Crookes Took Blue Dragon Baseball
To New Levels Of Success
It simply became known as “The Blue Dragon Way.”
Kyle Crookes was never one to sit back and wait for the three-run homer. As Hutchinson Community College’s head coach from 2005 to 2012, Crookes created not just a style of play, but a mentality that took Blue Dragon baseball to new levels of success.
The “Blue Dragon Way” netted Crookes’ HCC teams two trips to Grand Junction, Colorado, and the NJCAA World Series and paved the way to Crookes becoming a HCC Quarterback Club 2016 Hall of Fame Inductee.
Crookes came to Hutchinson Community College as an assistant under two different head coaches from 2001 to 2004 before being named the program’s ninth head coach before the 2005 season.
“Professionally, it afforded me my first paying assistants job, my first opportunity to be a head coach at the collegiate level and to have Coach (Randy) Stange give me the opportunity, I am very thankful for that,” Crookes said. “He allowed me to grow and make my own hires and make my own mistakes. It was a tremendous opportunity for me to grow professionally and personally.”
In its simplest form, “The Blue Dragon Way” is a daring brand of “small ball” that utilized a team’s ability to create pressure on the opposition and take advantage of every situation afforded.
In the Crookes’ era, Blue Dragon baseball was at or near the top of the Jayhawk Conference in all the hustle categories – on-base percentage, stolen bases, sacrifice bunts and hit-by-pitches – every year. Crookes’ teams were also never bashful about taking an extra base and forcing defenses to make perfect plays to stop them.
It was a philosophy developed when Crookes coached in the Northwoods League.
“I think there are parts of the game that can be executed and taken advantage of whether it be the bunt, or hit-and-run or stolen base. Those things are fun to coach and see. It felt right and helped me feel like I was helping players.”
What “The Blue Dragon Way” morphed into was a never-say-die attitude in the HCC dugout.
That was none more evident than the 2010 Region VI Tournament winner’s bracket final against Cowley College. HCC trailed 4-3 in the bottom of the 13th inning. Jamell Cervantez led off with a walk, stole second and scored to tie the game on a single by Andrew Dixon on the 12th pitch of his at-bat. Dixon took an extra base when the Cowley centerfielder over-ran the ball.
What happened next is still considered the most memorable single moment in Blue Dragon baseball history. The first pitch to Ryan Mayfield got away from the Cowley catcher. Dixon went to third and then all of the sudden took off toward home, narrowly beating the tag to score the game-winning run from second … on a wild pitch.
“It was a teaching point. Never stop until you are told and never assume,” Crookes said. “What sticks in my mind is that Dixon knew that. As soon as he scored, he knew what exactly had happened. He was totally aware that it was every practice from August to May rolled up into that one play. Half the reason he was so excited that every day in practice earned him that run.”
Crookes compiled a 292-164 record in his eight seasons leading Blue Dragon baseball. That included Jayhawk West titles in 2005, 2006 and 2011. The Region VI championships in 2005 and 2010 were the program’s second and third regional titles in history and both netted the Blue Dragons their first two appearances in the NJCAA World Series.
The 2005 Blue Dragons, Crookes’ first team, was dotted with a high number of Reno County players. That group finished in a four-way tie for first place in the Jayhawk West. The “Blue Dragon Way” first showed up in the 2005 Region VI Tournament when the Blue Dragons had to come through the loser’s bracket. First it took an amazing pitching performance by 2014 Hall of Fame Inductee Andy Dirks in the losers’ bracket final against Cowley to reach the championship game. Then HCC had to defeat Garden City twice to win the program’s first Region VI title since 1975.
All together, the 2010Blue Dragons had a 9-3 postseason record. HCC trailed in eight of those victories and three came in extra innings, including a wild 8-6, 12-inning triumph in the Region VI championship game over Seward County.
The 2010 Blue Dragons wound up finishing third in the NJCAA World Series. “The Blue Dragon Way” instantly found new fans during HCC’s stay in Grand Junction.
“If you look at our regular season, it wasn’t like we were 45-10 going in,” Crookes said of the 2010 season. “We were fourth in the west and we lost 3 of 4 at Butler, but we hadn’t played up to what I thought our ability was. We lost a lot of close games. But when the postseason started, something clicked. I’ve never seen anything like it before. They were always gifted enough. When the postseason started, they refused to allow that last out to happen without them being in front. That kind of makeup can’t be taught. It really showed itself in the postseason. It was incredibly special.”