WICHITA, Kansas – The Wichita Wingnuts have been fortunate to call Kevin Hooper their manager since shortly after the conclusion of their inaugural season. There are many different reasons for the unprecedented run of success the organization has enjoyed during the past seven summers, but Hooper has been a central figure through the entire process. During his time with the Wingnuts, Hooper had many chances to jump into affiliated baseball, but was waiting for an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. That opportunity recently came about. At a press conference held by the club on Tuesday afternoon, the Wingnuts announced that Hooper has accepted the position of Minor League Infield Coordinator with the San Diego Padres.
After seven years guiding the Wingnuts, Hooper’s legacy will include the following remarkable numbers. Since taking over in 2009 he has managed his team to 51 more victories (422) than any other skipper in the American Association. Broadening the scope to include total victories since the league began in 2006 and Hooper currently stands second in victories. The one individual he trails, St. Paul’s George Tsamis (522), has been with his team for three more seasons.
The 39-year old has amassed a record of 422-270 in American Association play, which equates to a winning percentage of .610. That number is 47 points higher than the next closest manager, Winnipeg’s Rick Forney. In addition, Hooper has been honored by his peers as the circuit’s Manager of the Year on three separate occasions, something nobody else has accomplished to this point. Under his direction the Wingnuts have won a league record five consecutive division titles and are the only club to have a North, Central, and South Division crown.
Perhaps the most revealing statistics when it comes to Hooper’s tenure in Wichita revolve around the successes of the players he has signed and instructed. 36 players have been purchased by Major League organizations with him as manager, including ten in the calendar year 2015. Three Wingnuts have been chosen as the American Association Player of the Year and three more have been voted the league’s Pitcher of the Year.
In his playing days, Hooper was a four-year star at Wichita State University, and helped the Shockers reach the College World Series in 1996. Hooper finished his career at WSU with a .358 batting average, and still ranks in the top 15 in Shocker history in runs (5th, 287), hits (11th, 310), doubles (12th, 58), triples (9th, 17), and walks (6th, 189).
When Hooper’s college career ended in 1999, he was selected by the Florida Marlins in the 8th round of the 1999 draft. Hooper shot quickly through the minor leagues, winning a championship with the Kane County Cougars of the Midwest League (A) in 2001, and then reaching the Triple-A level with the Calgary Cannons in just his third full professional season in 2002. Midway through his first season at Triple-A, Hooper amassed a 31-game hitting streak with Calgary in which he was 48 for 127 (.348). In total, the infielder played parts of seven seasons at the Triple-A level.
Hooper made his Major League debut playing in six games with the Detroit Tigers in 2005. He returned to Triple-A Toledo in 2006 and earned another call to the Big Leagues later that season. Hooper played one more year with the Mud Hens in 2007 and hit .301.
Hooper returned to his home state in 2008 to play for the Wingnuts during their inaugural season. On May 28th versus Sioux Falls, Hooper picked up his 1,000th career base hit with an infield single. Hooper went on to win the American Association batting title with a .373 average that ranked 40 points ahead of the second place finisher. The 40-point margin is the largest by a batting champion in American Association history. Hooper also stole 33 consecutive bases without getting caught, and was never thrown out by an opposing catcher in 35 steal attempts. He led all American Association shortstops with a .973 fielding percentage, and anchored an infield defense that committed the fewest errors (92) and turned the most double plays (109). The .973 mark remained a league record until 2011. Hooper collected two hits as the starting shortstop for the North Division in the American Association All-Star Game in St. Paul. He was also named to the American Association’s Postseason All-Star Team at shortstop.
Hooper now resides in Valley Center.
The Wingnuts have not hired a new manager at this point in time. Ownership and General Manager Josh Robertson are conducting a broad search for a replacement.
The ninth season of Wichita Wingnuts baseball begins on Thursday, May 19th against the Lincoln Saltdogs.