The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

May 12, 2013

Wingnuts loaded with experience

The Wichita Wingnuts don’t lack in experience.

An independent minor league team from the American Association, the Wingnuts feature four players and a manager who spent time in the majors.

“We’re very experienced,” Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. “As of right now, we have four guys on our roster with major league time and a handful of guys who played in Triple-A. You can’t teach experience.

“These days, it’s hard to find three guys with major league experience at the Triple-A level. Having those guys is like having another coach. It makes me not have to worry about the clubhouse. They police themselves.”

Wichita’s roster features designated hitter John Rodriguez, who earned a World Series ring with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006, and three former MLB pitchers in the starting rotation.

Right-hander Jon Link pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2010 and spent four seasons at the Triple-A level.

Righty Mike Burns spent three seasons (2005, 2006, 2009) in the bigs with the Houston Astros, Cincinnati Reds, Boston Red Sox and Milwaukee Brewers and is in his 12th season of professional baseball overall.

Chris Smith, another righty, played three seasons (2008-10) in the major leagues for the Boston Red Sox and the Milwaukee Brewers. He is in his 11th season of professional baseball and has registered strikeouts against the likes of Jose Bautista, Lance Berkman, Alex Gordon and Joe Mauer.

Hooper, a former Wichita State Shocker, has managed the Wingnuts since 2009. As a player, Hooper was in professional baseball for 10 years and spent parts of two seasons as a utility man for the Detroit Tigers from 2005-06.

Wichita won the Central Division with a 59-41 record last season. Rodriguez was one of the leaders with a .332 batting average and 81 RBI.

However, the Wingnuts’ young players also have been key.

“The guys in this league are hungry,” Rodriguez said.

Three players who are vying for a spot in the Wingnuts’ starting rotation are slated to pitch three innings each today. Those hurlers are lefty Kristhiam Linares, right-hander Bryce Shafer and lefty Daniel Schmidt.

“We’re excited to come to Joplin,” Hooper said. “It sounds like there will be a pretty good crowd. We’re excited. We know it’s a historic ballpark.”

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