BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Colorado sports fans know LaTroy Hawkins as a Rockies relief pitcher during the extraordinary Rocktober season of 2007.
Two years after he retired following an incredible 21-season big-league career that included two stints with the Rockies, Hawkins has gained another slice of fame as the godfather of one of the hottest players in the NFL, Patrick Mahomes II.
Where were you in the summer of 1995?
Hawkins was breaking into the majors as a starting pitcher with the Minnesota Twins. His mentor was Patrick Mahomes, who was in his fourth season as a Twins’ starter.
Both pitchers struggled early that year, and a close bond formed.
One day, Mahomes revealed his wife, Randi, was pregnant. Would Hawkins be his son’s godfather? Patrick Mahomes II was born Sept. 17, 1995.
As he did as a pitcher, Hawkins paid his dues in his role of spiritual influence.
“We didn’t do the ceremony but I changed his diapers and everything else from knowing him,’’ Hawkins said here last week while hanging out with his godson on Super Bowl LII radio row at Mall of America. “Been knowing him since before he was in this world.’’
During one short walk from one radio station table to another, the Chiefs’ new starting quarterback stopped to shake hands and deliver a man hug to the Rockies’ former closer.
“Yes, Rockies!’’ Mahomes II, who was 12 during the Rockies’ magical run in 2007, said in an interview with 9News. “Yeah, LaTroy’s been around forever, I love him. Great role model for me to look up to and an awesome pro and an even better person.’’
Sales of Kansas City Chiefs’ No. 15 jerseys no doubt spiked in the days since starting quarterback Alex Smith was traded to Washington, leaving Mahomes II to take over.
“For me I know there’s been a lot all over Twitter and everything like that but for me it’s all about working hard and getting ready for next year,’’ Mahomes said in what became his canned response during his radio row tour.
The decision made to trade Smith away means Chiefs head coach Andy Reid believes Mahomes is ready to assume the full-time quarterback job. This was understood, not said.
“All I saw was all the stuff all over Twitter,’’ Mahomes said. “Everything’s kind of been said. Nothing’s official, yet, so I’m just doing the same thing, working out, throwing the football. Getting better every single day. Learning as much as you can. And being ready whenever your opportunity comes.’’
It was the final game of the regular season against the Broncos at no-longer-named Sports Authority Field at Mile High that no doubt helped convince Reid. With the game having no playoff bearing, Reid benched many of his top players, including Smith.
Mahomes made his NFL debut and after a shaky start, made a couple eye-popping throws while leading the Chiefs to a 27-24 win.
Mahomes completed 22 of 35 for 284 yards and directed a game-winning field goal drive in the final 2 minutes, 23 seconds.
Not only was the game not meaningless to Mahomes, it can now be called a career changer.
“You got to go out there and compete a full game,’’ Mahomes said. “Those experiences are awesome to get. Get to do the 2-minute drive at the end of the game and it was a win. To go out there and get a win in your first start it’s always a good thing.’’
“He did all the little things he’s supposed to do for his first NFL start,’’ said Hawkins, who now works in the Minnesota Twins’ front office. “Made some good throws, made a couple not-so-good throws. But you know what, when you have a strong arm like that you have to trust in it. He’s one of those guys that he definitely trusts his arm that he can put the ball in tight windows and he’s very confident when it comes to throwing a football.’’
Hawkins can offer a unique perspective, even if he admits he wasn’t much of a football fan until Mahomes II started lighting it up as a quarterback his freshmen and sophomore years at Texas Tech.
Mahomes was a promising high school pitching prospect who could throw 92 to 95 mph and he briefly played baseball and football at Texas Tech before he realized quarterback was an all-consuming endeavor.
Godson was committing full-time to football as Godfather was finally hanging up the spikes.
“I’m definitely not that big of a football fan but over the last four or five years I’ve become fans of the quarterbacks because that’s the position he plays,’’ Hawkins said. “Try to study them and understand how difficult their jobs are and what he’s about to take on when he entered the draft last year.’’
The minute the Chiefs surprisingly traded up in the first round to select Mahomes II with the No. 10 overall draft pick last year, even Smith stated he knew he was on borrowed time. But then Smith had a terrific 2017 season, beating New England in the opener and leading the league in passing rating.
The timing of the Smith trade to Washington on January 30 – teams are allowed to talk to each other but no transaction is official until the start of the league season March 14 – was surprising, if not the deal itself.
“I guess like everybody else you kind of knew it was going to happen. You had an idea,’’ Hawkins said. “But I just told him it’s your time now. You’ve got to be the first one in the locker room, you’ve got to be the last one to leave. You’ve got to put in your work, you’ve got earn those guys’ respect because you’re working with grown men and you’ve got to continue to get better each and every day.’’
Now that’s what Godfathers are for. Is Mahomes ready?
“Oh, I’ll be ready,’’ he said. “I’m excited for whenever the opportunity comes and I’ll be ready to go out there and hopefully get wins.’’