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Published: Sunday, 5/1/2005

Hoiles catches on as college coach

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In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade s sports section. Blade sports writer Matt Markey talked with former Elmwood High School standout athlete Chris Hoiles, who played 10 seasons in the major leagues as a catcher for the Baltimore Orioles.

Chris Hoiles has a notebook in one hand and a baseball bat in the other these days, and he s back at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, where he set the career record by hitting 34 home runs in his three seasons with the Eagles (1984-86).

Hoiles recently joined the baseball staff at Eastern as a full-time assistant coach, and re-enrolled in school to continue work toward his degree. The former three-sport star at Elmwood High School left EMU after his junior season in 1986 when the Detroit Tigers picked him in the 19th round of the amateur draft.

While still a minor leaguer, he was traded to Baltimore in 1988 for veteran outfielder Fred Lynn, and Hoiles had a very successful and productive 10-year career as a catcher with the Orioles. Since retiring from the majors in 1999, he has worked in personal business, spent the past three seasons as a volunteer assistant coach at Bowling Green State University, and kept his home near his rural Wood County roots.

Hoiles was the Orioles starting catcher from 1991-98, and was voted the team s MVP in 1993 when he hit .310 with 29 home runs and 82 runs batted in. His 29 homers were the most ever by a Baltimore catcher, and Hoiles became just the fifth catcher in major league history to hit .300 or better with 25 or more home runs, joining Mike Stanley, Carlton Fisk, Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey.

Hoiles, who made $3.6 million in his final season with the Orioles, became the first catcher (and ninth player overall) to hit two grand slams in the same game when he helped the Orioles pound the Indians 15-3 in Cleveland as a large contingent of family and friends watched at Jacobs Field in 1998.

At Eastern Michigan, he set single-season records for RBIs (70) and home runs (19), and had a .352 career batting average. His No. 32 jersey was retired in 1994, and he was inducted into the EMU Hall of Fame in 2000.

Hoiles, 40, and his wife, Dana, and sons Dalton (9), Derek (6) and Drew (3) are in the process of moving to Dundee, Mich., to be closer to Eastern Michigan and reduce his commuting time.

THIS IS A full-time position, and I ll be involved in recruiting and all phases of the program here at Eastern Michigan, plus taking classes and working towards my degree. The experience I gained coaching at Bowling Green over the last 3 years really prepared me for this situation, and I m excited about the challenges and the opportunities involved with coming back to coach at my alma mater. After being away for so long, I had to get reacquainted with the college game. I like the teaching side of it, and helping these guys here develop into better players. I think I can offer something in that area, and the fact that I played in the big leagues should help.

IT IS A very, very hard road to go from the Suburban Lakes League to major league baseball. As a high school player at Elmwood, I always had that desire to one day play pro ball, but I also knew it was a smaller school and not many kids at that level ever even got a look from the scouts. If you consider the road I ended up taking, it was a pretty far-fetched thing, but I guess it was a classic example of don t give up on your dreams. I didn t get a lot of offers, but Eastern Michigan and Toledo and Bowling Green were in the mix, and Eastern just offered the right situation at the right time. I was blessed with great coaching, and I did a lot of listening instead of talking, and I applied what I learned to my game.

GROWING UP, I always watched baseball and studied it, but until you actually get there, you have no idea how skilled the players are. Very, very few athletes ever get the chance to find out. It takes more than just athletic talent to go to that level. I think I should thank my parents. They pushed me, but not too hard. Lots of parents today push too hard and don t let kids be kids. My mom and dad gave me everything I needed to play baseball, but they never pushed me so hard that the game stopped being fun.

THAT TWO-GRAND-SLAM game against Cleveland is definitely up there, as far as the best memories I have from my time in the majors, but there are so many other great things that happened. First and foremost, just making it up to the big leagues was such a thrill, and then being able to stay and play for 10 years just continued that. Being there in Baltimore when Cal Ripken Jr. tied and broke the consecutive games record was great, and I saw Eddie Murray hit his 500th home run so many things happened in that period of time. I was face-to-face and side-by-side with some real Oriole greats like Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, and people like Cal Ripken Sr. He took me under his wing and really helped me and encouraged me as a young ballplayer.

FOR ME, PERSONALLY, I just always liked the area where I grew up so I spent my time there in the off-seasons, and I came back there when my playing career ended. That s my home, and all my family was there. Elmwood is a smaller school district so just about everybody knew each other, and there was a closeness, a certain comfort in that. The family life is very good there.

I VE ALWAYS ENJOYED hunting and fishing around this area, and this new job is going to pose a great threat to that! So much of your time is committed, but that s OK because I love the game and I am excited about coming back to coach at Eastern Michigan. But I still hope to be able to get in some deer hunting early in the day this fall. I was born and raised with that tradition, and my boys really enjoy hunting and fishing, so I ll do everything humanly possible to continue that. So, while I am a full-time college coach, and a college student again, I still have to be a dad and a husband at the same time. It s important to me that I fulfill all of those obligations.

Contact Matt Markey at:mmarkey@theblade.comor 419-724-6510.



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