If Wingnuts outfielder Mike Conroy were a greyhound before a race, he'd be the one who couldn't stand still in the starting gates.
He'd be the one who was never a sure bet to win, but if he did, the result would be based primarily on his determination.
He'd be desperate to catch the toy rabbit and you wouldn't be able to take your eyes off of him.
Conroy plays baseball the same way. He ignites his teammates because it's impossible not to feed off his energy. His hustle and drive are frequent contributors to difference-making rallies.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Friday, Conroy did what he's done for the previous 95 games — he never stopped moving. He helped the Wingnuts toward two run-scoring innings as Wichita defeated Amarillo 6-4 in its final home game of the season.
The Wingnuts remained tied with Gary Southshore for first place in the American Association Central and pulled to a tie with St. Paul in the race for the wild card.
Conroy's aggressiveness shouldn't be mistaken for false hustle. He plays the game intelligently, has a strong baseball acumen, and only takes the extra base or dives for a ball in left field when he's sure the play can be made. His head-first slides aren't always pretty, but they're never unnecessary.
"I respect the game of baseball and the game of baseball doesn't owe me anything or us anything," Conroy said. "We owe the game something. I just believe in treating every game like a playoff game and giving 100 percent every pitch."
Conroy drove in a run with a single in the second inning to give the Wingnuts a 2-0 lead, but his most impressive and noticeable contribution didn't lead to a run.
Conroy sprinted out of the batter's box after hitting a pop fly to third base in the fourth inning. The ball drifted away from Ron Fenwick and eventually dropped, and Conroy slid easily into second base on a ball that traveled 70 feet.
"You hope guys would feed off of him and try to do the same thing," Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. "The guy gets second base right there; if you get a base hit, that's an extra run because of his will to get to second base."
Before the game, Conroy was named the Wingnuts' 2011 Unsung Hero, recognition that's expected but perhaps unfairly given.
Many of Conroy's contributions are tangible. He's batting .304, leads the Wingnuts with 10 triples, has a low strikeout rate and plays good defense, displaying good range and a strong arm.
"He's improved a lot since he's been here," Hooper said. "Him and (hitting coach Jose Amado) have worked a lot on his hitting. He's my type of guy. Plays the game the right way."
After reaching on a walk in the sixth, Conroy stole second and took third on an error by catcher Kevin Butler before scoring on a sacrifice fly. He reached base in all four of his plate appearances.
Hooper lambasted the Wingnuts during a postgame clubhouse meeting on Thursday for a lack of effort after their second straight loss to Amarillo. Conroy probably could have taken a nap or left the room during the session, but he heeded its message as much or more than anyone in the room.
"We just needed a little kick in the (butt) to get us going a little bit," Conroy said. "Come out the next day and want to kick the crap out of someone." The Wingnuts travel to El Paso for the final four games of the season. Gary plays at St. Paul, meaning Wichita will make up ground on one of the teams each time it wins.
The wins might be easier to come by if Conroy's teammates follow his lead. It's a point Hooper has made during the season.
"I'm not trying to embarrass the guy, but I brought it up midseason," Hooper said. "To me, Mike Conroy, I'd take 22 of them."
Fenwick 3b4011Mojica 2b3101
White ss4121Horn ss4120
Cruz dh4000Rchrdsn 3b4011
Alberts rf2001Rivera 1b4110
Frnswrth 1b4010Delgado dh3230
Banda lf3110Einertson cf4012
DeLaGrz 2b3111Workman rf3010
Kain cf2110Bellorin c4000
Butler c3000Conroy lf2111
Amarillo002 001 001 — 4 Wichita111 021 000 — 6
E—Fenwick (4), Butler (9), Guerra (1). DP—Amarillo 2, Wichita 2. LOB—Amarillo 5, Wichita 8. 2B—Einertson (6). 3B—De La Garza (6). SB—Mojica (24), Delgado (7), Conroy (16). CS—Fenwick (2). S_Butler (3), Horn (14). SF_Alberts (4), Mojica (3).
Mitchell L, 5-87106544
Guerra W, 9-3863237
Dew S, 20111112
HBP—By Montalbano, Conroy; By Dew (Kain).
Umpires—Home, Joe Pascucci; First, Derek Moos; Third, Justin Post.