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Published: Saturday, 5/21/2005

Hooper has Hens dancing


For the last month or so, the Mud Hens have tapped a secret source of power for their early season success.

The team flicks the switch on its power source just before it takes the field. When the speakers at Fifth Third Field start blaring Zombie Nation s Kernkraft 400, several Mud Hens stand shoulder-to-shoulder, link arms, and form a circle that dances around infielder Kevin Hooper.

Should we call it The Toledo Tango? The Mud Hen Mambo? The Hooper Hip-Hop?

Probably not. But whatever it s called, this victory dance certainly has provided plenty of juice as the Hens push for the best record in the International League; currently they stand one-half game behind Buffalo for that honor.

Hooper declined to name the teammates involved in the victory dance I ll just say that I m in the center of it, he said but he said the purpose is to get the entire team pumped for that particular day s game.

Even if guys aren t involved in it, they re involved in it, Hooper said of the ritual. Everyone likes to watch it. It just kind of gets everyone going gets everyone loose.

We have a blast with it. Everyone in the dugout has a good time with it.

Hens hitting coach Leon Bull Durham said the cha-cha circle may tap into some mystical powers.

You ve got a veteran guy, Hooper, surrounded by all the youth, Durham said. It s about getting motivated, finding your rhythm. We had some pitchers involved, but they got kicked out because this is something that involves rhythm. And basically they don t have rhythm.

Durham said the victory dance, which also is used on the road, has drawn stares from opponents.

We ve got coaches from other teams looking at us like, What are they doing? he said. But after the anthem we call on Hoop to get in the mix and get it going.

Durham said the real purpose of the victory dance is simple: to remind the players to have some fun.

It brings joy, it lets the guys smile a little bit, he said. And then we go to work.

PITCHING PRETTY: Nelson Cruz posted a quality start a start in which a pitcher throws six or more innings and allows three earned runs or fewer last night, giving the Mud Hens a string of five straight quality starts.

In May Toledo s starters have 11 quality starts, a 4.29 ERA and a deceiving 6-4 record. Two of those losses came when the Hens were shut out.

The bullpen also has been sterling this month, posting a 6-3 record with six saves and a 2.55 composite ERA.

THREE-DOT DATA: Jack Hannahan left yesterday s game in the sixth inning after pulling a hamstring running to third. Parrish said the extent of the injury isn t known.

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