The Arizona Diamondbacks are holding their ninth annual Fantasy Camp this week at their Spring Training complex at Salt River Fields. Steve Gilbert, who covers the D-backs for MLB.com, is taking part in the camp and is sharing his experiences.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — As he walked across the field at Miller Park, Robby Hammock realized he was likely taking his final steps on a field as a big league player.
The Brewers had just walked off on the D-backs in Game 5 of the 2011 National League Division Series to end Arizona’s season. Hammock was not on the playoff roster, but he was in uniform catching in the bullpen during the series.
“I remember walking back across the field and watching the streamers and the confetti fall and I was just looking around taking it all in,” Hammock said.
Hammock’s playing days indeed were over after 2011, but it also served as a beginning for what would become the next chapter in his life.
In 2012, Hammock officially began his coaching career working with D-backs hitters in the Arizona Rookie League.
“It was tough to turn the page, it really was, but the coaching opportunity just outweighed the playing opportunity,” Hammock said.
While 2012 might have been his first official coaching job, the truth is Hammock had been preparing for his second act for a while.
Back in 2007, when he was still bouncing between Triple-A and the big leagues, Hammock noticed a change in how he looked at the game. Suddenly he was analyzing strategy and watching games as if he were managing.
“Then I started voicing that I wanted to manage some day and coach,” Hammock said. “Catching, of course, I started to really run through things in my head. It got to the point where when I was in the game, I wanted to call everything. I wanted to call throw-overs, slide steps. I wanted it to where the pitching coach never had to worry about it. He didn’t need to visit the mound. I would be on it before he even needed to.”
After an injury-plagued season in 2010 with the Yankees’ organization, Hammock thought his career was finally over. He emailed D-backs farm director Mike Bell and told him he wanted to throw his name out there for a possible coaching position.
Bell, who played with Hammock in Triple-A in 2003, had a different idea. The D-backs were thin at the catching position at the upper levels of the Minors, and Bell offered Hammock the opportunity to almost be a player/coach in 2011.
Hammock would play when needed while also watching closely how Brett Butler managed the Triple-A Reno Aces.
Hammock ended up playing more than expected in Triple-A that year, and the D-backs rewarded him with a September callup.
He only got two at-bats that month, but it gave Hammock an opportunity to take in the big leagues one final time.
“I was soaking up every moment of that September that I could,” Hammock said.
Hammock did well enough in his time as hitting coach in Rookie ball that he was promoted last year to manage the D-backs’ advanced Rookie team in Missoula, Mont.
“I learned a lot about managing and running games and what to look for,” Hammock said. “It’s a lot of responsibility. You make every single decision in the game. It was exhausting, but I had a blast. It was a huge learning experience, that’s for sure.”
This year, Hammock will manage Class A Advanced Visalia in the California League.
“I think you can just see that players that he works with on a daily basis have a tremendous amount of trust in him,” Bell said. “Nothing is too big for Robby. They kind of spill their guts to them, and they know he understands because he’s been in a lot of different situations in the game and he understands it’s a difficult game.”
Injuries no doubt kept Hammock from accomplishing more during his playing career, but he is still very much a fan favorite in Arizona.
Hammock was part of a group of young players that were known as the “Baby Backs” after they filled in at the big league level while some of Arizona’s bigger-named stars were on the disabled list. Hammock is also remembered for catching Randy Johnson’s perfect game in 2004.
“The fans here have always been great to me,” Hammock said. “They still want to remind me about those times, and it’s great because it brings back all those memories and stuff. I say this is where I grew up, I’m from Georgia, but this is where I grew up as a person. This is definitely home for me.”