Hawkins last active pitcher to have faced MJ

Hawkins last active pitcher to have faced MJ

DENVER -- All sports have a player-to-player respect, but rarely does that respect become fandom. But Rockies right-handed relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins experienced the latter, and doesn't mind saying so.

Hawkins is the last active pitcher who can say he faced Michael Jordan during the latter's Minor League season in the Double-A Southern League in 1994. Hawkins pitched for the Nashville Xpress in the Twins' organization against Jordan's Birmingham Barons in the White Sox's chain.

"I was completely in awe every time I faced him; 21 years old, from Gary, Ind., I was in complete awe," Hawkins said. "I had a chance to meet him, hang out with him, and he was just as good as he was advertised. It was unbelievable."

But Hawkins' awe didn't stop him from getting the best of the basketball superstar, who took a year off from his championship runs with the Chicago Bulls.

"I picked him off first, and I'm trying to figure out how he got on," Hawkins said.

While it became popular to deride Jordan's baseball stint, Hawkins is among those in the game who felt Jordan's athletic ability and work ethic gave him a chance if he stuck with it. Having not played baseball since childhood, Jordan hit .202 with three home runs, 17 doubles and 51 RBIs in 436 at-bats, plus 30 stolen bases.

"He had a chance to make it," Hawkins said. "Starting in Double-A is pretty tough; that's not a walk in the park. But he was starting to pick it up at the end of the season."

It turned out Jordan became a fan of Hawkins.

"In 2008, I signed with the Yankees," Hawkins said. "I flew in for a physical, and I was going to fly in and fly out. But I had to take a stress test. I got up the next morning, and a guy said he saw Jordan walk into Barney's. I walked up and said, 'Michael,' and he turned around. I said, 'You don't even know who I am.' He was like, 'I still watch baseball.'"

As for the awe he experienced in Jordan's presence, Hawkins said, "I never got over it."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.