Ivor Hodgson: Those Who Can’t Play, Coach

A top three prospect for a championship caliber Kansas City Royals organization, the Gatorade Player of the year his senior season of high school, and the pitching coach at a Division 1 baseball program. Ivor Hodgson has been around the world and back in terms of playing baseball. But by looking at him now, you’d never know the competitor that lives within the man himself. His players have heard stories but never will get to see the 96 mph fastball effortlessly leave his hand or watch him turn a batter around with his hammer of a curveball. The scar on the inside of his left elbow and on his left shoulder are a reminder of where his career tragically ended, but are also a reminder of how he can keep his legacy going. Hodgson is an athlete you come across once in a lifetime cut down by injuries who refused to let that determine his success in life.

Hodgson came to Mount St Mary’s University as a first year with immediate talent. He was awarded the Gatorade Player of the Year, which is the most prestigious award an athlete in high school can win. It was evident not only to his coaches but to his fellow teammates as well that he was a freak of an athlete. Running, jumping, hitting, catching, throwing, it didn’t matter; Hodgson was good at everything he did. Really good. I mentioned to head coach of the MSMU baseball team, Scott Thomson, how enjoyable it is to watch Hodgson throw a ball. “If you think that’s fun you should have seen him leg out a triple!” Thomson told me.

Hodgson was recruited as an outfielder; but because of his versatility and prominence as an athlete, he began pitching with great success after just one year. As a college student, he knew how to have fun. Very energetic on and off the field, friends with everyone, just a kid doing what he loved. Whether it was him dancing in the stands at a basketball game or cracking jokes in the dugout, Ivor treated baseball as it was meant to be treated, a game.

His talent was great and everything, but what separated Hodgson was his work ethic and coach-ability. The saying, “First one in the gym, last one out” was taken to new extremes by Ivor. He loved the work and process of getting better. With every set of lifting, or every throw of a ball, Hodgson had a bigger image floating around in his head. He didn’t see the pain and exhaustion of working out and taking endless reps on the baseball diamond as a negative, but as something that would prepare him for the next step in his baseball career. Hodgson told me, “By age eight I started practicing my signature for when I started playing in the MLB.” To give you an idea of how much he put into improving himself during his two years at MSMU, he left high school throwing 83, and by his sophomore year was consistently sitting at 92-94 on the radar gun.

A great majority of this increase in velocity and precision when pitching is credited to his work ethic. However, Ivor was a student of the game. He loved to learn and understand why things worked and didn’t work on the baseball field. I spoke with Thomson about Hodgson’s coach-ability. “Ivor was a sponge,” Thomson explained. “He listened to everything you said to him like he was speaking with the President of the United States. And the questions… all he ever did was ask questions. Sometimes I felt like telling him to shut up but that’s what you want as a coach, a player who loves to get better.” He took everything as a learning experience, another chance to improve his game and round him out as a player. “I didn’t want to just be good,” Hodgson said. “I wanted to be the best player anyone at Mount St. Mary’s had ever seen. You have to have talent, but understanding the game is just as important as being talented in the pursuit of success.” This undeniable work ethic and drive to learn the game of baseball lead to Ivor being drafted in the 17th round of the MLB draft by the Kansas City Royals in 2007.

        Shortly after being drafted, Hodgson ran into his first setback. After one year of dominating rookie ball for the Royals Organization, Hodgson got the infamous Tommy John surgery. Because of his optimism and work ethic, he took this roadblock and used it as an opportunity to improve himself. After a year of rehab, he came back bigger, stronger, and better than ever. With his fastball now sitting at 96 mph, Ivor really began turning heads in the professional scene of baseball. He got called up to Advanced Single A, where he once again mowed through batters like he was playing catch in his backyard. After a very successful season in Advanced Single A, he was asked to move up the ranks and pitch for the Royals Low A and eventually High A program. Hodgson played 6 total years of pro ball, and was only cut short by an unfortunate career-ending surgery.

In his offseason, he trained three days a week and dedicated one of those days to helping local kids with their physical health. One day when bear-crawling with them, he fell on his shoulder wrong, tearing both his labrum and rotator cuff. This would be the end of his dominant career in baseball. I spoke with his old pitching coach of two years Jerry Nyman, who is now a scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks, when he stopped by to help with the Mount’s team for a couple days earlier this year. When I asked him if Ivor had a chance to make it to highest level of baseball, Nyman responded, “If he would have just slept in that day, he’d be making a lot of money throwing a baseball for the Royals.”

Now Hodgson sits on the sideline coaching those who were once in his position. His competitive spirit rubs off on his staff, and he uses the things he learned in his career to help his pitchers get the most out of themselves. He preaches on keeping the ball low, getting extension, and understanding who you are pitching to and what their weaknesses are. Among all things he believes confidence is the most important aspect of pitching. I asked him about this as it’s a funny idea to most people to teach confidence. “It’s only funny until you do it and it works,” he responded. “I don’t know why it works or how it works, but it sure seemed to me that when I played with conviction and confidence that the baseball gods’ gave me a little help.”

He coaches with what you could call ‘tough love.’ He knows what it takes to be successful in a sport as competitive as baseball and doesn’t take too kindly to someone slacking off. His career as a baseball player, which most likely would have been very successful, was cut short by injuries. He understands how lucky his staff is to be healthy and still playing the game he loves, so he strongly encourages his players to play and practice at 110% at all times. His staff understands this and because of his behavior and the way he carries himself, their work ethic is never questioned. He preaches to his staff on trust in each other and having each other’s backs’. Every single player who is coached by him knows he will always be there for them when they need it, and because of this the staff has transformed into a well-oiled machine in less than 7 months. Instead of hanging up the cleats after his future was completely cut down because of an injury off the field, Hodgson decided he had more to give to the game and spends the majority of his day doing everything he can to influence young athletes much like he once was. This is a true testament to his character not only as an athlete, but as a person. Baseball still thrives after all these years because of people like him. To experience and go through what he has and still find the passion and motivation to influence young athletes like he does every day is something we all should strive for as we go through our lives. “Being that close and having it all end because of an injury was devastating,”  he told me. “But just because I didn’t quite make it doesn’t mean my players can’t. That’s why I do what I do.”

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