Loading…
Friday, August 01, 2014
Current Weather
Loading Current Weather....
Published: Tuesday, 7/14/2009

No place like home for Hooper

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

When a professional baseball team says it has a home game, it's really a misnomer.

A "home" game means your team has the last bats, not that you are playing close to home. Need proof? Among the current Mud Hens, only Don Kelly lived within 250 miles of Toledo while growing up, and only pitching coach A.J. Sager and trainer Matt Rankin live in Toledo year-round.

So when former Hen Kevin Hooper had a chance to play games that were truly "home" games, he took it.

Last year Hooper was a member of the Wichita Wingnuts in his hometown of Wichita, Kan. This year Hooper is having great success in his first year as the team's manager, leading the Wingnuts to the first-half title in the North Division of the American Association.

After leaving the Hens following the 2007 season, Hooper signed with Houston when the Astros offered him a chance to earn a spot in the big leagues. But later in the offseason Houston signed Mark Loretta, and Hooper knew his chances of earning an Opening Day roster spot in the big leagues were slim.

"I tip my cap to Houston, because they didn't have to give me my release when I asked for it," Hooper explained. "But they did. Then [Wichita general manager] Josh [Robertson] called me, and he told me to think about playing here [in Wichita].

"Our second child was due last summer, and it was a chance to be home. After all the things I had put my wife and my family through, this was the right choice.

"It was a great way for me to go out - I played at home, and I had a blast."

Hooper had a big season with the Wingnuts, an independent-level team, winning the American Association batting title with a .373 mark. With 34 stolen bases and a .973 fielding percentage at shortstop, he was an easy choice for the American Association's mid and postseason all-star teams.

Hooper said he enjoyed his 10-year career as a pro, which included two stints with the Tigers.

"I had a blast playing baseball," he said. "I had four or five offers to play Triple-A this year, but I wouldn't do it unless I had a chance to go to the big leagues.

"I wish I would have had a better chance to make a big-league roster in spring training, but I have no regrets."

Despite his fine effort last season, Hooper knew he would begin the transition to managing in 2009.

"Detroit wanted me to interview for a job in 2008, but I wanted to play one more year," he said. "I have known for the last four or five years that I was going to manage someday."

When the Wingnuts fired last year's manager, Robertson - the brother of Tigers pitcher Nate Robertson - asked Hooper to consider taking over as manager, and Hooper quickly agreed.

Hooper's Wingnuts were a success in the first half of this season, posting a 32-16 record to win the North Division by nine games over St. Paul.

"My body enjoys managing," Hooper said. "It was hard all the time to go 100 percent, and I gave everything I had.

"But I also like managing because you are more involved in the game. On every pitch, you're totally involved in everything. When you're playing, if you come into the dugout for an inning where you aren't hitting, you can take a break.

"That isn't the case when you're managing. Plus, you always have to be thinking ahead, and that's a good challenge for me. I enjoy it."

Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish said he isn't surprised Hooper is having success in his first season as a manager.

"He made my job here a lot easier," Parrish said. "He knew situations, and he'd have the infield in the proper position without me having to say anything.

"Once you went over things, he knew what to do."

But Parrish also said Hooper was as valuable off the field as he was on it.

"When he was here, he was a leader of the club," Parrish said. "He didn't hit home runs, but people looked up to him because of his ability to bridge the gap - between nationalities, different positions, everybody."

Hooper said he developed his managing style from a number of different sources.

"I've taken bits and pieces from everyone I've played for," he explained. "Some of it has to do with how you play the game, but managing is about more than just that.

"Some of it is how you run a game, and some is how you run batting practice. Some of it is how you go about your business and how you handle people. And I've tried to add my own spice to all the things I've learned."

Hooper said his goal is to become a major-league manager, so he knows he eventually will have to manage in affiliated baseball to reach that goal. But for now Hooper said his only concern is with the Wingnuts.

"[What I'll do] next year doesn't concern me one bit," he said. "I'll enjoy the time I have with my wife and my two girls, and I'll enjoy this year as it happens.

"I'll take next year as it comes."

Contact John Wagner at:

jwagner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6481.



Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. If a comment violates these standards or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, click the "X" in the upper right corner of the comment box to report abuse. To post comments, you must be a Facebook member. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.