Exactly one week before Father’s Day, Kelvin Hope Sr., and Kelvin Hope Jr., along with four of their Showtime softball teammates, are putting in early season work at Ward’s Recreation Center with a couple of rounds of batting practice.
As the sun begins to set on this hot Sunday, the father and son take turns swinging. Both men’s swings result in balls flying over the home run gate and into an unoccupied field.
“We’ve been playing softball together as teammates for about 15 years,” said the 48-year-old elder Hope. “I love being able to play on the same team with my son for such a long time.”
Hope Jr., 31, summed the relationship up as one that is fueled by competition. Both the son and father are outstanding players in a very talented league. Hope Sr. has plenty of power to drive the ball out of the park, but typically hits line drives to the gaps in the outfield. Hope Jr.’s displays of power are memorable because of their distance. He has launched a couple of epic home runs that have landed on top of the Ward’s basketball gym.
“I still say that my dad is the best because he is still legit,” Hope Jr. said. “When I say that our relationship in softball is based on competition, I don’t mean it in a negative way. We just push each other to make us better.”
The Hopes’ games on the field have more similarities than their personalities. Both men wear number 69 on their jerseys. Players in the league refer to the two as “Rook” and “Lil Rook.” Hope Sr. said that the name was placed on him more than 20 years ago when he came home from Alcorn State University and started playing in a league in Indianola.
When he finally got his chance to play, somebody simply said, “Put the rookie out there.” “They didn’t know me and that’s what they called me, and the name just stuck,” Hope Sr. said. The father is known in the league as a big-time trash talker and hype man for his team. “It’s good, fun trash talking,” Hope Sr. joked. The son is more subdued and serious during competition. “I love to see him getting us motivated,” Hope Jr. said. “It’s just another thing that I love about playing alongside my dad.”
Last season, the Hopes and their teammates went to Vicksburg to play because the season had been canceled in Greenville. This was one of the highlights of their decade and a half as teammates because they brought home the league championship. “We have always had a good team and usually get close to winning a championship,” Hope Jr. explained. “Most of the time, if we don’t win it all teams still have to go through us to get a championship.”
Hope Sr. said that he looks forward to many more years playing at a high level and staying active by being around younger players like his son. Hope Jr. likened his father to the best example of athletic excellence as they get older.
“My dad is the Tom Brady of this league,” Hope Jr. said. “He just keeps getting better with age.”