‘A humbling experience’: Former shocker enshrined in Kansas Baseball Hall of Fame

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TUTTLE

Wichita State’s Tim Hayes is hugged by teammates Kevin Hooper and Koyie Hill after the Shockers defeated Illinois State on Friday at Eck Stadium. Hayes knocked in the winning runs for WSU. tuttle photo

Often called a “sparkplug” for the teams on which he played, Kevin Hooper arrived at Wichita State as a 129-lb freshman.

With such a small frame, he had heard the doubts and suspicions that he wouldn’t be able to produce at the collegiate level, but then-head coach Gene Stephenson saw something in Hooper that earned him a spot on the roster.

“He gave me an opportunity to play the game that I loved when many people didn’t even think I’d get the opportunity to play college ball,” Hooper said. “I will never forget, five games into my freshman year, walking into Eck Stadium and seeing my name in the lineup hitting ninth.

“I wanted to do cartwheels through the clubhouse,” Hooper said with a chuckle. “I couldn’t, but I wanted to.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Hooper was recognized for his historic accomplishments on Saturday once again, being enshrined in the Kansas Baseball Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2017.

“It’s a very humbling experience for me to be standing here, getting inducted into this prestigious hall of fame,” Hooper said during his acceptance speech. “This one really hits home, being a Kansas boy.”

He would go on to put up some of the most prolific numbers ever seen by a WSU baseball player, letting his grit and tenacity pave the way. Hooper was a fan-favorite during his time at Wichita State, both for his play and his last name.

Chants of “Hooper” would rain from the stands whenever he made a great play or stepped up to the plate.

“Every time I would walk up to the plate and hear that chant, it still sends chills through my body,” he said.

Following his playing days, Hooper decided to try something different in the sport. He became manager for the Wichita Wingnuts in 2009. Over the next seven years, he compiled a staggering 422-270 overall record and won the organization’s first league championship in 2014.

Hooper has never shied away from working hard. When it came to America’s pastime, he wanted to be remembered for one thing more than anything else: giving everything he had.

“I always want to be remembered as a guy who hustled on and off that field every time and gave everything he had and left everything on that field. This game’s been good to me. Hopefully I’ll be able to be involved in it as long as I want to.”