Pizza, baseball and no punching on the throwing arm — the Hammer family has its priorities in order

Pizza, baseball and no punching on the throwing arm — the Hammer family has its priorities in order

When Jason Hammer found out he was going to be a dad 25 years ago, he was — naturally — elated.

He wished for all the usual blessings, a healthy pregnancy for his wife, Sindi, and, of course, a happy, healthy baby. Boy, girl, it didn't matter. He just wanted five fingers, five toes and one of those big, toothless smiles — all the things any parent would want.

But deep down inside, Jason Hammer had one little wish.

He really wanted a boy.

You see, Jason didn't have a brother and his family would often give him the ol' wink-wink that it was up to him to one day have a son to carry on the name they all loved.

There was another reason Jason wanted a little boy.

He loved baseball. He had been a shortstop at Lewis-Clark State College in Idaho and couldn't wait to someday coach his son in the game he loved.

On July 12, 1994, Jason and Sindi Hammer got their wish when young John Dale arrived.

The little boy was named for both his granddads, but a little more went into the name than that.

We told you that Jason loved baseball.

He had plans for this kid.

"We were young and poor, you know," Jason said with a laugh. "We'd sit at home, watch TV and talk about names. Baseball names. 'What sounds good? Now batting, J.D. Hammer.' We liked the way that sounded. So he was J.D. right from the start."

Jason and Sindi Hammer spent last week in Philadelphia. They did all the touristy things, from the Rocky steps to lunch at Reading Terminal.

And, of course, they caught a Phillies game.

And when public address man Dan Baker announced, "Now pitching for the Phillies, J.D. Hammer," it sounded as good as it had all those years ago when they were sitting on the couch back home in Colorado.

"It's a dream come true," said Jason, 50. "You can't even describe it."

Jason and Sindi have four children, sons J.D., Garrett and Kalen, and a daughter, Brenli. All are skilled on the diamond and their accomplishments are displayed in an area of the basement that Jason has playfully dubbed "the Hammer Hall of Fame." Brenli will pitch at Colby Community College in Kansas in the fall.

The Hammer household must have been a great place to grow up. The family owned five pizza franchises in the Denver area until selling last year. All the kids worked part-time in the family business, making pizzas, delivering, whatever. And when they weren't helping with the family business, they were going to school and playing ball.

Baseball and pizza.

What a life!

But there were rules.

"You could not punch on the throwing arm," Jason said. "You could punch on the other arm, but not the throwing arm. They'd tell on each other. 'Hey, Mom, he punched me on the throwing arm.' It was pretty chaotic.

"All the kids played travel ball. There were times when all four were in different states and we'd be FaceTiming when one came up to bat or was pitching."

J.D. grew up playing shortstop. After high school, he enrolled at Navarro College in Texas. He struggled with the bat during his fall season — he would later find out why — and the coaches were leaning toward red-shirting him unless he wanted to pitch. The coaches at Navarro loved the way J.D. threw the ball across the diamond and thought he had a future on the mound. J.D. wanted to play immediately. He did not want to red-shirt. He'd pitched a few innings here and there in high school. He decided it was time to make the move to the mound.

Over two years at Navarro, J.D. pitched well enough to earn a scholarship to Marshall University in West Virginia and was drafted by his hometown Colorado Rockies in 2016. He was no bonus baby. (In fact, his dad said he's always been an underdog.) He was picked in the 24th round. His signing bonus was just $1,000. But it was a chance.

"I remember the draft," J.D. said. "I was sitting around waiting. The third day came, the rounds kept going and I hadn't been drafted. I thought I'd end up working at my family's pizza shop. When I got the call I was super excited."

J.D. spent his first summer of pro ball pitching for the Rockies' affiliate in Grand Junction, Colorado, about a 4½-hour drive from his hometown of Fort Collins.

Mom and Dad didn't want to get in his way, so they watched the games on the Internet.

Jason knew his son inside and out as a ballplayer and as he watched him pitch, he sensed something was wrong. J.D. would squint and peer in at the catcher for long stretches as he tried to pick up the signs. Occasionally, he would cross up the catcher.

That offseason, J.D. got an eye exam. It came too late to save him as a hitter. But not too late to help fuel his path to the majors as a pitcher. He returned to the Rockies' system wearing glasses in 2017. Later that summer, the Phillies acquired him in a trade for Pat Neshek. Hammer spent most of 2018 recovering from an elbow strain, but came back strong this season and blazed his way from Double A to the majors in May.

