Hinske bringing great character to Braves
Veteran utility man becoming solid influence in clubhouse
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- When the Braves signed Eric Hinske in January, they recognized his ability to serve as a versatile defender and capable pinch-hitter. But they were also intrigued by the fact that he has gained a reputation as a solid clubhouse figure.
Since being named the American League's Rookie of the Year in 2002, Hinske hasn't exactly lived up to early expectations. But while remaining humble and willing to adapt to a variety of different roles that he's been asked to fill the past few years, the 32-year-old utility man has proven valuable to a number of championship-caliber clubs.
"I figured out if you just accept your role and become a good clubhouse guy, they like you," Troy Glaus said. "If you don't cause any waves, be professional and come to the field every day ready to work, things take care of themselves. You can't control anything else."
During his first week with the Braves, Hinske has already provided indication that he's comfortable with their expectations for him to occasionally play any of the corner positions and also serve as their primary pinch-hitter. More importantly, his earliest results indicate that he could prove capable of being successful in this versatile role.
With Glaus not scheduled to serve as part of the traveling party, Hinske started at first base during Tuesday afternoon's Grapefruit League season opener against the Mets. After chopping an infield single through the middle of the infield in the second inning, he drew a fourth-inning walk.
"He's got some intangibles that are good for the team," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He's a team type of guy."
When Cox evaluated Hinske's stats, he immediately noticed that the former Yankee had hit seven homers in the 84 at-bats that he compiled after being acquired by New York on June 30. During the first three months of last season, the veteran utility player had hit .255 with just one homer in 106 at-bats for the Pirates.
Four months after this trade was completed, Hinske found himself celebrating a World Series title with his Yankees teammates.
"It was awesome," said Hinske, who drew a walk and scored in his only plate appearance during last year's World Series. "To be winning it in New York was a pretty special thing. Coming from Pittsburgh, I was running to the plane when I got traded. I was like, 'This is awesome.'"
Now that he is in Atlanta, the Braves are hoping that he has brought some of the good fortune that has allowed him to be a member of each of the AL's last three pennant winners.
During these past three seasons, he has joined Babe Ruth and Johnny Damon in experiencing the rarity of winning a World Series championship with both the Red Sox and Yankees. In between these two titles, he proved to be a key figure for the Rays during their surprising run to the 2008 Fall Classic.
During the 432 plate appearances he compiled for Tampa Bay in 2008, Hinske hit .247 and collected 20 homers. But third baseman Evan Longoria is among those who recognized that he provided much more via the leadership skills that he provided the relatively young club.
"I think the older you get, when you see something going on, you just step up sometimes," Hinske said. "I'm not too vocal, but when something needs to be said, I'm not afraid to say it."
Hinske certainly isn't ready to guarantee that he'll be making a fourth consecutive trip to the World Series. But he likes what he's seen so far from his new Braves teammates.
"All the pieces are here," Hinske said. "It starts with pitching, and we definitely have a lot of that here. We've got a great team. We've just got to go out there and do it."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.