Midwest City native A.J. Hinch is expected to be named manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks today at 5 p.m. Oklahoma time, and I’d like to be able to say I saw it coming.
Not that Hinch would be asked to save a sinking National League franchise.
Or that he would become a major league manager at age 34.
What I knew the first time I spoke to the lad — way back in 1990 when I was a prep writer at The Oklahoman and he was a sophomore dropping sacrifice bunts to help Midwest City team a 5A baseball tournament game — was that Andrew Jay Hinch was something special.
It wasn’t exactly an exclusive. Everyone who talked spent more than a minute with Hinch knew the same thing.
Bright, talented, engaging and mature. The kind of skill set that would lead some to say he could run for office someday, but that would be underachieving.
When I left The Oklahoman in 1993, someone was silly enough to let me write a farewell column and in the midst of saying what I’d remember most about covering high school sports in Oklahoma I wrote “Ex-Midwest City catcher A.J. Hinch, a Stanford star who will make it big in baseball and life.”
Every high school baseball coach in the state loved the way he handled himself behind the plate. Their wives tried to play matchmaker and set A.J. up with their daughter. He spent the summer before his senior year on a whirlwind baseball tour that included personal catching lessons from Gold Glover Bob Boone and playing on a national team. Yet he was the first player in line the morning Midwest City football coaches handed out equipment for two-a-days.
His goals and cap size unchanged.
“I’ve always wanted to be a Midwest City Bomber quarterback,” Hinch said told me that day. “I waited my turn. Now here’s my chance, and I’m ready to jump at it. I’ve received a lot of ‘free advice from people telling me not to play football because I might get hurt and mess up my baseball future. I’ve been playing football since the fifth grade and I’ve never tore up a knee or broken a leg, so why should I stop now? ”
Hinch was a nice quarterback. Mike and Cale Gundy he was not, though in becoming a big-league manager he surpasses OSU football coach Mike Gundy in the sports leadership stratosphere as the most accomplished former Bomber.
It was clear from the start that baseball wanted to ride baseball as far as it would take him. As John Rohde wrote in a terrific 1996 column about Hinch and his late father Dennis: “For his 16th birthday, the son had to choose between a car and a batting cage. He chose the cage.”
A wise choice, which is what everyone has come to expect from A.J. Hinch.
Now its the Diamondbacks who have chosen wisely.