The last three years have been rocky for Spokane Valley product Kevin Stocker since the Philadelphia Phillies shortstop helped his team into the World Series.
Stocker has suffered from injury, hitting woes and a crisis in confidence. But his play last September and the recent signing of a oneyear, $825,000 contract with the Phillies have done wonders to lift his spirits.
“It’s a big pay increase for me,” said Stocker, who was in his arbitration year. “The Phllies were great about negotiating early and getting it done.”
The contract also shows Philadelphia’s faith in his future.
“Just by tendering early says, ‘hey, you’re our guy,”’ Stocker said. “I think it shows I’m their shortstop now.”
Nine years ago Stocker was a senior basketball and baseball star at Central Valley High School.
By age 23 he was starting at shortstop for the Phillies and his star was on the rise.
A year later he missed 34 games due to a wrist injury. Then major league baseball went on strike.
“I was actually having a good year and it was cut short,” said Stocker, from his winter residence at Hayden Lake.
The next year was terrible, he said. His hitting suffered and it carried over in the field.
“Management didn’t give up on me and brought me back in 1996,” he said.
Again Stocker’s hitting suffered, his batting average plummeting below the .200 mark. The Phillies’ staff told him he looked like a dead player on the field.
“They were right. I had to take a look at myself,” Stocker said. “I decided if I was going to be a .200 hitter, I’d be the best one on the field.”
He began to play with the his characteristic hustle and chatter. He changed his hitting approach.
Following two and a half weeks in the minors, prolonged because of a sprained ankle, Stocker said, “changes started to occur.”
Over the remainder of the season he batted .291, including a torrid .360 in September. He was moved from eighth in the batting order to second, where he had been much of his career.
“The biggest adjustment I made,” said Stocker, “was to not stride towards the plate.”
In his desire to hit the outside pitch, he had been jamming himself inside. By straightening his stride, he became not only an effective inside pitch hitter, but found he could still hit balls on the outside part of the plate.
“My confidence went through the roof and things took off,” said Stocker. “For a year and one-half I had no philosophy of hitting and didn’t believe in myself. Now I found something I liked and was comfortable with.”
He’s also comfortable with his new contract, which he said was commensurate with his position in the marketplace.
He and his wife, Brooke, decided to winter in the Spokane area following the birth of their daughter, McKenna, now three months old. Both of their families live in the area.
They’ll return to Philly in mid-January and head for Florida in early February to prepare for spring training.
The Phillies have a new manager, Terry Francona, have bolstered their pitching and have gone to a youth movement from players in the organization.
Stocker, at age 27, will be one of the veterans.
“The change is good,” he said. “Jim Fregosi was good for me and stuck with me when I was struggling.”
Injuries and a negative atmosphere in the clubhouse and press, culminated in the switch.
“The way Florida and Atlanta have stacked their teams, we’re too young,” said Stocker. “But I think it’s smart to build from within.”
Unlike today’s free-agent atmosphere, he’d like to be the kind of player who spends his career in one place, a person that fans will come to see.
That means team success and continued production at bat and in the field.
“Either that or dye my hair purple,” Stocker laughed. “I’ll just keep my image, go out and play hard and try to win. That’s good enough for me.”
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