By Rich Bauer
I bet if you asked the players on a high baseball team in New Jersey who Patrick Kivlehan is, my guess is we would be lucky if three would know.
He is a local kid playing major league baseball for the Cincinnati Reds.
What I love the most about his story is that football was his true love going back to his high school days at powerhouse St. Joseph’s in Montvale, New Jersey. He was an all-conference player but was not a blue chip recruit and felt he had more of a chance to play in front of family and friends by staying close to home at Rutgers University.
Patrick grew up in Nyack, New York, just 50 minutes from Piscataway. He loved the intensity and the hitting found in football which is probably why he excelled on the defensive side of the ball. As a defensive back and a special teams player for the Scarlet Knights he did whatever the team needed to get on the field. He was even the place holder for the field goal kicker his senior year.
As his college football career was coming to an end, he was on track to graduate, had no spring football to prepare for so he thought he would keep himself busy during his final spring semester by going out for the baseball team. He had not played in three years but the baseball staff knew he had some skills from his high school days so they agreed to give him a shot. Patrick went from a well-known walk on to the Big East Player of the Year. He had 14 home runs, 50 RBIs, used some of that football speed to steal 24 bases and batted .392 for the season. Pro scouts came in droves to see this football player beating up Big East Conference pitching. The Seattle Mariners surprised everyone and drafted him in the fourth round of the 2012 draft.
Upon graduation that year, Patrick had run out of football options and he could use his Communication Degree to find a job in the real world or sign a contract to play pro baseball. It took him less than ten minutes to sign that contract and off to minors he went.
To all those coaches and parents who are sold on this idea that you have to pick one sport and concentrate on it all year round in order to get into college, or if you have even grander dreams of going pro, you might want to throw that thinking in the garbage can based on Patrick’s success and subsequent options.
He slowly but steadily moved up the ladder in the Mariners organization for the first couple of years only to be traded to the Texas Rangers in 2015 and then back to the Mariners a year later. Life is never easy in the minor leagues with the long bus trips, eating at fast food restaurants– sometimes three times a day–while honing your skills at the ballpark for up to 10 hours a day between practices and games.
Patrick learned to love grueling hard work from his football days: up at 5:30 am in the off season to be in the weight room by 6 am, double sessions on the field under the hot August sun and, during the season, putting in 14 hour days between classes, practice and film sessions. He also carried with him the idea of being versatile. Playing one position was never good enough for him. In baseball he started practicing not just in left field but also in right and, over time, he would also excel at first base and at third base. Again coaches and parents take note. Another fallacy to throw in the garbage can. Learn from Pat, play multiple positions, and do what you have to do to get on the field no matter what sport.
Last year he was released by the Mariners, only to be picked up by the San Diego Padres and was quickly promoted late in August to The Show. In his first game he blasted a home run for his first hit in the major leagues. Two weeks later he was waived by the Padres and picked up by the Reds for the final three games of the season. What a ride I would say, but Kivlehan was living out a dream. He also was learning another lesson first hand, no matter what the sport, it is a business.
Patrick went about his business of getting ready for the 2017 season hoping for that call telling him he was on the 40 man roster and he was going to be in the Major League spring training camp. Well, the call came from Reds management and he was the 40th man on the roster. He felt it was best to show up to camp with a relaxed attitude with his only goal to make it tough for the coaching staff to waive him, trade him, or send him back to the minors.
This spring, in 54 at bats, he hit for a .370 average with 2 dingers and played those four different position in the field. On Opening Day at Great American Ball Park he was announced as one of the 25 players who earned a roster spot to begin the season as a Cincinnati Red.
It has been tough but not discouraging for Patrick to make an impact with limited playing time. He is a true back up only getting a couple of starts every few weeks but he continues to be one of the hardest working guys on the team and to be the best teammate he can be. “It’s definitely tough, having never done it before”, said the 27-year-old. “It’s something you kind of learn with experience and time. You’re not going to get it right away and you’re going to have some ups and downs, but you can’t worry too much about it.”
Given a chance in early May he had a four-hit game and this past weekend he broke a 0-18 slump with two home runs in one game. The home runs came in a big win in Philadelphia in front of a large contingent of his family and friends in the stands.
I have a positive feeling that Patrick and the Reds are a good match and I hope he has found a home with them. He deserves it. He has shown that he will make the most of an opportunity something he has been doing for his entire life.
I just hope by this time next year when we ask another high school baseball team who Patrick Kivlehan is, all the players will know he is a major league baseball player.
photos: mlb.com (Kivlehan head shot); newbergreport.com (Kivlehan football)