Chris Hoo sat inside the dugout at Fenway Park, marveling at the surroundings. The Green Monster. Pesky’s Pole. The Lone Red Seat. It was all there in front of him, exactly as he had imagined it.
“It’s been a dream come true,” Hoo said. “I’m just soaking it all in.”
From the time he was a young boy, Hoo dreamed of wearing a big-league uniform in a place like Fenway, and there he was wearing a Miami Marlins jersey inside the oldest ballpark in the majors.
It was perfect in every sense except one.
Hoo was no longer a player.
That dream died earlier this summer after the Marlins demoted him, sending the 26-year-old catcher from their Double A team in Jacksonville back down to their Single A affiliate in Jupiter, where Hoo had spent the better portion of a five-year minor-league career in which he hit .214.
The closest Hoo ever got to experiencing major-league life was when the Marlins invited him to spring training camp in 2017 and 2018, and when he became the personal catching partner for Jose Fernandez while the late pitcher for the Marlins was working his arm back into shape following Tommy John surgery.
“Every day, I was taken out of minor-league stretch to catch him,” Hoo said. “He liked how I caught. It was weird because I was so nervous. But he was younger than me, and it was an awesome experience to catch him.”
But by early this summer Hoo was going in the wrong direction, asked for his release and in May went home to California to contemplate his future — a life without baseball.
“I was home for a couple of weeks, and I was getting to the point of thinking about getting a real job, not playing baseball anymore,” he said.
Hoo had spent his baseball offseasons completing his degree in kinesiology from California Polytechnic University — San Luis Obispo.
Then his phone rang. It was the Marlins. They had a job opening.
When the Marlins released reliever Junichi Tazawa in May, the pitcher’s translator, Jiko Tanaka, left with him. Tanaka had not only worked side by side with Tazawa, serving as his interpreter for English-speaking sportswriters, coaches and teammates, but did double duty as a bullpen catcher.
Now, with Tanaka gone, the Marlins needed a catcher to spend time in the bullpen with the relievers and help warm them up before entering the game.
“Tazawa’s guy [Tanaka] was a jack of all trades for us, and he was an extra catcher in the bullpen,” said Michael Hill, Marlins president of baseball operations. “When Tazawa was released, Jiko went with him and we had a need. Chris Hoo’s name came up. Obviously we had a history with him. He knows a lot of our pitchers and he knows a lot of our coaches.”
But Hoo hesitated at first. He was engaged and living in California. By accepting the job, it would mean leaving his fiancee on the West Coast to join the Marlins in Miami and wherever they traveled on the road. On the other hand, it would mean a job in the majors, making more money than he ever made playing in the minors.
“It was a touch decision,” Hoo said.
It was his fiancee who finally convinced him to accept the job.
“She said, ‘I think you need to do it,’” Hoo recalled. “She said ‘You’re never going to have this experience again. You don’t know where your party is going to be in the next three years, two years — even next year. This is probably going to be the experience of a lifetime, so why not take it?’”
Hoo joined the Marlins in late June, and it has been a thrill ride ever since.
“It’s a little different being in Jacksonville or Jupiter,” Hoo said.
On Tuesday, Hoo toured Fenway Park on his own, stopping now and then to take a picture. He signed his name on the wall inside the Green Monster. He stood on top of Fenway, gazing down at the diamond.
“It’s a lifetime experience to do this,” Hoo said.
Hoo is in the big leagues, only in a way he never imagined.
“It’s not the way I envisioned it,” Hoo said, staring out onto the field at Fenway. “I never expected myself to be here in this job, doing this. I never thought this was going to happen. But I’m loving every minute that I’m here.”
Was it a dream fulfilled?
“In a different way,’ Hoo said. “But, yes.”
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