He doesn't want your sympathy.
And it doesn't sound as if he'll get it at Wrigley Field any time soon.
No, LaTroy Hawkins is intent on pursuing his career on his terms, with no particular desire to avoid or deal with the boos that seem to greet him in his home park as soon as he gets out of his car in the morning.
The embattled Cubs reliever has joined Todd Hundley, Antonio Alfonseca, Shawn Estes and Mel Rojas in incurring the wrath of fans who think of themselves as the most loyal in all of sports. But Hawkins will carry on, he says, with or without them.
"That comes with the job, booing comes with the territory," Hawkins said during a recent interview, his eyes never leaving the real estate magazine he was reading. "Everybody's not going to like you. I learned that as a kid. My parents taught me, 'Everybody's not going to like you.' You proceed doing the best you can and turn the page."
Hawkins has said the obstacles he faced growing up in Gary, Ind., were far greater than those he faces today, and his mother, Debra Morrow, concurs. Hawkins, she said, "never had it easy, and Chicago fans are never going to understand him, not at all, because he's looking at life differently than them."
Morrow calls her son "a survivor. " Hawkins, she said, "has been independent since he was 1 year old, doing what LaTroy wanted to do." It is those survival instincts, family members say, that keep him going emotionally when others might stumble.
On the Cubs' day off Thursday, Hawkins drove to Gary and visited with his grandfather, Eddie Williams, a retired steelworker who probably was the biggest influence in Hawkins' decision to pursue baseball over basketball as a youngster.
"He said, 'I got some fan mail the other day,'" Williams said, "and then he showed me. It called him all kinds of names, the N-word. He said he gets one or two of those every month. He put one in a frame in his house so he can look at it. He didn't show that it bothered him."
No fan of the media
The only thing that does bother him, Hawkins says, is sports reporters, who unnerve him to the point that he called his now-infamous news conference last June to proclaim he no longer would be speaking for public consumption.
A press conference to announce he no longer would be speaking to the press? A year later, Hawkins says that day's coverage is an example of why he doesn't trust the media.
"Just like I said in the interview, I want to come in, do my job and go home," Hawkins said. "The whole interview was never playedthere was a whole segment that was never played."
By contrast, his brief declaration that he no longer would be talking to reporters "was the only 15 seconds that was played over and over again."
Hawkins invokes the name of another Gary native as an example of what he views as selective coverage.
"When the prosecution was trying its case, the Michael Jackson trial was on the front page of USA Today every day," Hawkins said. "Now that the defense is on, you don't see it."
In addition to his decree that he would no longer be granting interviews, Hawkins' June '04 media session addressed the difference between setup men and closers; Billy Koch's apology to Sox fans for his failures; his experience as the Twins' setup man and closer; and taking over for the injured Joe Borowski as the Cubs' closer, all of which was duly reported.
But Hawkins says it's more than that. "Everybody has had their run-ins with the media," he said. "People believe [what they read]. You can't argue with the pen because you guys reach more people than we can reach, so whatever perception you guys draw up of an athlete, that's what people are going to take unless they know the real person."
So does he feel the need to allow fans to get to know him better, through the media?
"It's definitely not a concern of mine, not at all," Hawkins said.
But wouldn't it be easier on him if the fans were more supportive.
"Easier on me for what?" Hawkins said. "I'm not playing for the fans, I'm playing for the other 24 guys in here."
Disappointment in Chicago
Hawkins was signed away from Minnesota as a free agent in the winter of 2003. His 1½ seasons with the Cubs have not always gone the way he envisioned.
In August 2002, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune called Hawkins "one of the most remarkable reclamation projects since the raising of the Titanic."
In 1994, Hawkins was one of the top pitching prospects in the Twins organization, going 18-6 as a starter on three minor-league levels. In 2002 he was one of the best setup men in the American League, settling into the role after inconsistency as a starter and as a closer.
He grew so frustrated in May of 2002 that he asked the Twins to trade him. Instead, new pitching coach Rick Anderson broke down Hawkins' pitching motion and rebuilt it, and Hawkins regained his touch. He finished the '02 season with a 6-0 record and a 2.13 ERA in 65 games in the setup role. In '03 he went 9-3 with two saves and a career-best 1.86 ERA.
Last season, his first with the Cubs, he found himself back in the closer's role after Borowski injured his shoulder. Hawkins was 5-4 with a 2.61 ERA and 25 saves, but he blew nine save opportunities, most of them involving one-run leads. In a late September game against the Mets, he gave up a two-strike, two-out, three-run homer to Victor Diaz in the bottom of the ninth, tying a game the Mets eventually won in 11 innings. The defeat sent the Cubs into a final-week spiral that cost them a wild-card playoff berth and came to symbolize their hugely disappointing season.
Called upon to close again this season after Borowski broke his wrist in spring training, Hawkins has ridden a roller-coaster. He's 1-4 with a 3.31 ERA, four saves and four blown saves. Converted starter Ryan Dempster is the closer of the moment in the Cubs' embattled bullpen as Hawkins works in non-game-deciding situations. He retired Juan Uribe on a popup to end the White Sox's four-run eighth inning on Saturday, but gave up a one-out homer to Jermaine Dye in the ninth inning of the Sox's 5-3 victory.
Bashed and trashed
If it hasn't been bad pitching, it has been bad luck.
Earlier this month he made a great pitch to Carlos Lee in Milwaukee and jammed him, but the muscular Lee fisted the ball over second baseman Jerry Hairston's head for a game-winning single. Two days later against the Phillies, he caught a bases-loaded line drive off the bat of pinch-hitter Placido Polanco. Hawkins threw to first trying for a game-ending double play, but the ball deflected off Jose Offerman's batting helmet and into the stands, allowing the tying and winning runs to score in the Cubs' sixth straight loss.
On May 9, ex-Minnesota teammate Doug Mientkiewicz hit a go-ahead homer off Hawkins, leading to the Mets' 7-4 victory. In Washington last week, Hawkins wound up getting his first victory of the season but not before giving up a game-tying single in the sixth.
Now there are Web sites devoted to bashing him, vicious hate mail and the very real question of whether his psyche has been seriously damaged.
"They're trying to run him out of town," manager Dusty Baker said. "It's not like he's not trying."
Ask Hawkins about his immediate goals and he bristles.
"I want to win a World Series, that's what I want," he said. "That sums it up. If we win a World Series, that means I did my job and everybody else did their job, plain and simple. "
Ask his mother how he's doing and she says, "When he goes out on the mound, I can tell there's still joy for him because he loves baseball and the booing makes no difference. He's going to do what he has to do. I never worry about him."
When Hawkins visited with his grandfather recently, he left the same impression.
"I asked him if [the booing] bothered him and he said no," said Eddie Williams, who does not miss a Cubs game on television. "He's strong. He's going to make it."
misaacson@tribuneCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun