There are two hours until first pitch at Parkview Field, and Burt Hooton is doing Burt Hooton things as he watches the TinCaps’ pitcher warm up.
The man some around the team affectionately call Hooter stops the session and simulates the throwing motion he wants.
J.C. Cosme then steps back onto the bullpen mound to try and match his pitching coach’s example. Wash, rinse, repeat.
"Burt and his skills, he’s a really good pitching coach," said reliever Corey Kimber, who was promoted this week to high-A Lake Elsinore. "He just has a lot of knowledge."
At age 66, Hooton still finds ways to relay that knowledge to guys who are more than four decades younger than him. The results speak for themselves.
As the TinCaps return for a seven-game homestand, their last of the season, they really need to run the table to sustain their faint chances of reaching the Midwest League playoffs.
In other words, a lot has gone wrong for Fort Wayne.
But the biggest success story of the season has been the ability of the pitching staff to execute Hooton’s program.
And that program? There’s nothing complicated about it. Throw strikes. Throw the ball around the plate. Get ahead in the count, don’t issue walks.
Entering Thursday, Fort Wayne’s staff had issued the fewest walks (394) of any staff in the league – 137 fewer than the wildest staff, Dayton’s.
"Yeah, it’s a good tribute to what (Hooton) does and what he brings to this pitching staff; these guys are young and live arms, and we just want them to pound the zone and get ahead of hitters," TinCaps manager Anthony Contreras said. "For the most part all year, they’ve been consistent. I was actually thinking about that the other day about our pitching staff, how much they’ve kept us in the ballgame regardless of how many runs we can’t score."
Hooton certainly has a lot of experience to share with his pupils, from his playing days in the major leagues with the Cubs, Dodgers and Rangers, though he knows baseball is a tough sport.
"It’s a long season," he said. "You’re not going to have perfect games every time you go out. If you start 25, 30 games in a season, not all of them are going to be the way you want them to be. That’s just the nature of professional baseball. The question then is what are you going to do from that point forward? No matter if you have a real good game or a real bad game, your job is to get ready for that next game, so that is what I tell them."
Hooton, who won 151 big league games and had a 3.38 career ERA, is in his fourth year at Fort Wayne and puts up with those bus rides and cold winters because he loves the teaching aspect of his job, and his wife, Ginger, loves the city.
"(TinCaps president) Mike Nutter and all the crew they have working around here do a top-notch job," Hooton said. "I really enjoy it here. It’s been a joy and a pleasure being here."
Even Contreras is learning about pitching from Hooton.
"Pitch-calling and how to set up hitters," Contreras said. "Asking him what’s a good pitch to throw in this situation and things like that help me when talking to my catcher. I have learned a lot in this first year (working alongside) Burt and hopefully can learn more."