In the top of the sixth inning, Jeff Hoover called for a conversation with the umpire that potentially changed the City League baseball race.
The Wichita West High School coach pointed out a flaw in the Northwest lineup. Although listed correctly on the handout rosters, the lineup card had No. 1 Tyler Hicks’ and No. 2 Grant Bridwell’s numbers flipped.
“They were hitting out of order,” Hoover said. “I just kind of caught it.”
The Grizzlies were charging back from a two-run deficit. With two outs on a 2-2 call, Bridwell slapped a double to left field that scored Hicks to tie it with heavy-hitting junior Walt Thompson coming to the plate.
As Bridwell celebrated at second, Hoover was already at home calling for the umpire.
The umpires met for about 10 minutes, eventually ruled Bridwell out at second and stripped a run off the board. The decision sent one half of the stadium into a fervor, and six outs later, West kept its undefeated start to 2019 with a 5-4 win.
“If we’d do it, people would call it,” Hoover said. “As they should.”
Hoover didn’t make any friends Monday night. But he said he is just fighting for his kids — something he has become used to.
About a year ago, Hoover’s son, Creighton, started his first season as a West baseball assistant coach. After spending time at Pratt Community College and moving on to Grambling State, he came home to Wichita.
The West assistant job came open three seasons ago. Creighton said he snapped at it, but there was a hangup.
By City League rule, coaches were not allowed to be hired under a veil or even potential veil of nepotism.
“Somebody had to sign off on me coaching under a direct family member, even though I was the most qualified for the job,” Creighton said.
Creighton said he and Jeff went to work. They petitioned, filled out paperwork, and “I’m sure they got tired of hearing from us,” Creighton said. Finally the rule was abolished. Creighton said much like what happened in the Northwest game Monday night, few friends were made in the process.
“It’s that ‘make no friends’ mentality,” Creighton said. “People like to say, ‘It’s win at all costs,’ but it isn’t. We are invested in our kids, and they are invested in us. We will do anything for them to be successful, just like I’d like to think they would do anything for us.”
Since joining the West staff, Creighton’s work is mostly with the Pioneer pitchers. A former Division I pitcher himself, he adds a level of experience few coaches have and can relate with the kids more than most.
Last year, his expertise showed in the Pioneers’ regional championship game at Derby. Although the West bats never hit a beat, falling 1-0 in a no-hitter, the arms were dominant against one of the top hitting lineups in the Wichita area.
Last season was the first since 2015 the Pioneers have missed the Kansas Class 6A state tournament. With smooth pitchers in the lineup like senior Andres Perez-Martinez, senior Payton Tinkler and sophomore Garryn Plummer.
Although West is young, with only four seniors on the roster, it is scrappy and will contend in the City League and regional tournament looking to get back to state.
Jeff has been at West for a half decade. He has instilled a winning culture where there was nothing. He said he never expected his son to join him but that he has been a welcome addition to the staff.
“I was really worried about losing him to the Ark Valley or a college program,” he said. “And we will. But honestly, it’s the coolest experience a coach can have.”
The pair grew up at Western Athletic Field, the Pioneers’ home, playing youth games. Jeff coached his son then, and Creighton said he remembers playing for his dad. When he talks with former teammates, they say the same thing.
It is much of the same now at West.
“Guys that maybe don’t have somebody or maybe they do have somebody, but it’s not who they need, he is there,” Creighton said. “He is who they need.”
The players connect with Creighton, but former players say he can be harder on them than Jeff. At the same time, he is always the one to bring them back up, Jeff said.
Jeff said though it is an option, he didn’t bring his son on staff to eventually take over the program, and Creighton said he didn’t come to West to pry it away. The pair works in tandem for the same goal.
Jeff said they butt head from time to time, but it is for the right reasons. He wants to win state, he said, but he wants to move kids to college more. Creighton said the same thing.
“Whether I’m the head coach or the C-team coach, that is the goal,” Creighton said. “It’s about how many guys can I get to that next level and help them fulfill what my dream was at one point. My dad could coach here until he’s 106. I’ll stand right there and do what I can for these guys.”