By Giavonni Nickson
How does a city give birth to a champion?
LaTroy Hawkins answered this question during his keynote address at the 11th Annual Lakeshore Classic Corporate Luncheon hosted by the Gary Chamber of Commerce.
Local community leaders, politicians, educators, and business executives gathered on Tuesday, November 20, 2018, to share a pre- Thanksgiving meal and celebrate the homecoming of LaTroy Hawkins. Hawkins, a retired Major League Baseball player, had a distinguished 21 season pitching career.
The luncheon took place at the Diamond Center, which neighbors the Gary Railcats Baseball Stadium. The clear view of the baseball stadium served as the perfect backdrop to welcome baseball star, LaTroy Hawkins.
Hawkins, a West Side High School graduate, and honor student took a break from his demanding career as Special Assistant to Baseball Operations for the Minnesota Twins Baseball Club and Television Analyst, to come back to the city that gave birth to his success in professional sports.
He graciously signed autographs and baseballs, exchanged hugs and laughs, and took pictures with guests.
Students from the West Side Theatre Guild helped welcome Hawkins home with singing and live music performances. During his address, Hawkins reminisced on what it was like to be in their shoes as he graced the halls of West Side High School as a student.
With West Side Cougar pride he mentioned receiving the most exciting news of his life while sitting in Government class senior year. During class, he learned that he was the 7th round pick for the Minnesota Twins.
This moment was pivotal as he prepared to transition from being a high school student-athlete to stepping onto the field as a professional baseball player. He recounted this story as a representation of the limitless possibilities that exist for current students in Gary public schools.
Hawkins received a warm welcome home with standing ovations, applause, honors and recognition awards from Governor Eric Holcomb, Congressman Pete Visclosky, Indiana Black Expo, Commissioner Kyle Allen, Council Woman Mary Brown, Fire Chief Paul Bradley per Commander Mark Jones, West Side High School, Gary Southshore Railcats, and the Gary Chamber of Commerce.
On behalf of the City of Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson granted Hawkins a key to the city. With a smile, she said, “We welcome you home anytime.”
The Gary Chamber of Commerce and the Lakeshore Classic Committee surprised Hawkins with an award in honor of his wife Anita Hawkins, a graduate of West Side High School. Executive Director, Chuck Hughes presented the award and stated that she, Anita Hawkins, was the real MVP. The audience cheered to honor Anita and their 18-year marital union. During his address, Hawkins thanked Anita and their daughter Troy for their love and support.
The Gary Chamber of Commerce also surprised Chuck Hughes with an award to honor his ten years of service as Executive Director of the Chamber.
After award presentations and sponsor acknowledgments, guests prepared for the highly anticipated keynote address. Hawkins supporting cast of former coaches, teachers, classmates, and family members applauded as the 6’5” champion took the stage.
Naturally, the audience expected Hawkins to share stories about his extraordinary career playing for the Minnesota Twins and being a respected member of the 1,000 games pitched club. While Hawkins did speak about his career and success as a professional athlete, he spoke with great passion about the city of Gary. He explained how his hometown, birthed a champion with hope-filled visions and high expectations for his future.
Hawkins was gifted with natural talent, but it was the support of his family and members of the community in Gary that helped him envision a bright future and realize his dreams. Early on he understood hard work and perseverance as modeled by his grandfather and other members of the community that worked tirelessly in the steel mills.
Hawkins said,” It all started here in my hometown, Gary IN.” The support of his family and the sense of community in the city served as an incubator for his success. The support of coaches, teachers, and family members helped Hawkins realize his dream of being a professional athlete.
During his address, Hawkins charged the audience to examine and answer the call to work collectively in order to have a positive impact and inspire hope just as coaches and teachers helped inspire hope in him while he was growing up on the west side of Gary. Hawkins’ mantra is, inspired by his grandmother’s words, “No matter who you are and what you have, at some point we all need a little help.”
When the community comes together with love and support dreams are realized and champions like, LaTroy Hawkins are born.