The Pine Belt has had its fair share of baseball greats whether it be on the high school level or the college level.
Southern Miss history has had its fair share of memorable players and season one of which is Jarrett Hoffpauir who owns the single-season records for hits and RBIs.
“(Hitting) is just kind of one of those things,” Hoffpauir. “I started playing ball at a young age. I always enjoyed hitting and what hitting entailed. It kind of built from there. It started when I was young and never stopped.”
Hoffpauir’s career and baseball foundation started in his native town of Vidalia, Louisiana.
His father, Johnny, coached at Vidalia High School for 36 years.
“You could tell from a very early age that he had a special talent a lot like his brother,” Johnny said. “Him and his brother played a lot of games in the backyard and were always at our practices. Jarrett was a big follower of Josh.
“The biggest surprise for me was the power that Jarrett showed for a youngster. He wasn’t real tall, but he had about the quickest wrists through the swing that I have seen. He just generated a lot of power. It was natural, but he had a good work ethic.”
Hoffpauir looked up to his older brother Josh, who also played at Southern Miss for a season and was later selected in the MLB draft.
“His brother worked with him a lot and of course he was around my practices when he was a young kid, but you don’t just make that kind of talent you have to be born with it,” Johnny said. “In high school, his brother set every record we had here, and I didn’t think they would be broken. Well in four, five years later Jarrett had broken a lot of those records.”
While Hoffpauir credits both of his parents for his love of sports, Vidalia High School’s 1996 baseball season played a critical role in his love for the game.
“I was always around ballparks as a kid,” Hoffpauir said. “My dad getting to coach me was a fun opportunity and a blessing there as well to get pushed by your dad. My brother’s senior year I was the bat boy and they won the state championship that year. They were the underdogs and seeing them run through the playoffs and win. Seeing all the sacrifices and things it takes to win was a good eye-opener for me.”
In that season Vidalia won the Louisiana 2A state championship in the school’s first championship appearance.
“Josh was Jarrett’s hero,” Johnny said. “His brother pitched in the state championship game that we won. That probably opened up Jarrett to it. I was always a little worried that when you have to follow in a brother’s footsteps you kind of worry how they would handle it and Josh set some good footsteps. When Jarrett came up, it was absolutely no competition with what Josh had done.
“I’m sure watching that ’96 team, how they played as a team, and how they played the game right, gave their best effort it had to have an affect on a youngster. I’m certain that was a defining moment for Jarrett. I remember the little rascal sitting on the bucket next to me during the game and totally into the game like he was the starting shortstop.”
And indeed, Hoffpauir made his own steps.
In his high school senior season in 2001, Hoffpauir led the state of Louisiana with 16 home runs, had a batting average of .600, and had struck out only twice. Hoffpauir was named the Class 2A Player of the Year. Notably, the only other player to strike out twice in a season was his brother Josh.
In his senior year of high school, Hoffpauir’s brother transferred from Northwestern State to Southern Miss which is how he was introduced to Hattiesburg.
“(Jarrett) was part of that youth movement in 2002 when we decided to go back young and just kind of rebuild everything,” Southern Miss baseball coach Scott Berry said. “2001 was not a good year and we had a losing record. That was my first year at Southern Miss in ’01 as an assistant. After that year, we decided to move heavy on the high school kids.”
According to Berry, who was an assistant hitting coach at the time, described Hoffpauir’s presence in the plate as simply an impressive sight.
“He just attacked the baseball,” Berry said. “He didn’t see a fastball that he didn’t like. If it was straight, he was on it. He was not afraid of that pressure moment that a lot of people are afraid of when the game is on the line. He really thrived in that atmosphere and wanted to be that guy to deliver that clutch hit when you needed it. His bat speed was way ahead of the analytical charts that we see today that measures everybody swing.”
