For a couple of weeks in August, Rhys Hoskins might have been Philadelphia's most popular athlete. Fans marveled at the nightly power display that the young slugger put on in the middle of the Phillies' batting order. Carson Wentz and the Eagles had not yet begun their magnificent season. Hoskins was the man in town.
It hit him one night after a game. He stopped in Center City for some late-night eats. A man and his young son approached. They offered their congratulations and asked for an autograph.
"That's when I was like, 'OK, this might be something that's about to be part of my life,' " Hoskins said. "But it was cool because I used to be that kid."
Hoskins was back in the area Monday night for the 114th Philadelphia Sports Writers Association Dinner. He was honored with a special achievement award for a torrid major league debut in which he clubbed 18 homers and drove in 48 runs in just 50 games last season.
Hoskins was raised in Sacramento, California but moved to San Diego this offseason. His 18 homers in 2017 were the most ever hit by a player who did not make his season debut until after Aug. 1. Hall of Famer Ted Williams, who hit 13 homers after returning from the Korean War in 1953, was the previous record holder.
Williams was a San Diego native.
"Surreal," Hoskins said of that 50-game stretch last season and the buzz that has followed him into the offseason. "Indescribable."
He is now a recognizable face, a signature talent, in a sports-crazy town.
And he's ready for it.
"Enjoy it," he said. "Take it by storm and enjoy it. It's supposed to be fun and that's probably the best approach to take. I think my thought is what happened may never happen again. Tomorrow something might happen. Tomorrow I might never be able to step on a baseball field again. So I think you have to take it by storm and enjoy it.
"If you had asked me a year ago if I would be walking down the streets of Philadelphia and would people recognize me I'd probably laugh at you. But that’s where we are now.
"It's just a testament to how passionate the people of Philadelphia are and how much they love their sports."
Hoskins will report to Clearwater for spring training at the end of this month. He wants to get a head start so he can ramp up his workouts in left field. A first baseman by trade, he began playing the position occasionally last season. He will move there full-time in 2018 as newly signed Carlos Santana takes over at first base.
Hoskins got a 30-game taste of left field last year. He is OK with the move.
"Having Carlos is exciting for the city and exciting for the team," Hoskins said. "We add a guy who has proven himself in this league for five or six years at a very high level so to kind of insert that into the lineup and into the clubhouse, especially with such a young team — I think we're going to feel that exponentially throughout the year.
"Left field is a challenge. It's a challenge that I'm definitely excited about. I started to feel more comfortable out there toward the end of the year.
"I think I can be just fine out there. I'm not necessarily going to be a Gold Glover. I just don’t have the speed that some guys out there do, especially in today's game. But I think I'll be just fine and contribute to the team defensively as much as I can and make the plays that I'm supposed to."
Hoskins will turn 25 on March 17. He projects to bat cleanup in new manager Gabe Kapler's lineup.
"He's energized, intense and thorough," Hoskins said of the new skipper. "He can captivate a room. I'm curious to see how that dynamic works in the clubhouse. I think he's going to be a pretty exciting guy to work with."