A baseball bench coach is, essentially, there to support the manager.
His role is perfectly described in the title: a coach who remains on the bench, offering advice – mostly when he’s asked for it – as certain situations arise during a game. He never leaves the side of the manager, with whom he develops his most important relationship.
That’s not exactly how it worked with the Wingnuts from 2010-2012. Yes, Brian Rose was manager Kevin Hooper’s right-hand man, but Hooper had to share because all the players wanted to be around Rose, too.
Rose’s enthusiasm and joy for his job – coaching professional baseball even though he never played the game beyond junior college – was a significant part of the Wingnuts’ identity from when he joined the coaching staff in 2010 until he died from skin cancer in January at age 34.
The Wingnuts dedicated this season to him, retiring his No. 3 on opening day. They are two games from winning the league championship, one goal Rose focused on last season as he fought his illness so vigorously.
Wichita and Gary are tied 1-1 in the best-of-five American Association Championship Series, with Game 3 scheduled for Friday night at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. Rose, the Wingnuts believe, will be there in every form except physically.
“He made a point to get to know guys on an individual basis,” Hooper said. “He built, definitely, a lot of special relationships. I know the guys here that know him miss him dearly. This season is for him, and it’s been a special season so far. Hopefully we can finish it off for him.”
Rose was diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma in October 2010, and as he fought the illness without health insurance he became one of the faces of Livestrong. That organization, made famous by cyclist Lance Armstrong, provided Rose with the financial support he needed to participate in clinical trials and undergo exploratory treatments.
Rose’s resilience against a disease that claims about 85 percent of victims within five years was a trait the Wingnuts adopted. His illness had another positive effect on the team.
Since Rose’s illness essentially eliminated his sun exposure, he stayed in the dugout during pregame warmups. There, he bonded with players as they stopped between batting practice and going back to the field. In those brief moments, Rose found time for a few light-hearted comments and to preach the importance of sunscreen on hot days.
“It might have been even better for him to just sit in the clubhouse and wait for the sun to go down,” said shortstop Ryan Khoury, who said even Wichita’s first-year players are beginning to grasp what Rose meant to the team. “…You see him with a towel over his head and long sleeves and long socks, and he’s hopping around and smiling. You see how much it’s worth for him to be out there every day.
“He very well could have stayed inside, but he went out there with the long sleeves. He was always positive, making jokes and keeping everyone loose.”
Rose’s happiness was never put-on. He practiced, by example, the toughness he learned as a United States Marine in the late 1990s, and being around the game he loved was a much more effective and favorable antidote than the treatments that zapped him of his strength and led to at least one seizure.
Rose was a passionate Los Angeles Dodgers fan who memorized dialogue from former manager Tommy Lasorda’s run-ins with umpires. The Dodgers, though, were just a way to facilitate Rose’s wide-reaching love of baseball. The Wingnuts gave him a way to be involved.
“We built a friendship right away,” Hooper said. “The first time I talked to him, (I found out) he’s a baseball guy. He knows the game. He’s a baseball nut, and he didn’t play at a high level at all. He just wanted to be a part of it. He wanted to be a coach, and to learn. That was always fun for me – I like to teach.”
Rose was married to the former Lupe Ruiz in April 2011, with whom he planned to have children. Time didn’t allow that, but Rose instead found an extended family with the Wingnuts, making Wichita as much of a home as his residence in Texas. Just about everything the Wingnuts do can be traced back to some influence from Rose, including his and their motto, “Fight like hell.”
A championship might be attached to bittersweet emotions, since Rose wouldn’t be there to celebrate with the team. The Wingnuts’ knowledge, though, of how much it would have meant to Rose means they’ll be sharing the title, emotionally, with him. Just like they’ll share credit for the role he had in putting together a team that posted a league-record 68 regular-season wins.
“He would definitely be enjoying it,” Hooper said. “We talk about him all the time. His locker is still in-tact in our office. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about him.… He would have been living it up, enjoying every bit of this ride. Whether it was the postseason or not, he enjoyed every night.”