Trying to Make Contact

By Mark Viera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Butch Hobson walks into a batting cage, holding a bag of baseballs, and arranges a tee.

"You ready, hotshot?" he asks a young boy who steps into the batter's box.

Standing in the cage behind the left field wall at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf, Hobson eyes the Little Leaguer's swing.

Hobson, who hit 30 home runs for the 1977 Boston Red Sox, offers one-on-one hitting lessons for $90 an hour. The work supplements his regular job managing the first-year Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, a minor league team in the independent Atlantic League.

Butch Hobson is here because it's where the game led him. It's the same reason he'll stick a baseball under his nose, just to get the scent, when he's watching a game on TV. It's why, for the entire baseball season, he lives some 3,000 miles from his wife and their four children in California.

But Hobson also is here because, as he says, you plant seeds every day of your life. Good or bad, those seeds grow.

He's here because the bone chips in his right elbow left him a different player, because managing the Boston Red Sox is a tough initiation into big league coaching and because drugs drove a wedge between him and his family, friends and, perhaps, the major leagues.

"If I had an opportunity to go coach for somebody, I would," Hobson, 56, says of getting back to the majors. "I think I've learned from my first experience managing in the big leagues. I had only been in the minor leagues five years and I got a major league job. I thought I would be the first guy to bring a World Series to Boston. It didn't work out that way."

So at the moment, he is occupied with this kid's swing. Hobson removes his cap. Scratches his paunch. Spits a stream of chewing tobacco -- Skoal wintergreen, long cut -- that splats on the floor. How to fix this swing?

"When you hit this ball," Hobson says, "I want you to feel your weight go forward."

The boy nods.

Hobson continues to tweak the swing, and after a short while the session ends. He heads to the field, tosses batting practice for his team and refills his lower lip with more chew.

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