The last name instantly brings the hard-throwing reliever attention.

"I've heard it all," J.D. said with a laugh.

He has often entered games with MC Hammer's famous U Can't Touch This playing over the sound system. And not once has he ever requested it.

"I love my name," he said.

But J.D. has another distinguishing trademark — those large, black-frame eyeglasses that are part Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn, part Harry Caray.

"I tried contacts, but they bothered my eyes," he said. "I tried on a bunch of glasses and went big because I didn't want to see the frames when I looked in at the catcher."

In addition to a strikeout arm, J.D. has other skills. He put them on display in spring training 2018. The Phillies had invited him to big-league camp. As a bonding exercise, first-year manager Gabe Kapler planned a talent show one night during camp. Hammer wowed the crowd with his pizza dough flipping skills. The kid can still make a mean pie.

"If I had the ingredients, I could make one right now," he said in the Phillies' clubhouse one day last week.

Even the dough?

"Oh, yeah," he said.

His dad confirmed that.

"He can flip it," Jason said with a laugh. "All the kids can. But I can still do it better than all of them. It's probably the only thing I can still beat them in."

Sindi Hammer celebrated her 50th birthday last week. Her present was a trip to Philadelphia to watch her son pitch in the big leagues.

Jason Hammer, the baseball-loving dad who 25 years ago hoped to be blessed with a little boy, also received a nice Father's Day present.

"J.D. gave me the balls from his first pitch, his first out and his first strikeout," Jason said. "Pretty special."

He laughed.

"They'll go in the Hammer Hall of Fame back home," he said.

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After pitching through pain in win over Nationals, Jake Arrieta believes 'the group in here can do it' for Phillies

After pitching through pain in win over Nationals, Jake Arrieta believes 'the group in here can do it' for Phillies

Behold the redemptive powers of baseball.

The Phillies got back to work Sunday afternoon, just a few short hours after blowing a late lead and losing to the Washington Nationals the night before. Maikel Franco made a damaging error in the eighth inning of that game and Hector Neris gave up a fatal two-run homer with two outs in the ninth.

This time, Franco and Neris were among the stars of the Phillies’ 4-3 win over the Nationals.

Neris got back on the horse and struck out the side in the top of the ninth inning of a tie game and Franco delivered a one-out solo homer to left in the bottom of the frame to give the Phils the walk-off win in front of a sellout crowd on Big Piece Day at Citizens Bank Park.

The home run was Franco’s 15th of the season and 100th of his career.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” said Franco, who has lost his job, regained his job and generally endured a series of ups and downs over the last couple of seasons while never losing his upbeat personality.

Manager Gabe Kapler channeled Burgess Meredith in praising Franco.

“You’re going to get punched and you’re going to fall down and you’re going to hit the mat,” Kapler said. “It’s how quickly you can get back up and how hard you hit back. Mikey had an error that hurt us yesterday. But he bounced back today. He really showed the resilience and toughness we talk about.”

Neris could be added to that list.

Jake Arrieta, too.

The right-hander made his first start since it was confirmed that he has been pitching (poor recently) with a bone spur in his elbow. Arrieta couldn’t say if it was icepick pain or toothache pain, but it hurts. He pitched through the discomfort and gave his team five innings of one-run ball and left with a lead. Ultimately, the Phils will need more than five innings from Arrieta or else it’s going to expose the bullpen. But for a team that desperately needed a win Sunday, Arrieta gave the club something to feel good about.

“I feel like from this point on it’s going to be tough each and every time I go out there, but I can deal with pain and I’m going to do the best I can to continue to go out there and give my team a chance to win every fifth day,” Arrieta said.

Arrieta’s velocity was at 93 mph early in the game and it was down to 91 by the fifth inning. He threw 88 pitches. He is not able to throw many cutters because it hurts his elbow. He believes he can get by with sinkers, curveball and changeups. He did Sunday.

“It’s going to be painful,” Arrieta said. “The good thing is I’m not going to injure it any further. I want to pitch for the guys in this clubhouse.

“To have 40,000 people in the seats and people watching you on TV and a team competing on the other side, I don’t care how painful it is, it’s always fun. 

