Teammates will miss Hawkins

Teammates will miss Hawkins

CHICAGO -- If it rained at Wrigley Field, it was LaTroy Hawkins' fault. If the beer was warm, it was LaTroy Hawkins' fault. If you got gum on the bottom of your shoe, it was LaTroy Hawkins' fault.

And if the Chicago Cubs lost -- and he didn't even pitch -- it was still his fault.

Extreme? Maybe. But Hawkins had become the target of the fans' rage at Wrigley Field. His family stopped coming to games because of the uncomfortable vibe. He received hate mail and threats. His Cubs teammates felt the anger was unfair.

Hawkins now has a chance for a fresh start after being dealt to the San Francisco Giants on Saturday for Minor League pitchers Jerome Williams and David Aardsma.

"You see a lot of players who [a change of scenery] obviously helps," said Cubs reliever Michael Wuertz. "It'll be a good thing for him. The transition for him going from Minnesota to here and the National League, it was a different type of ballgame.

"I think it'll be a good thing for him," Wuertz said. "He's obviously a competitor. He's going to go out there and work his butt off, I know that."

Hawkins, 31, was 6-8 with a 2.76 ERA in 98 games since joining the Cubs in 2004. He totaled 25 saves after taking over the closer duties last year when Joe Borowski was hurt. This year, Hawkins was 1-4 with a 3.32 ERA and four saves in 21 games. He was 4-for-8 in save situations.

"I'm excited, very excited," Hawkins said about going to the Giants, where he will be used as a set-up man.

Was he surprised?

"I wasn't surprised. It's part of the business," Hawkins said. "[The media] has been talking about it for two weeks now."

The fans had not been kind at Wrigley Field, but Hawkins said it didn't bother him.

"It didn't. [The media] said it was difficult," Hawkins said. "I blocked it out. People are going to boo. It wasn't that big of a deal at all.

"I played for those 24 guys in the clubhouse and the Cubs organization. Nobody else," he said.

Wuertz grew up in Minnesota listening to Twins games, and followed Hawkins' progress through the radio broadcast Minor League reports.

"LaTroy's a great teammate," Wuertz said. "He helped me a lot."

"No matter what he did here," Borowski said, "it was just like [the fans] were waiting for something to boo at. It's unfortunate that something like that happens, but I think he'll be able to go there and dominate, just to be out of this atmosphere.

"He'll be able to have his family at the games again. I think for him, it's probably a blessing in disguise."

Hawkins had made it clear on Dec. 3, 2003, when he signed with the Cubs, that he didn't want to be the closer. He seemed to struggle in one-run games, and is 18-for-34 in one-run situations in the ninth inning.

"I don't even think that's the issue," Borowski said of Hawkins' role. "It was not a very conducive atmosphere for him here, no matter what he did. It's unfortunate, but that's what it came down to. If you're constantly coming to work and anything happens, and 40,000 people are jumping down your throat, it's tough. It'd be tough for any human being to go through. I can't imagine having to deal with that day in and day out. It's got to be tough.

   LaTroy Hawkins  /   P
Born: 12/21/72
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 215 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R

"I'm sad to see him go, but I think it'll be a very good move for him."

The move means the Cubs are even younger in the 'pen, and will rely on players like Wuertz, Will Ohman, Cliff Bartosh, Roberto Novoa and Todd Wellemeyer.

"We've gotten in a lot of ballgames this year, no doubt about it," Wuertz said. "For all of us, it's going to be a learning process. We're going to have our ups and downs. Hopefully there will be more ups than downs.

"Losing LaTroy is a big hole, but I think we have some guys here willing to step up to the plate and go out and do the job."

Hawkins may physically be gone, but teammate Kerry Wood wanted to make sure he isn't forgotten. Wood insisted a painting of Hawkins remained on the clubhouse wall. It was done by a 10-year-old girl who met Hawkins as part of a school trip to Wrigley Field, and shows Hawkins with a smile and his oversized cap askew.

And that's how his Cubs teammates will remember him.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.