Wichita Wingnuts

Wingnuts, Colton happy to reunite

Chris Colton doesn't have a negative word to say about much of anything. He's had at least three chances to complain about his baseball career in the last two years but passed up all of them. The first was when he was traded from the Wingnuts to River City of the Frontier League following the 2008 season.

"I was like, 'Whatever happens, happens,' " Colton said. "I'm going to go wherever I go and do the best that I possibly can. Not only statistics-wise, but as a person, as well as a teammate."

OK, no negativity so far. How about his 2008 season with the Wingnuts, when he was a frequent target of criticism from emotional manager Kash Beauchamp?

"I love Kash as a manager," Colton said.

Was Colton at least bitter when he received a telephone call from Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper this offseason, when Hooper asked Colton to return to Wichita?

"I was really tickled when I got the call to come back here," Colton said. "I was happy and fortunate to be a part of this once again."

So Colton, pondering retirement at 27 after failing to break back into affiliated baseball, consulted with his wife about staying in the game. She gave him her blessing, and now Colton is replacing Nick Blasi in center field, the same man who replaced him in 2009.

Don't mistake Colton's good-guy demeanor for indifference. He's plenty competitive, and part of him was happy to show Hooper that the manager picked the wrong centerfielder.

Colton hit 18 home runs in a Windy City playoff run last season while Blasi struggled offensively and retired during the offseason.

There are two sides to Colton — one is the fun-loving cut-up who keeps his teammates laughing off the field.

"I've got the ability to make guys act stupid around me," Colton said. " You've got to have a guy in the clubhouse who's crazy and who makes people happy and loosen up a little bit. I think I'm that type of guy."

Then there's Colton when he steps on the field. All business. In batting practice he works on taking good routes to fly balls. Colton's instincts, speed and arm strength make him someone Hooper, a former major league player, believes could play center field at baseball's highest level.

"He's one of the best defensive outfielders I've ever played with," Hooper said. "And a lot of these guys say, 'Well, that's saying a lot, Hoop.' And it sure is. He takes a lot of pride in it."

Both aspects of Colton's personality speak to his leadership ability. He'll joke with teammates because he knows taking the game too seriously can be a player's downfall.

His positive attitude has helped him survive in the game even though he was let go by the Seattle Mariners after six seasons in their organization.

"Sometimes you're going to struggle," Colton said. "But what you've got to learn to do is not be like a roller coaster, where if you go 0 for 4 you're down and if you go 4 for 4 you're up. You always have to keep a straight line no matter what goes on."

It's just as important for Colton to show young players when the time for joking is over. That's how he has earned a reputation as a player who goes all out no matter the situation.

"I take it upon myself to take pride in everything I do because I don't want to take anything for granted," Colton said. "When I step on the field, it's like I become a different person because I play so hard. I love it and I've still got passion for it."

Wingnuts open exhibition play — Wichita begins its three-game exhibition schedule tonight at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium against Emporia State. The Wingnuts play the Northern League's Kansas City T-Bones at Lawrence-Dumont Saturday and Sunday.