01/23/2013 11:52 AM
Through the middle of February, T-Bones manager Kenny Hook is working as an “instructor” in the California Winter League in Palm Springs. In its fourth season, the CWL has grown into an eight-team league and become a destination for players who want to get noticed by a Major League club. The instructors are either managers from one of the independent leagues or a former Major League player. Tbonesbaseball.com is featuring regular updates from Hook, as told to Matt Fulks.
As you might’ve read on tbonesbaseball.com last week, I’ve now been in California for almost a week. What an experience already! (To get this out of the way immediately, my wife has been telling me about the cold weather in the Kansas City area, so I kind of hate to admit that the weather is absolutely gorgeous here. I’ve already started peeling from getting sunburned on the first day.)
That said, it’s great to be around some really nice players and some incredible managers. I’m very fortunate and humbled to be around these guys. As a young manager it’s something that’s invaluable, so I’m approaching it like I do a lot of things in baseball: just shut up and learn.
Each of the eight teams has one or two managers, called instructors. I’m working with my old friend Ricky VanAsselberg, the manager at Grand Prairie, who is the main reason I’m here. Ricky and I have a history going back to our playing days. We’re running the Palm Springs Power team. After two days of workouts last Thursday and Friday, the managers got to pick some of their players, and then the others were placed on teams. Roger Clemens’ son, Koby, is our catcher. He’s a great, coachable kid. He doesn’t carry around that he’s Roger Clemens’ son or that he’s been to the AAA level. He’s here trying to learn how to get better, just like most of the other guys. It’s a real treat to see what type of guy he is.
We have a couple of kids from the American Association, too. Matt Garza, who started the season with us in Kansas City last year and played at Maple Woods, is one of our outfielders. So is Jake Luce from Amarillo. There are a few kids here from our league who are here to get a head start on preparing for the upcoming season. The most notable is Brian Bistagne, a middle infielder for Sioux City. Chris Cummins, who pitched at Wichita last year and played his college ball at Baker, is here. And, speaking of local connections, Taylor Gilliam, who played at Kansas Wesleyan, is one of our other outfielders.
Besides spending time with the managers, this league gives me a unique way to see players. Sure, some of these guys will get picked up by an affiliated club, but other guys will end up in an independent league. I’ve already found some guys I’m interested in. Now, spending a month with these guys, they get to see me as a manager and I get to know what kind of kids they are. So, if a guy’s talent fits what we’re building in Kansas City, I’ll know what he’s like around his teammates and coaches.
During the week there are three games each day, so two teams have each day off to practice and rest their pitchers. Then, on the weekend there are four games. We lost our first game on Saturday and then won on Sunday. Today (Monday) we’re off, so we’ll have a practice, watch a couple of games and then, probably, play some golf. (I’m sure I’ll tell you more about the golf during one of these “Kenny Korner” posts.)
Again, it’s tough to put into words just how awesome this experience has been so far. Besides the on-field work, Ricky, Tim Johnson (El Paso), Stan Cliburn (Sioux City) and I have been going to dinner together at night, or letting Ricky cook for us. (Ricky and I are roommates.) It’s neat to spend time with them and talk baseball. I look forward to seeing what I can learn during the next month.