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Hoilman has vivid memories of his Home Run Derby title 10 years ago

Joe Avento • Jun 26, 2020 at 1:00 PM

JOHNSON CITY — Paul Hoilman will tell you a decade can go by pretty quickly. That’s how long it’s been since the former East Tennessee State slugger was college baseball’s home run king.

After hitting a school-record 25 home runs in 2010 during his junior year with the Bucs, Hoilman took his talents to Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska.

That’s the stadium where the College World Series was held. It was also the site of the College Home Run Derby in 2010, and nobody hit more balls out of that park than Hoilman.

“It’s been a while, but that time has gone by pretty fast,” Hoilman said. “I still have pretty vivid memories about being at Rosenblatt Stadium and hitting balls out of there that night. It was cool to win that thing.”

Hoilman certainly looked the part. Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 240 pounds, he didn’t disappoint.

After working his way through the field and making the finals, Hoilman was up first in the last round.

He got off to what he called a “decent start” with seven home runs in his first 11 swings. Batters were trying to hit as many home runs as they could hit before they recorded 10 outs.

With one out left, he had a thought.

“I kept telling myself, ‘Don’t let this be your last swing,’ ” he said.

The thought worked, as he hit five consecutive home runs before making his final out. His 12 home runs were by far the most hit in any round that night, and when the other two players in the finals combined for one home run, he was the champ by a landslide.

“That was kind of cool,” Hoilman said. “I kind of took the wind out of their sails. I just sat back and watched and hoped none of them got hot. It worked out well.”

Interestingly, one of the other hitters in the finals was Georgia Tech’s Matt Skole, nephew of Hoilman’s coach at ETSU, Tony Skole.

Tony pitched that night for Hoilman, who briefly wondered about his coach’s loyalties.

“I hoped Tony was pulling for the Bucs and not the Skole family,” Hoilman said. “Of course he was. He laid them in there pretty good for me.

“When it got down to it, Coach Skole is competitive. I was his guy. That was my third year playing for him and he wanted that for the program just as much as I did. He laid them in there pretty good.”

Hoilman, a Johnson City native, was proud when ETSU’s Hagen Owenby won the College Home Run Derby in 2016. He was also proud when former Buc Dylan Pratt finished third in 2011 and Johnson City’s Will Craig was second in 2015.

“There was something to watch if you were a Johnson City baseball fan for about five years,” said Hoilman, who joined some former teammates to start RBI Tri-Cities, a state-of-the-art indoor baseball and softball training facility in Johnson City, after his playing days.

After his championship, which was televised nationally, Hoilman returned to the Cape Cod League and was chosen to participate in that circuit’s home run derby at famed Fenway Park in Boston.

Once he got comfortable hitting at the Green Monster in left field, Hoilman won again, this time with a wooden bat.

“That was awesome,” he said. “I remember watching that Home Run Derby with McGwire and Sosa. I was probably 12 and they were launching them over that thing. So getting a chance to hit there and get some out of there was really special.

“That was kind of a cool summer.”

Hoilman returned to ETSU, where he not surprisingly became the school’s all-time home run king with 75 career homers.

He was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 2011 and hit a team-record 17 home runs for the Boise Hawks in short-season Class A ball that year.

He played one more season at Class A Peoria, where he hit eight home runs.

The following year, toward the end of the 2013 spring training, he got the call nobody wants to get. The Cubs had a glut of first basemen in the system and they were releasing him.

“For anybody who’s been a baseball player your whole life, that day when they tell you it’s time to go home is really an excruciating day,” Hoilman said. “Everybody who plays baseball dreams to play in the big leagues. That was a painful experience, a painful day.”

He had some offers to join Independent League teams, but didn’t think that was the road to the big leagues, so he hung up his bat.

“I didn’t want to spend two or three years chasing an invisible ghost,” he said. “I was lucky to get as far as I got.”