Ryan Hinson made an offer to Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper to return to the team before Hinson knew for sure that he was ready to fulfill it.
When a couple other options for Hinson fell through, he asked Hooper last week if the Wingnuts still had a spot for him. Hooper said they did, which was only step one in bringing Hinson back for a third year in Wichita.
Step two was Hinson making the decision, which he ultimately did. The left-handed Hinson made his 2013 debut Saturday night after winning a combined 20 games in his first two seasons with the Wingnuts.
"I knew that they had a good team coming in, and I knew that they had veteran guys coming back," said Hinson, who turned 26 a week ago. "That’s why I asked him, ‘Is it full?’ just to be nice about it, respectful about it. (Hooper) was great about it. He offered me advice, he told me what he thought, he didn’t pressure me to come back.
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"He said, ‘If you don’t come back I’ll be a little (ticked) off,’ ” Hinson joked. "But other than that, he was great with it, and I really respect him for that. I consider that a true friend, somebody who is really honest and respectful of the situation, and also giving me the opportunity to come back here."
To call Hinson’s route back to Wichita a circuitous one would imply that he made several stops before returning to the Wingnuts. He didn’t, but he might as well have because of the time it took before his landing spot was determined.
Hinson originally seemed destined for the Mexican League, but he had issues receiving a visa in a timely fashion, which prevented him from playing there. His next best option was the Atlantic League, a higher-level independent league that features many former major leaguers.
By that time, the Atlantic League’s rosters were set, and unfamiliarity with Hinson kept those teams from clearing a spot for Hinson the way Hooper did. Hinson’s third choice, though, might be the best one. He returns to a pitching staff that now features two ex-MLB pitchers and to a team with its sights on a championship.
"Coming (somewhere else), you never know what to expect," Hinson said. "But when you come to Wichita, you’re comfortable, you know … everybody. We have basically the whole infield back. There’s a couple new faces, but at the same time that never stopped us before. We all get along.
"Coming back to Wichita, I got that Mexico opportunity by pitching here in Wichita during winter ball, which turned out to be great. If I continue to do well, I’ll have another shot to go somewhere else — go to Mexico, go to the Atlantic League at the end of the year, or maybe affiliated ball, who knows?"
Emotional night — Hooper served several roles on Thursday’s opening night thanks to a pregame ceremony dedicated to the memory of Brian Rose, the former Wingnuts bench coach who died Jan. 31 after a three-year battle with melanoma.
Hooper gave a speech during the ceremony, comforted Rose’s wife, Lupe, during a video that highlighted Rose’s time in Wichita, then had to channel those emotions to prepare his team when the players were just as emotional.
Wichita’s players were bound to respond to the touching tribute either by using it as inspiration to play well, or by being deflated as they endured the sadness of reliving Rose’s death.
The Wingnuts accomplished the former, beating Kansas City 8-0 and giving credit to Rose’s spirit afterward.
"They’ve got a lot of respect for that man," Hooper said Thursday. "Everybody knew what tonight was about. We’ve known for a long time that it was his night, and he was with us tonight, that’s for sure. He’s happy, I know that. That was outstanding. A good tribute beforehand."
Quick work — In his Wingnuts debut Thursday, it was difficult to tell that Jon Link had spent almost all of his career as a relief pitcher, and not just because he pitched seven scoreless innings in his third start since 2006.
Link also had the tempo of a starter, pitching from the windup and spending little time between pitches. Relief pitchers are often accustomed to coming in with runners on base and varying their timing to keep them off-balance.
Thursday’s game started about half an hour late because of Rose’s ceremony, and Link seemed determined to make up that time.
"That’s the way I pitch all the time," Link said. "Get the ball and go, get it and go. You’ve got to keep your fielders in a good rhythm, too, that’s the most important thing. Me being a groundball pitcher, having a good sinker, you’ve got to have those guys on their toes all the time."