By SCOTT COTTOS
It’s a long way from instructing professional baseball players to doing the same with members of a high school softball team.
But the expressions, “Home is where the heart is” and “Family first” both apply to Elmwood High School graduate and former Baltimore Orioles standout catcher Chris Hoiles.
And the 54-year-old member of the Orioles’ Hall of Fame is having a good time assisting his younger brother, Matt, 49, in coaching Elmwood’s softball squad and working as an instructor of baseball and softball players.
“It’s great,” Chris Hoiles said after a recent 15-3 Royals win at McComb. “I’ve been away for about 10 or 11 years. I moved out to Pennsylvania, which was only about an hour north of Baltimore. That’s what took me away from this area.
“While I was out there, I was able to manage an independent (minor league baseball) team (in York, Pennsylvania) and I was with the Orioles in player development for four or five years.
“To come back and not only help Matt out, but be back at the high school level with girls — this is my first time coaching girls and the game of softball. But, you know, there are a lot of similarities. And there are some differences and I’m learning every day, especially from Matt. He’s a very good high school softball coach and I pick his brain on different things, as he does mine.
“So, it’s been kind of a fun fit for both of us — I think, for me it has because I’m learning his profession.”
Chris Hoiles, who has raised three sons with wife Dana — the oldest, Dalton, is an outfielder in the Orioles’ minor league system — has been back living in his home area since October, residing near his brother, his father, Tim, and the school.
Matt Hoiles, who is in his 21st year as Elmwood’s head coach and owns 423 wins, hoped during the offseason that Chris would want to help him coach Matt’s sophomore daughter, Madison, and the rest of the Royals.
“I kind of, jokingly at first, asked him if he wanted to help coach,” Matt said. “I needed another assistant, and with his expertise, there aren’t too many brothers (of coaches) who carry his resume. He was available and he ended up calling me, I think it was in December, and said, ‘Were you serious about it?’ And I said, ‘Heck, yeah, I was serious.’ He had to get all of his qualifications in; he did all that and here we are.”
After standout careers at Elmwood and Eastern Michigan, Chris Hoiles was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 19th round of the 1986 draft. After being traded into Baltimore’s system, he made his major league debut in 1989.
He spent his entire career with the Orioles, hitting .262 with 151 home runs and 449 RBIs.
Along the way, he caught first pitches from three presidents — George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush — which is an all-time high in Major League Baseball. He’s also the only catcher in MLB history to hit two grand slams in a game, a feat he accomplished in Cleveland in 1998.
Later, Chris had stints as an assistant coach at Eastern Michigan and Bowling Green State University before returning to the Baltimore area, where he also spent some time co-hosting a baseball-oriented radio show.
Everyone involved has had some new things to get used to, but it’s all going well and the Royals are off to a 6-2 start.
“To me, it means a lot to have Coach Chris out here,” senior Elmwood pitcher Makenna Benschoter said. “His knowledge of the game is beyond (that of) other coaches in our league or other teams that we play. It’s honestly a blessing to have him.”
Having been born after Chris Hoiles’ career ended, Benschoter and her teammates have limited knowledge of his career, and that’s perfectly fine with him.
“(Matt) introduced me at the beginning of the year, ex-player, blah, blah, blah, which is fine with me because that’s what I am and all that,” Chris said.
“But for them to be naive on the subject or having a lack of knowledge on the subject, it’s kind of neat for me to kind of up front not have them know. … To these girls, I’m just Coach Chris. And that’s the way I kind of want it. I just want to fit in … teach and all that along the way and hopefully they can take one thing from me and learn from it and make them better.”
Madison Hoiles, who did not wish to be interviewed, made a big splash in her freshman year with a .458 average, seven home runs and 46 runs batted in.
She sustained an ACL tear just before the start of the past volleyball season, but she’s been working her way back and played in the field, at first base, for the first time this season against McComb.
“To be able to coach Madison and watch Madison — she had a tremendous year as a freshman,” Chris Hoiles said. “… Now it’s just a matter of, you don’t redefine her, she does everything fine. It’s just a matter of keeping her up on what she’s already done and trying to add to that resume a little bit, add to what she can already do. When you’ve got a hitter like Madison, it’s pretty easy.”
Matt Hoiles is excited about what his brother brings to a program that is traditionally one of the best at the plate in the area.
“I look at my daughter: She’s been coached by me for 16 years,” he said. “Now she gets the benefit of being able to be coached by her uncle, who played at the highest level for 10 years. That’s not very often that that gets to happen.
“I’m looking forward to it, she’s looking forward to it. And all of the girls have just fed off of his knowledge. A lot of these girls have no idea about Major League Baseball and him playing because they weren’t even born yet. But their parents do and I’m sure they’re being fed good information about how knowledgeable and how good he is.”
Madison wears No. 23, which has been worn by several members of her family in baseball, including her uncle with the Orioles. Her father acknowledged that some pressure comes with her surname, but he said she’s handled it well and wants to be the best of the bunch.
“I think what she tries to do is not so much emulate anybody — she wants to be better,” Matt Hoiles said. “I think that’s why she wears 23. It’s not a matter of trying to emulate, it’s trying to be better than all of us.
“Her work ethic — it’s seven days a week. She knows the Hoiles name has been out there for a long time and I think she respects the name and knows what we laid in front of her, and I think that’s what she tries to do — be better than we all were.”