Glory Days Magazine’s “Momversation” is a series that spotlights mothers of high school senior athletes to get their take on their son’s or daugther’s scholastic career and to provide some insight into the lives of these athletes. Glory Days publisher Dave O’Sullivan sat down Sunday with Egg Harbor Township resident Jenn Hopkins to talk about her son Ricky, one of the top catchers in the Cape-Atlantic League who has helped lead the Holy Spirit baseball team to a 12-4 record so far this season. Ricky plans to continue his baseball career this fall at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., after graduating from Holy Spirit, where he is in the top 20 in his class academically.
Sully: Tell me what Ricky was like as a kid and how he became a star baseball player.
Jenn: It’s a long road. Like every other 5-year-old he signed up for baseball. He really wasn’t much different from what he is now. He was a little man then. He’s an only child, so there was a maturity there. He was always driven and always working, working, working; practice, practice, practice. He’s always been a hard worker and always had a great work ethic.
Ricky: But I don’t think it’s work when it’s a sport you love. It was never work for me. It was always enjoyable.
Sully: At what point did you realize he was better than most of the kids out there playing? Was there a certain age when you knew he was more advanced than the other kids?
Jenn: I’d say in junior high maybe. Interestingly enough, when Ricky was younger I could have held him back (to start kindergarten later). He’s only 17 now so he’s a young senior. I could have held him back, but again, he was an only child, he was very bright, very articulate. I couldn’t hold him back academically. I didn’t know anything about sports back then. Many of his friends and kids his age got held back for various reasons, sports being one of them. Because boys mature a little bit later, a year can make a huge difference at 8 or 9 years old. He was never the tallest, he was never the fastest, he never had the highest batting average and he’s never had the strongest arm. I say that because, in my opinion, he’s always been the underdog. It wasn’t until junior high when he started to develop and we were exposed to some wonderful coaches and different teams and I feel that made a big difference.
Sully: How did he get into catching? A lot of younger kids don’t want to catch, they’d rather pitch or play shortstop.
Jenn: His Dad (Rick Hopkins Sr.) was a catcher and his grandfather was a catcher, and he started out with the same glove that his dad used, which was so cool.
Ricky: Catching is hereditary.
Jenn: When you’re younger they always move you around, but his desire always was catching. But again, there’s always somebody better than you. … I think it helped him work harder at his skills, and I think now we’ve come to the realization that if you want to be the best at what you do, you really have to work at it. It’s 12 months a year and there’s very little down time.
Sully: Did Ricky play other sports growing up?
Jenn: Yes. He played soccer when we lived in Williamstown, where he was a goalie, so there’s something to be said about that position. He was a goalie in soccer, he was a goalie in hockey. He played street hockey, which is where he got his number from. He wears No. 33 whenever possible because of (former Philadelphia Flyers goalie) Brian Boucher back in the day. When we moved (to Egg Harbor Township) when he was 7 he played hockey, but then all-stars starts to cut into baseball and things like that. He was also a very good basketball player and he played through freshman year but he realized the intense workouts that high school has for baseball would harm him if he continued to play basketball, and his first sport is baseball.
Sully: What was his personality like as a kid? Some kids are loud and rambunctious while others are quiet and withdrawn.
Jenn: Neither. He wasn’t your ‘A’ personality where he was bouncing off the walls. He was funny, was what he was. He’s just comical and has always had a lot of personality. When I skim through photos I always see photos of him doing funny things, like singing into a microphone or putting on an Eagles helmet, a lot of just funny things. He was very much like he is now. He was very calm, he lives within the lines and very rarely was he punished. I can probably count on one hand the number of times he was punished. He listens, whether it’s a teacher, coach, parent. He may not always like it, but he was never defiant and he’s never talked back to me.
Sully: Even through the teen years?