In his freshman season, Hoffpauir hit .320 while driving in 32 RBI, but despite Southern Miss finishing with a 36-22 record the Golden Eagles missed on the NCAA tournament. On that day, Hoffpauir made a vow to former head coach Corky Palmer.
“After my freshman year, we missed the regional,” Hoffpauir said. “We were sitting there and watching all the names pop up and our name didn’t pop up. We were all kind of bummed out. We had a bunch of young guys on the team, but I had a conversation with Coach Palmer. I walked up to him and I promised him that next year that wouldn’t happen. It was kind of one of those things we came in with that chip on our shoulder, with that hunger and that memory of not getting your name called.”
The next year, the Golden Eagles hosted its first-ever regional after winning the C-USA conference tournament.
“Hosting the regional was probably my highlight,” Hoffpauir said. “It was incredible. The crowds and Baylor were coming to town. We knew they were good, and they ended up going to the World Series that year. The crowds were incredible. Getting to play and look up and see that there isn’t a seat available and there is nowhere to stand. It’s loud and you have that home field advantage. It was just a blast.”
But in his junior season, Hoffpauir etched his name into the history books with his record-breaking 109 hits and 92 RBI while striking out just eight times.
“Every game you played you were anxious to see the box score at the end just to see his impact of the outcome of the game,” Berry said. “There were not many very 0-fers in his game at that time. He was always going to deliver a hit. It was pretty seldom that he would miss his pitch when he got it and barreled it up. He was one of those guys whose outs were hard.”
Although it’s a proud achievement for Hoffpauir, in that season his goal was to just help his team win.
“For me, I was one of those players that played hard every day,” Hoffpauir said. “I played for my teammates and all those numbers took care of themselves. You go back at the end of the year and check your stats. That’s the kind of guy I was. I didn’t care what I was hitting throughout the year and I didn’t care how many hits I had. I was doing what I can to help our team win games.”
As a result, Hoffpauir was drafted in the sixth round of the MLB draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. Hoffpauir made his debut in 2010 on the road against Cincinnati in which Hoffpauir delivered a key RBI.
“For me the first game, I didn’t play,” Hoffpauir said. “I got there in the fifth or sixth game in St. Louis. In the next series, we went to Cincinnati which was fortunate, and my family had time to get there. I got to pinch-hit. We were down two and my first at-bat and I got walked in four straight pitches which was probably a good thing because of how bad I was shaking, and I got to see a few pitches before I swung at one. In my second at-bat, there were runners at second and third base and slipped one over the shortstops head and I tied the game. We won the game in extra innings.”
Hoffpauir moved back and forth between Triple-A and the Major Leagues, but his hitting again left a mark in his career. In 2010, Hoffpauir hit for the cycle twice in a span of a month.
“I had never done it in my life, and I did it within a (month),” Hoffpauir said. “It was pretty amazing. It was weird because the first time it was kind of surreal, but a few weeks later I was a double away from the cycle. I walked into the batter’s box and it was the only time in my career that I knew I was going to hit a double.”
But Hoffpauir stepped away from baseball after the business side of the game left him somewhat bitter towards the game. After a year off, a head coaching job at Delta Charter School opened, which was 10 minutes away from his hometown.
“Back in my hometown a new school opened up, Delta Charter School and they were looking for a baseball coach,” Hoffpauir said. “I had a friend who was head of the board there. I interviewed for it and they offered me the job and I took it. I moved back home for five years and I really enjoyed it. I loved the kids, I loved what the job entailed but I always knew I wanted to get back to Hattiesburg.”
After five years at Delta Charter, Hoffpauir was hired by his current job at Presbyterian Christian School as the head baseball coach. For Hoffpauir, his love for the game was easily rekindled through his time as being a high school coach.
“The pureness of baseball in high school is big for me,” Hoffpauir said. “Kids are playing for the right reasons. It’s fun teaching them the game and what life lessons come along with it. I fee; like I have been blessed enough and had the opportunity to play at a high level and so it’s my pleasure to pass that information along.”