Hinch comes full circle in Kansas City

Hinch comes full circle in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY -- A.J. Hinch never charted this career path.

Hinch, who played for the Royals from 2001-02, is in town as the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

He's also 35 years old. He's just five years removed from his Major League playing career, and the former backup catcher is the youngest manager in baseball.

Ask him if he ever envisioned this when he was playing behind the plate for the Royals at the beginning of the decade, and he'll give you a simple answer.

"No chance," Hinch said. "I always prided myself on being a guy that could plan ahead, but I never saw this coming."

Hinch played in Kansas City for just two seasons, but in some ways the place is more special than just some mid-career stop-off.

"I love this area," Hinch said. "I love Kansas City. I enjoyed a couple years here."

It could be the fact that Hinch went to high school just a few hours south of here at Midwest City High School in Oklahoma. He also spent part of his childhood in Iowa.

"I used to come here in the summers, at least for a game or two," said Hinch. "I have relatives in Iowa and relatives in Oklahoma, so it's like a perfect meeting spot for Royals and Chiefs games."

His time with the Royals was brief, but he's got plenty of memories.

He's always loved coming to Kauffman Stadium.

"This park has stood the test of time," Hinch said. "It was built long ago, but the renovations they've made, it's pretty neat to see in person."

And he'll offer up a Kansas City barbecue recommendation if prompted.

"I'm a Gates guy," he said.

Hinch said he'll try to see a couple of old friends this weekend -- former Royals Joe Randa and Mike MacFarlane are at the top of the list -- and he has family in town as well.

"I have family coming from Iowa," Hinch said. "My wife is in town. This is a great spot. I almost moved here."

Hinch was always known for his thoughtful manner when he played in Kansas City. He does, after all, have a degree from Stanford.

Hinch played in 45 games for the Royals in 2001. He hit .157 with six home runs in 121 at-bats.

He was more productive in his second season, playing in 72 games for Kansas City in 2002 and posting a .249 average with seven homers and 27 RBIs.

He moved on to Detroit in 2003, playing 27 games for the Tigers, before wrapping up his Major League career with the Phillies in 2004.

After his playing days were over, Hinch was hired in Arizona to head the D-backs' Minor League operations in 2005.

Hinch then became Arizona's director of player development in 2006. And then on May 8, he was hired to replace former D-backs manager Bob Melvin, fired the day before.

It's been a rapid progression from backup catcher to Major League manager, and Hinch knows this.

"I always considered managerial-type positions," Hinch said. "As a catcher I worked closely with mangers and pitching coaches, but I don't think anybody could have ever predicted this sort of path to this chair. I'm proud of it. I'm happy that they feel I'm responsible enough to take this opportunity."

Rustin Dodd is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.