OMAHA, Neb. — For most baseball fans, Rosenblatt Stadium is the iconic backdrop of yesteryear, home to so many glorious summer memories from the Men’s College World Series for 60 years. The ride up over the hill on S. 10th Street that so many teams would take through the big Nebraska sky on their way to try to fulfill a dream is the very fuel that powers the lore behind the current “greatest show on dirt.”
But The Blatt wasn’t a stadium built for college ball. Née Omaha Municipal Stadium, then named after mayor Johnny Rosenblatt in 1964, for most of its existence it has had a different distinction: the largest minor league ballpark in America. For the longest chuck of its existence, it was home to the Omaha Royals, the big league club’s AAA affiliate.
Many big time names have come and gone through the organization, but one player who excelled there is still in town: Dwayne Hosey. The name might not conjure up a ton of memories to the average baseball human, but if you know, you know. Particularly in Douglas County.
“Well see, of all the places I played, this is the place that I’ve met some good people,” Hosey explains. “Because I’m an all-star here.” The 1994 Pacific Coast League MVP for the Royals, his life story is somewhere between the 90s films Forrest Gump and Mr. Baseball, with a large portion of Boyz N The Hood thrown in.
On this particular morning while NCAA teams are playing at Charles Schwab Field downtown, he’s watching his son play at Westfield High School, in Omaha’s District 66. An American Legion day of play is underway on a pristine all-turf field, complete with big league quality uniforms.
“So what? Here we go! Good leave. 31 flavors: pick it out. Less is more, hit through it.” The familiar voice of a dad, delivering encouragement with the quick confident staccato well known to any player. “Let me get off the phone and film this or my wife is going to kill me,” he concludes with a laugh.
His son played well that day, even though his team almost got no-hit in the second game. Nowadays in youth sports, parents are more involved than ever. The days of kids riding their bikes to the sandlot are long gone. Parents’ participation in their children’s games is a topic that now makes a lot of people anxious. Social media videos of umpires storming off fields while parents berate them are regular occurrences to the point we have a real life shortage of humans willing to do it.
But this isn’t just any parent. It’s definitely not just any dad. Hosey is an unintentional baseball lifer with more experience than even he can remember, complete with a durag under his son’s team hat. He’s played professional ball in more cities that memory serves, but opposing parents have no idea who he is.
His current baseball program, Hosey’s Heroes is the latest iteration of his youth movement, something he’s been doing for a while. He’s built some of the biggest youth facilities in the area, but these days, he’s giving private lessons in the back of a Play It Again Sports, with nothing more than a plaque and picture above the entrance to the cage.
“We were looking at getting our son some help hitting. He did very well off the pitching machine and when they get to this age, they start getting a pitcher and mentally he was just not translating. He wasn’t picking up on it,” Jonathan Johnson, 39, said while watching his 9-year-old go through various instructional drills with the bat. “So my wife had asked in one of her mom groups on Facebook and someone said, ‘Hosey, you got to go. You got to go to Hosey and he’ll work with you.’ And we’ve been coming for say a month and a half. Night and day.”
He’s been helping kids come a long way and his convivial style and expert knowledge translates perfectly to private instruction. It feels like he knows everything and has been everywhere.
That’s because…he does. And he has.
“I grew up with a single parent home, mom working two jobs, and my brothers in the streets in the boy’s club; my uncle, the streets raised me,” Hosey explains while we watch Florida win an incredible thriller to eliminate TCU in the MCWS. “For me at a young age, man, I witnessed something an 8- or 7-year-old shouldn’t. I witnessed a murder, I watched somebody get shot right in front of me while we were playing sports.
“Playing football in the middle of the projects, and a guy runs through our game and shoots this guy. It’s like we see that, bam, bam, he hits the tree, falls in the bushes, and we could see the bubbles on his body. As a kid in the hood, it’s just like, I said, ‘I’m never going to let that happen to me, I’m not going to let that be me,’ and so I was scared about that.”
Growing up in Pasadena, gang life was unavoidable for Hosey. The era of Bloods and Crips is not just something that affected the so-called worst of the worst — hell, its tentacles of influence even reached as far as places, like, say Omaha, over time. But in the 80s in California, even as an athlete with a promising football career, it was genuinely a matter of life or death.
He was well-liked, and even being known as an athlete, there were certain protections that came with that. But other things were just part of the territory.
“Being in the hood, it’s by association. I had a lot of relatives that are seriously gangbangers, but I was known as an athlete,” Hosey pointed out. “I always feel like I wanted to be my best, so that’s what I was doing for a while as I grew up, that was my conception of what being good was, was not doing those things. I didn’t start trouble, I didn’t ever rob people, I didn’t do that kind of stuff, that wasn’t my forte, but I fought all the time. That I did do, I did go start some things in other neighborhoods.”
