Ask just about anyone who's spent time in professional baseball what life in the minors is like and the majority will give you the same response: It's not always the glitz and glamour show some envision.
But there are some in pro ball who, for love of the game and not for the sake of fame or fortune, can't give it up. Some are consumed with the game. Baseball lifers, you can call them.
Kenny Hook is a baseball lifer. In fact, for those that know Hook intimately, it would be hard to imagine the 37-year-old without the diamond under his feet. It's a game he can't, and doesn't appear to ever want to, escape.
A native of Kansas City, Mo., Hook found his way to Crowder College after a standout prep career. It didn't take long for him to make his mark on the team, and so began a storied career in the blue and white. Despite his success, however, his eyes weren't focused on professional baseball immediately. One man helped change his outlook — legendary Roughriders coach Gary Roark.
"Crowder is a special place as far as baseball, and it really started my career and really kind of made it to where that was the first time I knew I wanted to go play pro ball," Hook said. "That's where I learned the game. I obviously have a lot of respect for the guy I played for, Gary Roark."
Hook spent the 1994-1995 seasons as a Roughrider. Under Roark's wing, Hook quickly became one of their top performers. His two seasons were so good, in fact, that he was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame.
"I had some good years at Crowder," he said.
After moving on to Armstrong Atlantic (Savannah, Ga.), Hook concluded his collegiate career at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan. Soon after the completion of his amateur career he began pursuing a new chapter of his life — one that consisted of playing professional baseball.
The vision he'd seen just three years before in Neosho became reality when he signed professionally with the Amarillo Dillas. He made his debut in 1997 playing shortstop for the Dillas and hit .267 with a double and a triple in limited games that season.
That marked the start of a long professional career in which he spent three more seasons with Amarillo. He hit .297 with six doubles, three triples and his first professional homer in 1998. His best season came in '99 when he hit .301 with 18 doubles, three triples and three homers in leading them to a Texas-Louisiana championship. He then hit .263 with 21 doubles, two triples and two homers in 2000 before finishing his time with the Dillas in 2001.
When his career as a player finally came to an end, Hook turned to the dugout. He took bits and pieces of the things he learned from coaches like Gary Roark and began implementing them from the dugout himself. His new career as a coach landed him a job at Maple Woods Community College as an assistant coach and sports training coordinator. After nine seasons as an assistant and head coach at the collegiate level, pro ball again came calling.
Page 2 of 3 - After returning to Maple Woods as head coach after a one-year hiatus in Texas, Hook latched on with his hometown Kansas City T-Bones as bench coach during the 2011 season. He soon grabbed his first managing job in the pros when he took over the reins of the club when then-manager Tim Doherty took a job with the Boston Red Sox. He now finds himself coaching alongside Kansas City Royals great Frank White, who's a member of his coaching staff.
"I'm very, very fortunate that I'm getting to manage pro ball in my hometown," Hook said. "In pro ball you're generally going to have to relocate your family or something like that, so I was just fortunate to be in a spot where I was (in the) right place, right time.
"(Doherty) got a job with the Red Sox and the ownership and management with the T-Bones thought enough of me to offer me the job, and really didn't bring in any other candidates. They were really sold that they wanted me as manager. That's a unique situation where it makes it a lot easier on your home life and your family."
His decision to take the job was made much easier in that he'd be able to spend time at home with wife, Heather, and son, Maximus, 11.
"It makes it a little less stressful on your family life when you're able to go home," Hook said. "So I consider myself very fortunate to be able to do it in my hometown."
Through it all, Hook continues to point to his time as a Roughrider for shaping the career he has now.
"I think that experience led into managing and coaching," Hook said. "That's where I learned the game. That was kind of the foundation of me getting my start and learning the game and what it takes to play at a high level."
He still keeps tabs on his alma mater, too.
"I do follow them, and after I spent some time coaching against Crowder it's kind of bittersweet (when Maple Woods plays Crowder)," he said. "I always try to make it back for the alumni game, and I was fortunate that they inducted me into the Hall of Fame. I always try to stay close to the program and get back once or twice a year.
"I still have friends that I still speak to that I played with there. I still speak to Coach Roark and some guys from the program. It's been nice to see Travis Lallemand has done an unbelievable job to get them nationally recognized every year, and they're one of the top programs not only in the state of Missouri, but nationwide."
Hook, still just 37 years old, has no idea where this new career will take him, but for now he'll continue doing what he's always done — shape his future on a baseball diamond. It's the life he's always known, the life he's chosen and the life he loves. Just as he's done thousands of times before, he'll continue saddling rides on chartered buses bound for cities and towns all over the country. No one, not even he himself, knows where the final route will lead, but he can be sure of one thing: When that bus stops, there will be a baseball diamond nearby.
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