11/26/2012 8:17 PM
Kenny Hook watches his team from the first-base concourse. (Photo by Matthew Hicks.)
Shortly before the final home stand in 2012, manager Kenny Hook was suspended for three games for inadvertently bumping an umpire during an argument in Sioux City. The third game of Hook’s suspension was served when the club returned home for a series against Fargo-Moorhead.
Although everyone would have preferred Hook being on the field with the T-Bones, the suspension gave tbonesbaseball.com a unique look at the game as Matt Fulks shadowed Hook throughout the night. It was the first time Hook has walked around CommunityAmerica Ballpark during a game.
As the game is about to start, Hook is walking from the T-Bones’ clubhouse, located beyond the hill in right field, around to the pavilion on the left-field porch.
“As we get close to the end of your first season as manager, has it been all you thought it would be?” he’s asked.
“I’d say things have gone pretty smooth for the most part,” Hook said. “This job is a large combination of on the field, in the clubhouse, and then a lot administrative. I’m sure most people don’t think about that aspect; I know I didn’t. But as a manager in this league, you’re largely responsible for deals getting made – signing players and trading players. On top of that, there are certain rules about how the roster needs to be put together in terms of how many veterans you can have. But to be sitting here with the possibility of finishing above .500 and in the hunt for a playoff spot is exciting and rewarding.”
Hook meets up with general manager Chris Browne and squeezes in around fans watching the game from atop the left-field wall.
“This is a great view!” Hook says. “It’d be a great place to watch a game because you can see everything.”
Hook walks around the left-field area and outside the gate, talking with fans. Some are surprised to see him.
As the inning starts, Hook settles back into his spot at the left-field wall.
On the field, Kansas City starting pitcher Shaun Garceau jams the inning’s lead-off hitter, Jon Gaston, but Gaston muscles the ball over the wall, just a few feet from Hook.
“I have no idea how that got out,” Hook said with a tone of both appreciation and frustration. “It looked like Garceau threw it in a good spot. Maybe the ball is just carrying tonight.”
In the bottom of the inning, as Hook makes his way slowly on the concourse toward home plate, the T-Bones get runners on second and third with no outs. They got one run in the inning, thanks to Devin Goodwin, who poked an RBI single to left, scoring Lee Cruz.
“That was a great opportunity to get some runs across,” said Hook. “Obviously you want to get more than one in that situation, especially against this club, but we’ll take the one. Goody (Goodwin) has been a surprisingly solid bat for us this year.”
Standing on the concourse behind home plate, Hook pauses and looks around the stadium.
“Man, this is a great crowd tonight, especially since it looked like rain earlier,” he says. “We really do have great fans here.”
Hook continues to watch Garceau with the eye of a manager; not of a fan.
“He’s throwing hard tonight,” Hook said. “I’ve seen him hit the low 90s a couple of times, but he’s been getting 89 consistently. With his stuff and his confidence, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in affiliated ball next season.”
Hook’s tour of game time at CommunityAmerica Ballpark takes him to the Meat Locker, the team store located near the stadium’s main gate. In the shop, Hook sees that former Royals trainer Mickey Cobb’s book is being sold. When Chris Browne told him that Cobb would be at the stadium the next night to sign copies of the book, Hook lit up.
“I have a Mickey Cobb story for you,” he started. “When I was in high school, I think it was after my sophomore year, Larry Stewart, who became known as Kansas City’s “Secret Santa” a few years ago, wanted to put together a traveling baseball team with some of the area’s top players. Here’s how I found out that I made the team: he chartered a bus to drive around and pick up all of the players. Darrell Porter was our manager and Mickey Cobb was our trainer. We flew to different tournaments around the country, thanks to Mr. Stewart’s generosity. It was a blast. I can’t wait to see Mickey (on Saturday night) to talk about that experience.”
Hook walks down the first-base side of the concourse, talking with more fans.
After Cruz commits an error that allows a Fargo runner to reach, Nic Jackson, one of the league’s premier hitters steps up to the plate.
“Nic is my league MVP this season,” says Hook. “He’s such a great player and a great person. This is an interesting match up. Garceau will challenge him, but I’d much rather have the bases empty.”
One pitch later, Jackson grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. Garceau then got down to the next batter, Eric Campbell, with a 3-1 count.
“The dreaded three and one count,” Hook growled.
On cue, Campbell launched the next pitch over the centerfield wall.
“See what I mean?”
Fargo took a 7-1 lead after scoring three runs in the inning.
During the bottom of the fifth, on his way to the owner’s box, Hook meets Margaret, one of the ushers who guards the steps to the suite level.
“Why aren’t you down on the field?” she asks Hook as soon as she sees him.
“I got suspended,” Hook answered. “I accidentally bumped an umpire while we were in Sioux City.”
“I’m sure it wasn’t your fault.”
“No, not at all,” Hook said with a grin.
Hook then makes a stop at the press box, where he meets Lou Spry, who’s been the T-Bones official scorer for nearly a decade. In June, Spry announced his retirement from the NCAA College World Series after 45 years.
Because of his job as official scorer, Spry never goes down to the field, and Hook doesn’t have a need to go to the press box, so the two men haven’t met before now. As Hook walks around the corner, a T-Bones player gets a clean base hit.
“So how do you score that?” Hook, who can be sarcastic at times, asks Spry.
Spry, who loves to joke around but takes his job as scorer with the seriousness of a parochial school English teacher, stares at Hook for a moment, dumbfounded by the question.
“Well, did you give him a base hit on that?” the unrecognized Hook asks Spry.
“Yes, of course,” said Spry, obviously still shocked by the question.
“Lou, I’m Kenny Hook.”
A big grin comes across Spry’s face.
“I haven’t had the pleasure. I’m Lou Spry.”
The two men talk about philosophies and rulings that Spry has made during the season.
“You know, for the most part,” Hook concedes, “I know why you’ve ruled the way you have. I can’t really disagree with how you’ve ruled.”
As the half inning comes to an end, Hook and Spry exchange closing pleasantries and Hook, along with his wife Heather, heads to the owner’s box.
As Kenny and Heather make it to the owner’s suite, they’re greeted by the Ehlerts – John, the owner, and his wife, plus Adam, the T-Bones’ president, and his wife. The couples spent the next three innings talking about everything from on-field strategy, to league meetings, to anecdotes from other leagues.
“Under the circumstances, although I obviously wish I was on the field, the night gave me a different perspective of the game and the feel of our stadium,” Hook said afterwards. “I’m thankful that I got to meet some of our season ticket holders, other fans, and operations people. I’m so separated during the season that it was nice to meet them and see what they do. Walking around this stadium, it’s obvious that a lot of people care deeply about this team and organization.”