His troubled life off the field meant that he never actually played high school sports. Eligibility was a problem, and his introduction to baseball was happenstance. As a football player at Pasadena City College, a junior college, he tried out for the baseball team because he friend he grew up with was on the squad. A play not even related to anything caught his coach’s eye. Trying to play the infield, a ball took a bad hop. He instinctively reached to grab it just to protect his face, and it was clear he had some tools.
From there, scouts got a hold of him after a postseason tournament, with money he couldn’t turn down. He was still technically a football player, though, in his mind.
“I’m like, ‘I’m playing football,’ and they was giving me all different spiels like how they were going to give me some money for school and give me a signing bonus. I was like, ‘Man, but my heart is in football,’ and then my uncle said, ‘Man, you should go ahead and do that, because you know what? You could come back and play football, you got eligibility enough for that.’ ‘Okay, I’d like to have that kind of money.’ It was $30,000 in the 13th round.”
Thirty racks in 1987 was the kind of thing that might put you in an episode of Snowfall. He thought he was going to the big leagues, considering how little he knew about the operation.
“All the baseball people who was playing baseball all their careers in high school were looking at me like, ‘Man, you did it, man.’ I remember looking at them like, ‘I could play with y’all, I just never had a chance to,’ ’cause I was a knucklehead,” he explained.
He loved it. Learning baseball in rookie ball in Florida taught him about the world and opened his mind to all the different cultures of the game, well beyond what happens on the field. A switch hitter with power to all fields, he was going to play. But some things, he couldn’t shake.
“I’m from the hood, that we all get trapped into, ain’t for nothing, the hood ain’t nothing…whatever, that thing followed me, and I was just getting a bad label off the field ’cause I wouldn’t turn down a scrap,” he said looking back in his mind’s eye. “Anyway, that caught up to me, but they called me during the offseason and they told me I was released, and that broke my heart, ’cause I started to begin to love it, I was signed, I had got a contract.”
“He grows up in a gang infested family situation, gets out of that, goes to a junior college, Pasadena, and plays football, becomes a JC All American and then takes up baseball,” Harold Reynolds, a decade long big leaguer who played with Hosey in Omaha. “That don’t happen. He doesn’t get a shot today.”
Little did Hosey know, the next two decades of his life would take him all over the globe and give him something no singular ball club could ever offer.
In alphabetical order: Boston, Bridgeport, Huntsville, Las Vegas, Madison, Modesto, Omaha, Ottawa, Pawtucket, Sarasota, South Bend, Tokyo, Winnipeg and Wichita. Those are just the teams he suited up for, nevermind the numerous opponents he faced over the years. His baseball passport has many stamps, but his evolution as a human being is what’s kept him fulfilled.
“We’re a product of our environment growing up, first of all. As guys come into baseball, you never know what shapes thinking and you’re trying to make them a ball player,” Tye Waller, who worked in the Padres organization for two decades, said of the player he remembers from his time in AA. “I was probably one of the only Black coaches that was in the game when he came through. Okay. Well, let me just say this right. I always make sure I spend time with the young Black brothers because the team will push them out before they give them a chance. So I try to hit them hard with the truth. That’s how I tell them. ‘You guys do what you want to do, but this is the way it is over here. So, if you want the dream to come true, you got to figure out how to line up.’ “
That way for Hosey was God. He makes routine references to The Creator when having serious discussions about his life and motivation. Nothing overbearing, just definitely prevalent. You’d probably take your life and time on this earth pretty seriously too if you’d be rejected as many times as he was when trying to cash in a goal.
“He was a 30-homer guy, 30 stolen bases, minor league player of the year two years in a row,” Reynolds noted. “What minor league player of the year goes back to the minor leagues twice? It’s just a different time. We move guys through today so much quicker. Dwayne really had to earn it and, by the time he got to his opportunity in the big leagues, it really wasn’t a true chance.”
Between the strike of 1994 — the same year he was dominating in Omaha — various managerial and club politics, contract options and Rule 5 signings, his MLB debut came in September 1995 with the Boston Red Sox, who were in the middle of a playoff chase. He hit .338 with three home runs and six steals in 24 games.
“It was incredible, man,” he recalled. “I actually made my mark and hit my first double off the wall over off of [Mark] Langston, off the Green Monster. But I was so amazed that you get starstruck because there’s all these other studs and all these amazing people. How you on the field with Bo Jackson? You’re on the field with all these guys, Tim Raines. You’re like, ‘Oh, my God. This is a whole ‘nother level.’ That’s why they call it The Show, because you get to watch so many amazing athletes do their stuff.”
He started in center field for the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series. Presumably, it was all happening.
“My career had always kind of been like that; it’s always I don’t get the shot from the beginning, and then when I get an opportunity, I kicked through,” Hosey said. “I’ve always started off behind as the fourth or fifth outfielder, ’cause I’ve always changed organizations. When you change organizations, it’s the harder fight to get to the big leagues. I’ll tell you when I changed organizations, you were a free agent, so now, I’m starting over.”
