53) were defeated 6-3 by the Tucson Sidewinders. “The team isn’t doing too well. That’s kind of frustrating. I just come out every day and play hard and what happens happens.

“It’s just disappointing the way things are going right now. It’s late in the season. It’s crunch time. … You’ve got to battle it out really.”

Sky Sox manager Chris Cron said Hiatt has been a dynamic contributor all season.

“He comes to the park with the same attitude day in and day out,” Cron said. “He doesn’t get too high when things are going really, really well and he doesn’t get real low when things aren’t going his way.”

Although he said he was thrilled to play in the second Triple-A All-Star Game (held in Rochester, N.Y., two weeks ago) of his career, Hiatt couldn’t help having mixed emotions over it.

“It’s gratifying to make the club,” he said. “It was a lot of fun going there. But, like all the guys that were there, everybody’s thoughts were (about) getting back to the big leagues.

“It’s just frustrating seeing guys you played with and seeing them in the big leagues and wondering why I shouldn’t be there. It’s just a matter of getting that opportunity, getting that chance. Hopefully it’ll be soon.

“But I’ve come to the point where I don’t worry about it. If the good Lord wants me there, he’ll put me there.”

For Hiatt, a loving, caring family keeps him going during the long, tiresome season.

“That’s my biggest support,” he said. He is the father of 2-year-old triplets, Madison, Morgan and Mackenzie. His wife, Misty, whom he met while working at Baughn Alignment (a shop owned by Misty’s father), played on the West Florida fast-pitch softball team and is an avid baseball fan.

She follows Hiatt’s career by listening to every Sky Sox game on the Internet, and remains his biggest supporter.

“She keeps pushing me to play,” Hiatt said.

Returning to Japan next year is an option he has considered. He played for the Hanshin Tigers of the Japanese Central League in 1997, and said he truly enjoyed the experience playing overseas.

“I loved it. It was great. My family loved it,” he said. “(Next time) I think I can do a little better. That’s the thing, you don’t really know what to expect when you get over there. Now, going over there and playing a whole year, you have an idea of what to expect.”

During his stint overseas, Hiatt faced current Rockies right-hander Masato Yoshii, then a standout starter for the Yakult Swallows.

“He got me out a few times, and I remember getting a home run off him,” Hiatt recalled.

Just as memorable was Hanshin’s loyal supporters.

“Forty-thousand fans a night out there at our place,” he said with a smile. “They’re chatting your name all night. If you go 0-for-4, they’re still chanting your name; nothing bad said about you.”

When asked to assess Hiatt’s chances of being called up to the big leagues, Cron admitted it’s uncertain what will occur.

“He is an older guy, and he’s had an opportunity once,” he said. “It’s a roll of the dice. He could go up there and do exactly what he’s done here. He has that type of potential. He certainly could put up some numbers. You never know.

“I’m sure he’d love to have that happen, but at his age, realistically for him to be an everyday big league player is going to take somebody taking a big chance on him.”

According to Cron, Hiatt should continue with his blue-collar approach.

“He plays first base and the Rockies have a pretty good first baseman,” the manager said. “That’s why he has to come to the park day in and day out, trying to impress someone else, not just us. There’s 29 other teams out there to give him the same exact opportunity.”

Said Sky Sox infielder/outfielder John Cotton: “He’s a good player, a good hitter, a good guy and everybody likes him a lot. Numbers-wise, I think he should be there (majors), but it’s hard to say who’s going to be where.”

Hiatt’s power has never been a question mark, but striking out has been his Achilles’ heel. Consider: In 1996, Hiatt walloped 42 homers while playing for the Toledo Mud Hens of the International League. He finished the year as the International League MVP, but amassed 180 strikeouts.

While playing for Buffalo of the International League in ’98, he fanned 146 times and batted .247 and wound up with 101 strikeouts and a .238 average with Triple-A Indianapolis a year ago.

The maturing Hiatt turned his attention to cutting back on strikeouts this year. He credits this transformation as a more disciplined hitter.

“I’m better with two strikes,” he said candidly, “just putting the ball in play a little better.”