Jenn: No. I think the hardest year was sophomore year. I find sophomore year the most difficult because you have a core group of kids you hang out with, then you get into high school, and most of them remain still just like you through freshman year. I’m not really sure what it is about sophomore year, but there’s a definite fork in the road and you have choices to make. Do you want to stand out? Or do you want to go with the rest of the crowd? That was the most difficult time for me as a parent. I can only instill in him as a parent to do the right thing, I’m not with him 24 hours a day. He has to answer for himself and his actions have consequences and hopefully he makes the right decision. He fought me a little bit about “the crowd.” There were a rough couple of months, but then baseball started.
Sully: Did you and (Rick Sr.) have a parenting policy in terms of when he became a teenager?
Jenn: His dad and I are divorced and we’re both remarried, so Ricky lives with my husband Jeff and I, and we’re very blessed his dad, Rick, and I have a wonderful relationship, and I think we are an example to divorced families. We do a lot of things together. There’s always been that open line of communication, but at the end of the day he lives here. We try to have the same rules. Together we have the same core values. We expect him to do well in school. We expect him not to get into trouble and to make the right decisions. There are high expectations. I’m a little over protective. Yes, he’s not allowed to have more than one passenger in the car, and yes he has to be home by 11 p.m. He has a lot going for him, in my opinion, his whole future, and one stupid mistake — being at a party with things that shouldn’t be there whether he’s partaking or not — could ruin him, so he has to be accountable. So yes, I do probably remind him a little more than he’d like to hear. But that’s my job as a parent.
Sully: A lot of kids nowadays are involved in families that have divorced parents. How important is that for you as a parent to communicate with a teenager who has to deal with that?
Jenn: Everyone’s situation is different, but we made a conscious effort. Yes, we are divorced, but we are still family. Our expectations for how we were going to bring him up whether we were married or divorced were the same. We never put Ricky in the middle. We make decisions together. (Rick) needs to be involved in everything we do. Divorce is a part of our society today. It’s a shame, I’ve seen some kids who really have a hard time with their parents divorcing. It’s hard.
Sully: On a lighter note, what’s the most embarrassing thing Ricky has ever done?
Jenn: He’s always been a really good kid. Although, he cursed once. And it was on Mother’s Day.
Ricky: Oooooooh, this is a good one. We were in Aberdeen for a tournament and there was a play at the plate. As (the baserunner) was passing me he kind of shoved my head out of the way.
Jenn: As Ricky is walking to the dugout (the runner) takes his hand and shoves (Ricky’s) head, and out of surprise Ricky shouts, “What the F—!”
Ricky: I got all up in his face.
Jenn: I see Ricky, (the other player), the coaches flew out of the dugout, the umps … I never heard that word out of his mouth out of anger. He knows better than to be cocky or start spouting off, but it was a knee-jerk reaction.
Ricky: I got in his face after he pushed me, and I don’t care if you’re four feet tall or eight feet tall, that’s my plate. So I got in his face and he shoved me, and that’s why he got he got ejected.
Jenn: Then the next thing I know the coach got ejected and the parents got ejected, so there was nobody left. Happy Mother’s Day to me! We still laugh about that today.
Sully: What do you think of Ricky now as his high school career is coming to an end and he’s going to be going off to college?
Jenn: I cry a lot. He’s my first and last, so for me it’s bittersweet. We have a really close relationship. I enjoy his company. I’m really proud of him, not only as a ballplayer, but as a young man and as a student. When I look at old photos and where he is today, I’m overwhelmed with emotion. He’s had an incredible senior year, he’s going to an amazing academic college and he’s going to be playing baseball. What more could a parent ask for?
Sully: As a mother, what do you hope for him to accomplish or become in the future?
Jenn: I’d like for him to learn how to do laundry! Haha. No, I’d like for him to do well in college academically, first and foremost, and I hope and pray he lights it up on the field. I hope he accomplishes whatever he wants to accomplish. It’s not what I want for him, it’s what he sees for himself and whatever his goals and dreams are, I want him to achieve them. I just want him to be happy.