Hosey said politics between him and Red Sox veterans led to the team having to make a choice. After trading him to the Rangers, who would have been his sixth organization, he knew he had to make a move. Japan had come calling and it was another opportunity to grow.
If this year’s World Baseball Classic was your first indication, baseball in Japan has been extremely popular for some time. An interest developed when Negro League players used to visit for exhibition games 100 years ago, it hasn’t waned. Shohei Ohtani’s brilliance notwithstanding, they love their baseball. But it isn’t the same.
So, when the Yakult Swallows came calling in 1997, he took the chance.
“I said I wasn’t going to go to Japan until I got to the big leagues,” Hosey explains, noting that Japanese media and scouts had been at his games since forever. “They said, ‘We’re going to give you $2.5 million to go play in Japan. If you get your incentives, you can get all that.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m going to set up my family. I’m going to go take care of them. I’m going to do that.’
That he did. He first year there, he beat out Hideki Matsui — yes, that one — for the Central League home run title with 38 homers. To this day, he is a rockstar in Japan, something that extended back to his two years there, when he couldn’t walk the streets without getting mobbed. To think a former gang-related football player from California was a walking paparazzi lens target in Tokyo is wild. He’d played plenty winter ball in Mexico, so being abroad wasn’t an issue.
“I became an all-star, became the home run champ, wrote three books, I sing commercial jingles, I got three books printed over there. I can’t go on the streets right now. They’d come running out to get autograph or take a picture or something because I was that kind of character,” Hosey said. “I was a camera star. Our team won it. We won it from the beginning to the end. We won the World Series. I had the game-winning hit in the Series off a checked bunt that I didn’t even swing. You go see the magical bunt that scored it with bases loaded, it was a game-winning hit in the Nippon Series championship.”
If someone made it up, you probably wouldn’t believe it. But for Hosey, it’s an indication of not just his personality but the breadth of life lived that allows him to have reached so many young people over the years. These days, he fits in anyone who asks. He’s done his time as a hitting instructor in various MLB farm systems, and even after Japan finished things off in Canada where he met his wife. They now have four kids, all of whom are athletes, including his son Braeden, who’s game mimics his dad as a switch hitter, but he’s a natural infielder. His other sons were athletes too, a boxer and a ballplayer.
“A lot of guys get out, they can’t find their way and then they just get a job and they disappear and you don’t hear from them. I was fortunate because I got into culture right away and I found the niche and it’s guys like him that helped me climb the ladder because they would go after it,” Waller said with pride about Hosey, the guy who won a AA Texas League title in the Padres system with then-manager Bruce Bochy. “People don’t have the heart to work, man. It costs too much for most people, and we ain’t talking dollars and cents.”
It’s unfair to say that Hosey didn’t maximize his potential. He doesn’t view it that way and when you see the command he has over everything he does, it’s remarkable. He still umpires games himself as a way to stay involved beyond his students. Even after a couple tough business dealings, it feels like his earnestness, which got him to the top, is his best attribute after his expertise at the plate.
He still plays softball and last week in Omaha attended an MCWS game with one of his best friends and teammates from his traveling competitive old guy softball league. Metal bats and everything. The competitive juice is still there, but he has a higher purpose.
“It’s the most fulfilling thing in the world, because it’s to help other people fulfill their dreams and go after their dreams, after a game that I’ve perfected at one point,” Hosey said. “And if I believe you got gifts and tools, you need to share them. When I leave this earth, I want to die empty. What I’m going to do with it? I’ve already obtained the information, and knowledge and wisdom in this game, all the failures. Now you share that, and you can help people become the next star that they can be. And you do that with no agenda behind it, but just ’cause I really want to see somebody succeed. And that’s why I’m good at what I do, is because that’s my true motive.”
Now, after 20 years in Omaha, he’s established. He’s raising his family and spreading the love in the first place he was genuinely acknowledged as a star. If people don’t know who he is when they meet him, they do when their kid comes back from a session mashing the ball.
“It’s almost like Omaha fits him. That’s home for him. And when he played there, he was the Pied Piper,” Reynolds said Sunday. “People don’t realize how far this guy has come in life.”
His students do, particularly when a smile crosses their face because as one of the best hitting coaches that his generation has seen, he’s passed on the one skill that’s taken him far in life on and off the field: the ability to connect.
“I believe that’s how guys today that have a passion for baseball might be able to go farther than they went; they can pass on the dream that they chased to a younger mind,” Waller said. “Because if you didn’t make it to the big leagues, you are nobody. You know what I’m saying? Even though you grinded, you did everything you could to make it happen, you can feel less than when you come back if you don’t know who you are. This guy continued the dream and he just continued through the young people. To me, that’s a successful life.”