Reggie Christiansen remembers well his first trip to Philadelphia. How could he forget it? It was the summer of 1998. He had just graduated from Menlo College in California. What better way to mark the occasion than by jumping in a Volkswagen bus with four buddies and making a tour of ballparks around the country?
“We saw almost every minor-league and major-league park,” Christiansen said. “Fifty days. Five guys. Twenty-three big-league parks, a bunch of minor-league parks, 10,000 miles.
“We saw Cal Ripken and the Orioles play the Phillies at Veterans Stadium. It awesome.”
All these years later, Christiansen is back in Philadelphia this week. Veterans Stadium might be gone, but the baseball experience is still, to use his word, awesome.
Like everyone else in town, Christiansen has come down with a case of Rhys Hoskins-mania. But his is a special strain. After all, he was Hoskins’ college coach at Sacramento State University.
On Thursday afternoon, Christiansen was on the field at Citizens Bank Park during batting practice. He was joined by another of his former players, Brennan Leitao, a pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization and a former teammate and roommate of Hoskins’.
Two nights earlier, the pair watched Hoskins hit two home runs in a 15-inning victory over the Miami Marlins. The night before, they watched the Phillies’ rookie sensation belt another one in an 8-1 win. And Thursday night, yep, Hoskins did it again in a 10-0 win. It was his 18th homer in 34 games.
It has been an incredible run for Hoskins.
Ditto for his old friends from Sacramento State.
“What he’s been doing up here is pretty incredible,” Christiansen said. “I got a chance to see him play in San Francisco, and he hit a home run like five rows behind where I was sitting with my family and I felt like I was in a Disney movie.
“That’s the best way I can describe this. It’s been like a Disney movie.”
“Rhys is special,” he said. “He deserves this. Everybody is really stoked for him.”
It’s hard to believe now, but there once was a time when Hoskins was an under-the-radar baseball talent. He received one college scholarship offer, and that was from Christiansen and the hometown school five miles down the road.
“We saw him the summer after his junior year,” Christiansen recalled. “He actually played some games on our campus. We have a big parking structure in left field, and he hit a home run off the parking structure with a wood bat, and we just felt like he was going to hit so we made him an offer. We were actually bidding against ourselves because he had no other offers.
“We knew he had a chance to be special. He could always hit. He was never a big swing-and-miss guy and the power has continued to come. He hit like 12 home runs as a freshman so the power was there. It’s just been a matter of him making the adjustments at each level. A lot of the credit really goes to the Phillies for instituting the leg kick and he has just gotten better each year.”
Even though he put up big numbers at Sacramento State, Hoskins remained slightly under the radar. He was not drafted until the fifth round in 2014. That’s OK. He’s not the first power-hitting gold nugget that the Phillies unearthed in that round. Ryan Howard was a fifth-rounder in 2001.
Leitao recalled living and hanging out with Hoskins.
“I got to understand how competitive he is,” Leitao said. “Playing ping-pong, playing corn hole, just little games here and there. He’s a very competitive guy.”
Nowhere did that competitiveness show more than in the batter’s box.
“We had some friends hanging out on top of the parking structure at our field during a game and he hit one up there,” Leitao said. “It cleared their heads and went halfway deep, and they were on the sixth floor.”
Christiansen was scheduled to come East this weekend to attend an amateur tournament in Toronto. He hopes to do some recruiting. That has become a little easier since Hoskins arrived in the majors and started terrorizing major-league pitching.
“He’s already helped our recruiting, no question,” Christiansen said. “What he’s doing, he’s on ESPN every night and they’re mentioning Sacramento State. It’s really helped. We’re kind of a mid-major program. Kids see what he’s doing, he came from our program and it’s an easier sell. Kids are more receptive.”
During their time in Philadelphia, Christiansen and Leitao found some time to do touristy things before heading over to the ballpark at night. They visited the Rocky steps one day.
“We walked ’em,” Christiansen said with a laugh.
Their nights were spent watching Philadelphia’s newest attraction rack up home runs. Fifteen. Sixteen. Seventeen. Eighteen.
And the best part? Hoskins is the same guy he was back at Sacramento State.
“He’s an unbelievable kid,” Christiansen said. “Extremely humble.”