FORT WAYNE – TinCaps pitching coach Willie Blair gives a thin smile that bespeaks wisdom – the kind that nearly all coaches with some miles behind them will offer up every now and then.
It’s the I know what I’m talking about, and they don’t have a clue yet kind of half smirk when he’s informed that one of his young arms, 19-year-old Michael Kelly, admits to not getting excited while on the mound.
Blair sort of smiles, sort of grunts, and definitely nods, as though he’s heard all this before. Probably has. Probably from himself, before he threw in the Show on and off for a dozen seasons.
They’re young, Blair says. They’re going to say they never get rattled, but we’ll see what happens when they get under the lights.
Kelly hasn’t had much time under any kind of lights so far this season, which means the jury could still be deliberating. The TinCaps sent him out just twice in relief roles, and he has worked four innings with a 0-1 record and a 6.75 ERA.
But Kelly isn’t going to panic because it’s not in his nature.
I’m pretty mellow, the right-hander from Boca Raton, Fla., said. When I’m pitching, I won’t show much emotion. I’ve had people tell me it bothers them, because I have no emotion whatsoever. I’m very laid back and go with the flow of what’s going on.
At no time has Kelly been more laid back than the night he became a professional.
He was in San Diego last summer, having dinner with his uncle and his agent while contemplating whether to sign a contract with the Padres or play at the University of Florida.
With 15 minutes to go on the last night he could sign with the Padres, Kelly’s agent gets a call, a deal is made and the kid’s a West Coast guy instead of a Floridian.
I really wasn’t nervous because I knew I had the University of Florida as a backup plan, said Kelly, who led his Boca Raton West High School team to the Florida state championship. I was very comfortable with the situation I was in and I just knew the Padres were a great choice, and I had a great choice in the University of Florida. So I was comfortable with it.
Because he came out of high school with a sore shoulder, Kelly’s draft spot fell to 48, where the Padres knew a deal when they saw one.
Blair likes what he sees in Kelly’s unflappable nature but also recognizes an untapped potential.
I like a guy who has that quiet confidence but also is a nasty competitor, Blair said. That’s what I see with Mike Kelly. He’s kind of a quiet guy, but when he’s on the mound, he’s competing really hard. He is that bulldog-type guy. You never know that. He’s quiet. He’s got that quiet confidence.
Even though he hasn’t nailed down a starting gig, Kelly will take what comes. He’ll bide his time, trying to find a place to fish and finding a golf course.
He says he just took up the game last summer and liked it. Says he shoots around 77, for 18 holes. His best round so far is a 73.
I brought my clubs, he said. Pitchers have a lot of down time.