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Meet the new boss: Kenny Hook takes the reins as Spokane Indians manager

Spokane Indians manager Kenny Hook photographed before practice on Tuesday  at Avista Stadium. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Indians manager Kenny Hook photographed before practice on Tuesday at Avista Stadium. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

For the third year in a row, the Spokane Indians have a new manager.

Kenny Hook, Indians hitting coach in 2016, returns to Spokane as manager, replacing Kenny Holmberg, who returned to the Rangers as their minor league infield coordinator.

Hook, 43 and a native of Texas, spent the past two seasons as hitting coach for the Low-A Hickory Crawdads and High-A Down East Wood Ducks in the Rangers organization. He was manager of the unaffiliated Kansas City T-Bones in 2012-13.

The Spokesman-Review: So how does it feel to be back in Spokane?

Kenny Hook: It feels good. I was always fond of my time here and have great memories of my time here. I love the city of Spokane, it fits kind of what I’m accustomed to. There’s the same kind of feel as where I’m from, and Kansas City. Because it’s a big enough city, but it never feels too big, type of city. And obviously, you can’t beat the weather in the Northwest League. And there’s not really another place as far as in short-season that has this type of fan support. And the way it’s run front-office-wise, it’s easy to get excited about coming back here.

S-R: The Indians are third in the nation in attendance for short-season leagues. That type of support has to be great …

KH: It is. Some of the kids haven’t played outside of maybe Arizona (instructional league) or the Dominican. I’m excited to see them get that feeling of what it’s like when this stadium is full and they’re announced, or they make a big play or get a big hit, and what that feels like, to be recognized by the crowd when when that happens. Because that’ll be the first time in their professional career that they get to feel and sense some of that support.

S-R: It’s different doing it in front of 5,500 people as opposed to two dozen scouts watching?

KH: Yeah, 100% it is different. And the emotion and passion that the Indians fans bring on a nightly basis is, from my time spent here, I have a pretty good idea of what that’s like. But some of these kids have no idea how loud and passionate this stadium can be.

S-R: Sometimes fans might forget that for many of these players this is their first time playing in front of crowds …

KH: You know, as a casual fan, you know these guys are professionals – they signed a contract. Some of them signed a big contract, and you’re like, ‘Oh, they should be accustomed to playing in front of big crowds.’ But most of them haven’t. Some of them, especially some of our Latin guys, it’s really just playing in front of scouts. It’s not like in stadiums like this. It’s on minor league back fields. But that’s a different element to being able to perform under those conditions. I’ve seen them perform on those back fields. And it’s exciting because this is a major development piece to them being able to move on, being able to perform on a nightly basis in front of fans, being able to manage their time at one of our affiliates.

S-R: The team just arrived on Saturday. How have the workouts this week gone?

KH: I thought they went well. As far as the quality of work, we haven’t done a ton, but it’s just getting them acclimated to being here. Just touching the bases again – because some of them have been off for a while. So BP, throwing, we covered some some situational stuff (Monday), that was good. It hasn’t been a ton, but in short spurts that is a high quality. I think that’s the best way to go about it.

Spokane Indians manager Kenny Hook introduces his team during Fan Fest on Wednesday, June 12, 2019, at Avista Stadium in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Indians manager Kenny Hook introduces his team during Fan Fest on Wednesday, June 12, 2019, at Avista Stadium in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

S-R: So just the idea of getting them in here and letting them see the outfield fences, the hitting background, that type of thing?

KH: Everything in the Dominican that we have in our complex is standard dimensions. Everything they play in spring training, they’re all standard dimensions where it’s the same down the line, same in the gaps. And the surface, every infield is kind of a different mix of surface on the dirt portion of it. So all of that is a change for them. So all of that is something they’re going to have to get accustomed to. And obviously, the sooner we can in our home park the better.

S-R: You had a “dress rehearsal” Tuesday with stadium announcing and breaks for in-game entertainment and such …

KH: Absolutely. It was important them getting to see what it’s like right at 6:35. Because the sun, and there’ll be some shadows there early on in the first few innings. And getting an idea of how the on-field stuff works in between innings. Because, again, some of these kids haven’t played anywhere but Arizona or the Dominican, so they’ve never really had a crowd or being announced like that, and that’s part of the development for these kids, is to understand how to focus on their job at hand, with all of these other things going on at the same time.

S-R: Have you thought about what type of manager you’re going to be?

KH: I’ve been asked that a lot. I think being flexible in your strategy and understanding – there’s right times to play small ball and right times to sit back and let them play and let things develop. I think good managers don’t have one way. My personality, I’m a pretty intense guy. On the mound, I want us to attack hitters. Defensively, it’s about making plays and attacking ground balls and being able to play with some energy and passion. And then the same thing as when I was in here as a hitting coach – we were aggressive. Really try to do damage on fastballs, and we had success back then doing that. I think that fits what our organization wants, especially at the lower levels, is learn how to really hit the fastball. If you do that, you’re going to be able to control the strike zone as a hitter and have good at-bats.

S-R: How much day-to-day, in-game management instruction you get from the organization?

KH: Well, there’s some. We communicate with some of our coordinators and farm directors. There’s some, ‘Hey, you know, this is a priority guy.’ We want to make sure he’s getting the right number of at-bats. Or certain days off. Or, maybe it’s trying to give him innings played at multiple positions. So there’s some outline, or parameters in place. And then it’s up to the manager and our staff to manage through some of those things. You’re still dealing with some younger kids that you have to make sure that they’re in the right position to be able to perform on a nightly basis, and you’re not overusing them, putting them in the right situation to have some success. I think our organization does a great job of communicating those things, being very understanding that this is a daily grind, and there’s a lot of human element involved in knowing what’s best for the player at that particular time. I’ve always approached it if you keep that in mind, as a manager, as a coach, I always want to maintain the player’s best interests. Then, I think, the decisions come pretty easy.

S-R: You have very few returners from last year’s team. Do you have an idea about lineups and positions yet?

KH: They were in a different situation last year, having some returners that had pretty good production the year before. I feel like having some flexibility – as far as guys being able to play multiple positions – is going to help. We’ve got some guys that can move around, even move from the dirt to the outfield. So that’s going to allow me and our staff to mix up some different lineup combinations and different defensive positioning stuff.

S-R: What do you do for fun?

KH: I like going to different places to eat. I’m a big food guy – I don’t know if you call me a foodie, or whatever. In baseball, you get to go to a lot of different places. I enjoy trying to educate myself on maybe the history and traditions around here. And a lot of times, that means different restaurants, or museums or things like that. I’m going to take advantage of it. I’m in the Pacific Northwest, and I’m in the state of Washington and the city of Spokane. I’m going to learn and know as much as I can about that. So I enjoy that stuff. I’m also big into music. So if there’s like a live show, if there’s a day where you can go see live music or a piano bar or something like that it’s kind of cool for me, because I do enjoy that stuff.

S-R: What kind of music do you listen to?

KH: I like everything, but I’m a product of the ’90s so I’m a little partial to that, but I enjoy all of it. I think that’s what is unique about being working in baseball is you get to go to all these places, and you get to experience all these different restaurants and different things that cities have to offer. So I really just enjoy that. And then especially in this league, you don’t have a lot of free time, so you try to take advantage of doing some stuff like that when you when you have it.

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