Perfect Gamer

Even after catching the big unit's masterpiece, Robby Hammock still marvels that he's made it to the show.

"Robby took such a realistic approach to everything, even then, maybe because he got a family going so young," says Kata, currently on the D-Backs' disabled list with a torn-up shoulder. "I try to trick myself into stuff, talk myself into things. He doesn't. We'd stay up for hours talking about the game, and he wouldn't shy away from the bad. He has an interesting mind. We became awesome best friends, partly because of how we've approached our baseball careers. Neither of us will ever take anything for granted in this game."

Finally, Hammock bumped into Bob Garber -- the player agent he'd once met with Jack Cust. Garber had come to Lancaster to visit his younger brother, Mike, a rookie lefty who was Hammock's teammate.

During a ride to lunch, Bob Garber recalls, he mentioned in passing how much he liked Hammock's sunglasses.

Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Robby Hammock makes it big on the playing field.
Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Robby Hammock makes it big on the playing field.
"Like all of the other "Baby Backs," Hammock has suffered through growing pains in this, his first full season in the majors."
"Like all of the other "Baby Backs," Hammock has suffered through growing pains in this, his first full season in the majors."


Photography by Jackie Mercandetti

"Robby said, 'Here, they're yours,' just like that. I thought, 'This is a nice guy. He ought to be able to say he had an agent, even if it's just for a little while.' I was thinking I could get him a pair of spikes or something before he got released. So you can say that Robby Hammock got himself an agent because he laid a cool pair of sunglasses on me."

Garber called Hammock when he returned home, and volunteered his professional services. Hammock said that would be wonderful, as long as he wasn't too much of a burden.

In the off-season that year, Garber also offered Hammock an internship in his Chicago office. The 24-year-old accepted, though it meant more time away from his wife and baby daughter, Gentry.

"I thought he was telling me something about my future as a ballplayer, or lack of it," Hammock says, drolly. "But it was an opportunity to learn about the business side of baseball, which is intense."

Garber says Hammock's sense of humor and good heart kept his business office loose during tense negotiating sessions that winter.

"Robby was right there when we negotiated with Joe [Garagiola] Jr. over [pitcher] Matt Mantei," Garber says. "He worked 12 hours a day many days, and he showed me the same work ethic that he shows today with Arizona. I'm more proud of him and what he's accomplished than of any of my other players."

Mantei eventually signed a four-year, $22 million contract, much to the current chagrin of the D-Backs bosses and their fans. And Hammock learned a ton about the fine art of negotiating for major league dollars.

Hammock played the entire 2002 season with the El Paso Diablos, catching often and batting 441 times, finishing with a .290 average. He deeply impressed manager Chip Hale along the way on several fronts.

"I started thinking, 'Why can't Robby be a full-time catcher who also plays here and there,'" says Hale, now the manager of the Triple-A Tucson Sidewinders. "He's as strong pound-for-pound as anyone. In El Paso that year, he energized everybody around him. He's the perfect example of someone who got a lot of ABs [at-bats] in the minors and improved as he went. Compare him to all those guys who got pushed too fast and flamed out before they could develop. Robby was lucky, and so was Arizona."

Naturally, Hammock had serious competition in front of him and behind him with the D-Backs. By then, Brad Cresse was in Triple-A, and youngish catchers Chad Moeller and Rod Barajas had been slated for the big team in 2003.

But, finally, Hammock truly seemed to have turned a corner, thanks to his versatility as a player and his unquenchable desire to improve.

After the 2002 season, the Diamondbacks invited Hammock to play for them in the Arizona Fall League, a prestigious, decent-paying showcase for big league prospects. He did well, and returned to Georgia to await the next step.

One momentous break in Robby Hammock's baseball career was the presence of Bob Brenly as the D-Backs' manager.

Brenly saw something of himself in the scrappy young catcher. Now 50, he wasn't drafted after high school or college, and had languished in A-ball for parts of four seasons.

But like Hammock, Brenly had scratched his way in the early 1980s to a major league job, at the age of 27.

Brenly also had been a catcher who was able to perform adequately just about anywhere else on the field. He also was pretty nifty with the stick, definitely an added bonus.

During spring training in Tucson before the 2003 season, Brenly saw for himself what Chip Hale had reported from El Paso and what others in the organization were starting to believe.

"Robby was carrying himself with such confidence behind the plate, which is so important," Brenly says. "If a catcher shows any sign of mental fatigue or feeling down on himself, it shows up. If he shows weakness, it's going to infiltrate the rest of the team."

Hammock did well enough to stick with the big team until shortly before the D-Backs broke camp.

After Hammock learned he'd be playing with the Triple-A team in Tucson, he sent for Marci, who was pregnant again, and little daughter Gentry. The couple rented a house in Marana, north of Tucson.

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