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EX-BUZZ HOCKING MAY START FOR TWINS

The beard quietly disappeared over the weekend.

Call it a sound move, one of those wise choices you make early in your career when you're young and trying to make an impression in a game dripping with tradition."Let's just say it was bothering me," says a smiling Denny Hocking, who shaved the beard off Saturday.

Let's just say it was priorities - and a good razor. Hocking is baseball's ultimate long shot, the odds-on favorite to be working at his hometown newspaper in Torrance, Calif., by the time he was 22.

He was drafted in the 52nd round of the June, 1989 free agent draft, an area most people don't know exists. He was the 1,314th player chosen, which is like being the last guy picked in a sandlot pickup game.

It's probably an old story to Hocking, the kid who comes out of no where and makes it into the big leagues, the shortstop who is drafted as an after thought. A name to fill a dotted line.

But Hocking, now 25 and working toward a degree in journalism, proved that numbers sometimes don't tell the whole truth. He is also one of those young players who was caught halfway between the majors and the minors by the baseball strike, one of the players left out in the cold.

He hasn't been up to the majors long enough to make the big money, but he was on the Minnesota Twins' 40-man roster, which left him out of camp earlier this spring and out of money.

"I was down to (not much money)," Hocking says. "When I get money, I spend it. My stepdad actually gave me some money to help me along."

Now that the money is coming back in, Hocking is sending some home to repay the loan.

"We were well-represented," Hocking says. "Jeff Reboulet (the Twins' player representative) kept us well-informed. I called (Kirby) Puckett and (Kevin) Tapani and they always talked to me about what was going on. I worked out (during the strike) and was ready to go at any phone call."

Now finally back in camp, Hocking has to work on staying in Minnesota all season. Depending on who you talk to, Hocking may be the Minnesota Twins starting shortstop this season. But Pat Meares, who played shortstop last season for the Twins, hopes to have something to say about it.

"It all depends on who you listen to," Hocking says. "Some say the position is open. Some say it isn't. But I'm not going to get caught up in any controversy. I'm just going to go out and do my work. If I can say to myself I'm happy with how I did at the end of the day, there's not much more I can do.

"And I've been happy every day so far."

After appearing in 15 games with Minnesota in 1993, Hocking appeared in 11 games with the Twins last season, hitting .323. That came after hitting .279 with five home runs, 57 RBIs and 13 steals at Class AAA Salt Lake City. He was also rated the best infield arm in the Pacific Coasat League by Baseball America.

"I think I'm getting a little bigger and a little stronger," he says. "And I was trying to hit for more power. But I need to get back into myself and start hitting into the hole again and doing things I've always done."

He says while he was a little intimidated in the past, he doesn't have that feeling this year in spring training.

"If Kirby Puckett hit a sharp one past me before, he might say something like, `don't get hurt' and I wouldn't say anything. Now I'll joke back with him."

Not bad for the 52nd round.