ALLENTOWN — Rhys Hoskins’ mother used to tell him that she would work as his agent once he became a professional baseball player. Not if he turned pro, but when he did. Cathy Reynolds was her son’s biggest fan. And she certainly would be proud as he inches closer to the major leagues.
Reynolds, who kept her maiden name as she practiced law, battled breast cancer for 14 years and turned back the disease three times before succumbing to it in 2009. Hoskins was just two years old when his mother was diagnosed. He turned 16 the day before her funeral.
“She was an incredible woman. The first word that comes to mind is perseverance,” Hoskins said. “She was basically sick my whole life. As long as I can remember, she was sick. Her will to live was something that’s pretty admirable. Something that’s going to stick with me.
“I definitely wouldn’t be the man that I am without it happening. As tough as that is to say.”
Hoskins’ mom seemed to always be on the sidelines, carving time in her busy schedule as a lawyer to drive her son and daughter to all their games. Hoskins remembers his mother waiting with watermelon slices after soccer games and hitting In-N-Out Burger between games of a baseball doubleheader. It is those memories that he clings to now.
“She was always the volunteer. She was always Team Mom,” said Hoskins’ father, Paul. “She made sure everyone was where they were supposed to be and was the one making the phone calls. We had a travel team that went to Cooperstown and my wife planned the whole thing, started the whole thing, was the one that found it. She did the fundraising. Then we got out there and she was Team Mom, making sure everyone had places to stay.
"That’s what I remember about her. She was full-on, all-in. She would do everything that the team needed and for Rhys to enjoy himself playing baseball.”
Hoskins, 24, is now one of the Phillies' top prospects. He’s batting .327 with a .407 on-base percentage in his first 32 games, with eight homers and 21 RBIs. His mother was proved right in 2014, when Hoskins signed with an agent and turned pro when the Phillies drafted him in the fifth round. Hoskins will spend Sunday, Mother’s Day, honoring the confidence his mother had in him.
“The most emotion comes out around a day like Mother’s Day,” Hoskins said. “I’m sure everyone always says this, but I could always hear her voice. No matter how big the crowd was. It’s those little things that you hold on to. And for me, that shapes what she was like."
Hoskins emerged last season by bashing 38 homers at double A. His power blossomed because of a sound approach at the plate, one praised throughout spring training by Phillies manager Pete Mackanin, who repeatedly said Hoskins “has a good idea” when he’s batting.
“A ‘good idea’ to me is that he swings at the pitches he wants to swing at and not at what the pitcher wants him to swing at,” said triple-A manager Dusty Wathan, who also managed Hoskins last season in double A. “He has the ability to take pitches for balls, the ability to put the bat on the ball with two strikes, somehow on the barrel, whether he’s off balance, out on his front foot, one handed, his butt's sticking out, whatever. He has the ability to put the barrel on the ball.”
The first baseman traces his approach to Little League, when his father would stand behind the batting cage. Paul Hoskins, also a lawyer, would guide his son, telling Hoskins to try to hit the next pitch up the middle.
“I think that kind of shaped the direction that I’ve gone in,” Hoskins said. “I don’t think I’m a power hitter. I really don’t. I’d like to say that I’m a hitter first. I think that you accidentally hit home runs. At least for myself. If I try to hit home runs, I have no chance. Be a hitter. Everyone wants to hit home runs. Sure, I get that. But it’s also fun to be on base.”
Reynolds’ fight against cancer was long, but even more valiant was her attempt to keep her battle as hidden as possible from Hoskins and his younger sister. Their parents did not want Rhys and Meloria to be burdened by their mother’s fight. Reynolds continued to work as a top lawyer for a non-profit that serviced college loans throughout California and continued to be the team mom.
“She wanted to give her children a sense of normalcy. When really, it’s the furthest thing from it,” Rhys Hoskins said. “It’s something now that I reflect back on and think wow. To sacrifice her body and the way that she felt for the two of us is pretty special.”
“And my dad was pretty amazing through all of it. To be able to put us before him in a situation like that. Nineteen years of marriage. Two kids. I can’t imagine losing a partner like he had. To be able to put my sister and I before his needs is ... I don’t really know. I’m at a loss for words. It’s awesome. It’s very admirable.”
Paul Hoskins said he was unsure if his wife’s loss changed his son fundamentally or advanced his maturity. But he did see a swift change in the way Rhys treated his sister. He became her role model and protector, making sure she stayed on the right path. Meloria Hoskins is about to start a pre-med program at Johns Hopkins. Her brother’s guidance paid off.
“He just made himself into a fabulous person, regardless of his baseball achievement,” Paul Hoskins said. “To me, that’s the crowning achievement. He’s always been more than just a baseball player. I think he has a charisma that people naturally follow him.”
Hoskins will spend Mother's Day in Allentown, across the country from the stands where his mother used to sit and watch him play. But he is now just 70 miles from his major-league dream. He will accessorize his IronPigs uniform with pink wristbands and maybe even swing a pink bat.
It is likely his last Mother's Day before becoming a major leaguer. His biggest fan is certainly proud.
“She was always proud of him,” Paul Hoskins said. “She understood the unlikelihood that he was going to reach his dream. Now that he’s gotten as close as he has, she would be very proud of him. Very proud.”