By STEVE KRAH
A husband-and-wife team with decades in baseball has been making an impact on a team and a city since making it their home in the spring and summer for the past six seasons.
Burt Hooton has been the pitching coach for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps, a Low Class-A affiliate for the San Diego Padres since 2013.
Like she’s done throughout most of their marriage, wife Ginger Hooton has been there in-person to lend support to her husband and — through her personality — uplift those around her.
And not just because of her mouth-watering desserts like chocolate chip cookies, caramel brownies and Tres Leches cake.
“She’s a people person,” says Burt, who met Ginger in late 1970 when they both attended the University of Texas at Austin, got engaged in September 1972 and married Dec. 30, 1972. “She loves people. She likes pleasing people. She’s extremely friendly.”
TinCaps president Mike Nutter seconds that sentiment.
“She is such a motivator,” says Nutter of Ginger Hooton. “I’ve never heard a negative thing come out of her mouth.
“She has a unique perspective and outlook.”
The Hootons live right next to Parkview Field in the CityScape Flats. When Nutter and his crew were keeping their eye on the radar and dealing with rain delays Thursday, Aug. 16, Ginger sent him an encouraging text from her balcony.
She wanted him to know she had seen a rainbow over the field and wanted to see how he was doing.
“This is my 27th season in Minor League Baseball,” says Nutter. “Along the way, there are a handful of special people that come into your life.
“Ginger and Burt are certainly in that group. It’s a really special connection they have made. They want to work and make an impact in those young kids’ lives. They just have this special vibe.”
The two met through a campus service organization — the Texas Cowboys. Their first date was at the group’s formal dance.
“I never knew he played baseball,” says Ginger. “I wasn’t a big baseball fan.”
She found it odd that so many people were shaking his hand. She learned years later that he had just thrown a no-hitter for the Longhorns.
Burt Hooton began his professional baseball career in 1971.
A standout at UT, the right-handed pitcher was selected in the first round of the 1971 amateur draft (second overall pick) by the Chicago Cubs and went on to pitch until 1985, winning 151 games and racking up over 2,600 innings.
On April 16, 1972, Burt tossed a no-hitter for the Cubs in his fourth MLB game and went on to be an all-star and the National League Championship Series MVP for the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers (who went on to win the World Series). He was known to possess a wicked knuckle curveball.
Even with all his accomplishments, Nutter marvels that Burt Hooton has no ego.
“He has a great gift of working with these young men,” says Nutter. “Anthony Contreras calls it a ‘feel’ for what will work for them.”
After taking the time to complete his college degree (he promised his mother he would finish it after leaving Texas at the end of his junior year), Burt launched into a coaching career in 1988 and has been a pitching coach at every level of organized professional baseball plus three collegiate seasons with the Texas Longhorns. He was the pitching coach for the big-league Houston Astros 2000-04.
Along the way, Ginger has been making friends in the stands and around the towns where Burt played or coached. When he was coaching in Round Rock, Houston and Oklahoma City, there were enough wives around for Ginger to lead a Bible study.
With younger players (the oldest players on the current Fort Wayne roster is 24 and there are nine teenagers), there is no opportunity with player wives.
“I just really prayed about it and God told me to feed my sheep so I just feed them,” says Ginger. “It’s mostly sweets.”
Pre- and post-game meals are provided by clubhouse manager Sam “Swirley” Lewis.
And it’s not just the players and and coaching staff that have sampled Ginger’s baked goods. Most everyone who works at Parkview Field — front office personnel, ushers, parking lot attendants — has gotten a taste.
The downtown stadium doubles as a public space when a game is not in progress. Many people walk around the perimeter of the field for exercise. Ginger walks there and greets those she encounters along the way.
When Burt and Ginger’s children — Gene and Layne — were very young, they would come to spring training with their parents and be tutored by their mother. As they grew older, they would visit spring training during spring break and then come to whatever baseball city their father called home.
“She always saw to it that she and the kids were wherever I was,” says Burt. “Now, it’s easy. We don’t have any kids (at home). I certainly don’t want to leave her home by herself (in San Antonio).
“I want her here. She wants to be here. We both enjoy it. It’s almost like a five-month vacation.”
This season has seen a steady stream of visits from family and friends. Sometimes when Burt is away, Ginger will go to help daughter Layne with her San Antonio-based store.
“I’ve been entertaining a lot,” says Ginger. “This season has flown by.
“I don’t know what I do, but I stay busy.”
Before moving into CityScape Flats, the Hootons lived next to Parkview Field at The Harrison. For the first few years in Fort Wayne, they resided in places across the city — far enough away that Ginger would sit in the one car they brought from Texas to pick up Burt after games.
Now, he can just walk home.
“I can get stuff done at home,” says Ginger.
The Hootons have gotten to know Fort Wayne and the surrounding area, checking out sites, museums and restaurants.
“Fort Wayne is a great town,” says Burt, the keynote speaker at the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association banquet in May. “The people we have met here have been great.”
Ginger and Burt also drive together on some of the TinCaps’ closer road trips.
“We enjoy traveling around together and being together,” says Burt. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The (Midwest) League is small enough that we can hop in the car and go places like Lansing, Grand Rapids, Dayton, South Bend and Midland, Mich.
“We’re having fun together.”
At 68, Burt takes his coaching career one season at a time.
“As long as I’m still healthy and enjoy it, somebody wants me and she’s OK with it,” says Burt. “When they ask me, I say I’ll ask Ginger and see what she says, She usually says whatever you want to do is fine with me.
“When she says ‘no’ that’ll probably be the end of it.”
Ginger sees the satisfaction her husband gets by helping to launch the pro careers of young pitchers.
“I think his greatest joy is getting to move these young kids up,” says Ginger. “It’s like our own children getting to make it.”
The past few weeks, the Hootons have been watching the Padres on TV and seeing players who once played in Fort Wayne.
“It’s so fun to get to see them experience that,” says Ginger.
And this husband and wife are experiencing so much together.
Burt (left) and Ginger Hooton share a moment outside Parkview Field, where Burt is in his sixth season as pitching coach for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps. The couple was married Dec. 30, 1972. (Steve Krah Photo)