Top Dog

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LEWISTON – He wasn’t toeing the rubber at Hadlock Field, but Tommy Hottovy was clearly in his element in the Twin Cities area Thursday, whether he was talking to a room full of kids or business leaders.

The Portland Sea Dogs’ left-hander made three local stops yesterday as part of the team’s week-long “Hot Stove Tour.” With the 2006 Eastern League championship trophy in tow, Hottovy and club officials have been meeting and greeting fans in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Thursday’s itinerary included stops in Lisbon to talk to some kindergartners, Lewiston to speak before the Lewiston-Auburn Rotary and Auburn to meet the kids at the Boys’ and Girls’ Club of Auburn-Lewiston.

A finance major with a dual minor in economics and management when he graduated from Wichita State University, the 25-year-old Hottovy was well-armed to talk business with the Rotary at its noon luncheon. But naturally, the questions centered on baseball – such as who his hero was growing up (fellow southpaw Tom Glavine), what his best pitch is (a 12-to-6 curve ball) and whether he’d ever play for the Yankees (artfully dodged by the Kansas City native).

“We’ve been making a lot of stops and they’re all fun,” Hottovy said following the luncheon at the Ramada Inn. “We’re eating some good food and meeting some great people and getting to see a lot of Portland and the surrounding areas. These are our fans, the people that come and support us, and it’s really been a great trip.”

Hottovy, who was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the fourth round of the June 2004 draft, began the 2006 season at Single-A Wilmington before earning a promotion to Double-A Portland on July 31. He made seven regular-season starts in Portland, posting a 2-4 record and a 4.17 ERA. He struggled at first, but finished strong, tossing 21 consecutive scoreless innings on his way to being named the Eastern League Pitcher of the Week for the final week of the season. He then started two postseason games, winning Game 2 of the Northern Division Series against the Trenton Thunder.

“When I first came up to Portland, I felt like I was trying to do too much and take (the team’s) 10-game losing streak kind of on my own shoulders,” he said in a Midwest drawl. “Once I finally got within myself and proved that I could pitch at this level, I went on the scoreless-inning streak. And once you do that at that level, it’s got to give you confidence.”

Pitchers and catchers report to the Red Sox’ spring training complex in Fort Myers, Fla., in about three weeks. Hottovy said he will spend about a week to 10 days working out with all of the organization’s pitchers before moving down to the minor league camp. Hottovy hopes to make a big impression wherever he can.

“I’ve kind of been one of those guys where they know what they’re going to get out of me, but I want to make sure this year they know that I’m ready for the big spot,” he said. “I want to be the leader of the team, and I want to be the leader of the pitching staff. I want to show them that I’m ready, that I’m mature enough and that I’ve learned as I’ve gone on. I still have a long ways to go, but I feel like I can contribute to the big league squad.”

Hottovy was primarily a reliever at Wichita State, yet the 175 innings he threw between Wilmington and Portland last year ranked him third in the organization. behind Red Sox workhorses Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling. He hopes that opened some eyes in the front office.

He at least hopes that it will earn him more attention than he’s getting when he has to compete with Slugger, the team’s mascot, on the kid-oriented stops – schools, clubs and hospitals.

“They’re all over him,” he said.

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