“I think collectively everyone should realize I’m not 100 percent and I’m OK with that. I’m going to do everything I can do to be as good as I can for our team and help us shrink the margin down the stretch and hopefully get back in the race for winning the division.”

The Phillies have lost miles of ground over the last six weeks, from leading the NL East by 3 ½ games over Atlanta and 10 games over Washington to trailing both. The Phils entered Sunday 8 ½ games out of first place.

The Phils’ slide and struggles led club president Andy MacPhail to say on Friday that the team was more than one piece away from winning a World Series — he is right, by the way — and that would be reflected in the club’s conservative approach to giving up prospects in trades later this month (see story).

Arrieta did not have any qualms with what MacPhail said. He believes he shares a clubhouse with the answers to the Phillies’ problems.

"We need some more out of our starting pitchers collectively, but I believe we can do it,” Arrieta said. “You look at the way we started the season. We were winning a ton of games really consistently. I think the group in here can do it. We just need more productivity out of some of our guys. It’s plain and simple. It’s easy to always look outside for the solution. It might be cliché, but we have the guys here that can continue to win on a consistent basis. We just need to perform and that’s really all there is to it.”

The Phillies’ performance over the last six weeks does not exactly inspire confidence. Neither does the arrival of the mighty Dodgers on Monday night. But at least Sunday was a tiny step in the right direction, a nice respite from some of the dreck the team has provided in recent weeks.

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Phillies 4, Nationals 3: Maikel Franco delivers walk-off home run

Phillies 4, Nationals 3: Maikel Franco delivers walk-off home run


One night after blowing a two-out lead in the ninth inning, Hector Neris struck out the side in the top of the ninth inning of a tie game Sunday afternoon. The Phillies rallied for a run in the bottom of the inning to beat the Washington Nationals, 4-3, at Citizens Bank Park.

The winning run came off the bat of Maikel Franco. He hit a first-pitch homer off lefty Matt Grace with one out.

The Phils ended up salvaging one game in the series. They should have won two. They were one out away from a win Saturday when Neris gave up a two-out single and a two-run homer as Washington rallied for a 4-3 win (see story).

The Phils are still in rough shape at 48-45 and in third place in the NL East.

And the big, bad Dodgers are coming to town.

Arrieta's day

Jake Arrieta was able to give his team five innings of one-run ball and left with a lead, but there are still concerns about how effective he will be long term pitching with a bone spur in his elbow. For instance, Arrieta’s command was not particularly good. He threw 88 pitches in five innings and 37 of them were balls. His velocity also dipped from 93 mph to 91 over the five innings. Arrieta has pitched 4 1/3 and 5 innings in his last two starts. If he can’t go deeper than that into games, it is going to expose the team’s weak middle relief corps.

Bullpen blues

Veterans Jose Alvarez, Adam Morgan and Neris and rookie Ranger Suarez all did a good job out of the bullpen, but rookie J.D. Hammer struggled in the seventh. He walked a pair of hitters with one out and paid a big price as Howie Kendrick and Trea Turner smacked RBI singles to tie the game at 3-3.

Realmuto getting warm

J.T. Realmuto continues to get hot. He improved his hitting streak to 10 games with an RBI single and a solo homer. He has 16 hits over the 10 games.

Bryce Harper was 0 for 7 with a walk and three strikeouts in the final two games of the series.

Health check

Reliever Tommy Hunter is back on the injured list with the same forearm pain that he experienced in spring training. That ultimately kept him out of action for the first half of the season. Hunter is optimistic of a return, but it will be tough to bank on him.

Edubray Ramos was called up from Triple A.

Up next

It gets no easier for the Phillies. The Dodgers bring the best record in the majors into Philadelphia the next four days. The pitching matchups favor the Dodgers:

Monday night — RHP Zach Eflin (7-8, 3.78) vs. LHP Clayton Kershaw (7-2, 3.09)

Tuesday night — RHP Vince Velasquez (2-5, 4.63) vs. RHP Walker Buehler (8-1, 3.46)

Wednesday night — RHP Nick Pivetta (4-4, 5.81) vs. RHP Kenta Maeda (7-6, 3.82)

Thursday afternoon — RHP Aaron Nola (8-2, 3.63) vs. RHP Ross Stripling (4-3, 3.65)

The Dodgers swept the Phillies out west earlier this season.

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