Lawrence native Kevin Hooper is back for his second year with the Florida Marlins' Triple-A farm club in Albuquerque, N.M., and the Isotopes' fans are happy to see him again.
Hooper may be short in stature -- he's listed generously as 5-foot-10 in the team's media guide -- but he has a big heart. He was presented with the Most Community Minded award by the team last year in recognition for his off-field work, primarily for visiting the children's hospital.
"I love doing it," he said. "I mean, look at me, I'm not the biggest guy around. I'm fortunate and blessed. Those less fortunate than us, they look up to us, you know. I think you have to pay back to them."
Isotopes fans fell in love quickly with Hooper in his first season in Albuquerque, and the feeling was mutual.
"They really back us," Hooper said. "There's nothing like it walking down the tunnel come game time. You see this place full and actually that's the highlight of this place. The fans, and just the way we're treated. It's very welcoming."
While Hooper, a 1995 Lawrence High graduate, obviously rather would be playing for the Marlins, he has no qualms about spending time in Albuquerque.
"Where's a better place to play in Triple-A?" he said. "It's fun to see the guys playing here for the first time in Triple-A, to see their eyes open wide just to see this for the first time."
This is Hooper's third straight year in Triple-A. He played in Calgary before the Marlins' top farm team was moved to Albuquerque after the 2002 season. After 11 games this season, Hooper is hitting .278.
"I didn't ask to be back here, but I have no control over what happens up there," Hooper said. "So, if you're going to be in Triple-A, this is the place to be."
Hooper, 27, was selected by the Marlins in the fifth round of the June 1999 draft after a solid career at Wichita State. The high point of his pro career was a 31-game hitting streak while at Calgary in 2002.