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Kenny Kelly Interview

By Jason Blasco

Seattle Mariners prospect Kenny Kelly has always been a juggler. In the fall, he was running through the smoke filled tunnel of the Orange Bowl, home of the Miami Hurricanes, ready to play the demanding position of
quarterback in front of a packed house filled with thousands of enthusiastic fans.  By spring, Kelly was suited up and playing centerfield in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization, a team that drafted him in the second round of the 1997 draft.
    For a while, Kelly succeeded at doing both.  This athletic versatility was able to produce one of Kelly's most memorable moments in his storied athletic career: winning the Gator Bowl, as the Hurricanes took the sting out of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
     The 1999 season became difficult for Kelly, with all this juggling between being the Canes quarterback and a center fielder for the Rays, in the low minors.
    "It was the time to give up one sport.  I wasn't focusing on football as much as I would have liked to," said Kelly. 
    Juggling sports was something Kelly has been accustomed to since middle school and high school, where he played and excelled in four different sports.  He played a sport for every part in every season, football,
baseball, and basketball.  Then when the baseball season rolled around, he also ran track. Even in track, which he considered just a "side thing," he excelled by breaking many track and high jump records. 
    "I always enjoyed playing football the most.  I enjoyed playing basketball second.  As I got older though, I began to love playing baseball," said Kelly. 
    Shortly after Kelly's senior year of high school at Tampa Catholic, many colleges approached him to try and get his athletic services in football and baseball for their college.  In addition to the collegiate interest, there was also interest in his services in the professional ranks as well.
    So how does one with several offers to several different colleges choose one college, when there are so many offers?  For Kelly, the decision was hard at first.  But he decided on Miami, to stay close to home.
    "Every single school was talking about basically the same thing.  I wanted to stay close to home, and I was also looking at what the universities could do for me, academically," said Kelly.     
    There was also an interest in Kelly from several professional baseball teams.   Before his senior year, there really was a lot of interest for Kelly in pursuing a professional baseball career.
    "Until my senior year, I really wasn't looking forward to getting drafted (in professional baseball).  I was going to just play football and baseball for Miami," said Kelly. 
    When Kelly went to Miami in 1997, he may have had to play behind quarterback Scott Covington but it was only a matter of time before he got the opportunity to start.  With statistics that he put up at Tampa Catholic High School that included 75 touchdown passes, 7,949 passing yards, and being regarded as one of the top high school quarterbacks in the entire country, it was only a matter of time before he became the starting quarterback.  And
that is what he did. 
    A knee injury, and balancing football and a professional baseball career slowed down his potential, and may have steered him more towards baseball.
    During his first professional baseball playing days for the St. Petersburg Devil Rays, Kelly learned a lot about the demanding schedule of the professional athlete.  He also describes his first year as fun.  He didn't do too bad in his first professional season with two homeruns, seven
RBIs and six stolen bases in only 27 games.  
    "I didn't really know what to expect that first professional season.  I learned a lot about baseball at the professional level," said Kelly.
    In his second year at Charleston and his third year at Orlando, he still had trouble juggling baseball and football.  It was difficult for him to gain the needed experience in baseball because he had to return to football.  His
average was a respectable .280, and .277 in the 1998 and 1999 seasons, with only about 420 at bats those two seasons.  In Orlando, he played over 124 games for the first time, and became a doubles machine with 17 doubles.  In addition to the doubles, he also collected a lot of triples. 
    Shortly after his promising season with Orlando in 2000, Kelly was traded to the Seattle Mariner's organization for $400,000 in cash, for the next two years.
    "It was difficult at first to go to a new organization.  I think I made it difficult; I wanted to really impress the new organization.
    Kelly has seemed to adjust well to the San Antonio Mission, hitting a solid .247, with one homerun, 12 RBIs, and nine doubles in just 47 games.  If you ask him what aspects of the game he needs to improve on, he can tell you right away. 
    "I would like to improve on putting the ball in play with two strikes.  As a leadoff type player, that is very important," said Kelly.
    His athleticism, work ethic, and short term and long term goals will
probably help this 22-year-old get to the majors. 
    "I just want to stay the person that I am, to hit for average.  I would also like to get to a double A World Series, and then get to the big leagues," said Kelly.


 

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