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by Rick Cabral

BIG MAN BACK ON CAMPUS


After a six-year pro baseball career, Chris Kinsey is back on the Sac State campus,
this time as assistant coach to Reggie Christiansen while he completes his undergraduate degree. 

When Kinsey arrived at Sac State in fall 2000, he was the quintessential “big man on campus.” Although devoid of the proverbial BMOC swagger, at 6-3’, 220 pounds, he easily stood out.  

When he arrived he sported the area’s best high school pitching record, 10-0 with 110 Ks at Laguna Creek High, where he also swung the bat for average (.463) and power (5 HR and an area leading 42 RBI). For that reason, the Sacramento Bee selected Kinsey its Player of the Year for 2000 (beating out Woodland’s Dustin Pedroia, who would share the POY award in 2001 with J.P. Howell of Jesuit).

 

Kinsey_Hitting
Kinsey demonstrating his powerful swing
at Sac State where he hit 16 home runs his sophomore year. (Photo couresty of Sacramento State Athletic Dept.)

One of the reasons Kinsey elected to stay and play for the home team was the commitment by Hornets head coach John Smith to allow him to be a rare “two-way” player. When he wasn’t on the mound, Smith stationed him at first base to keep his powerful bat in the lineup. Kinsey didn’t disappoint, posting All-Conference numbers his sophomore season (.318, 16 home runs and 60 RBI with 3-4 mark as a starter).

That season Kinsey displayed a rare desire to stay on the field. In a series at Cal Poly, while attempting to field a hard shot, the ball bounced up and struck him in the eye socket. The next day—with his eye nearly swollen shut—Kinsey persuaded the coaches to allow him on the field. Good thing, because he went 4 x 5 and hit three home runs, including what Chris considers the farthest ball he ever hit in college. “And that includes the ones I put on the top of the parking structure (at the Hornets’ John Smith field).” 

“I loved to hit," he remarks with soulful honesty. "(At Sac State) I competed on the mound. But hitting is what I loved to do.”

Chris says the challenge in being a two-way player meant having to work harder and longer hours. He prides himself on a work ethic learned from his father Willie, a former Grant High athlete who attended most of Chris’ home games and often offered his son encouragement and motivation. “Talent is one thing. But you get what you put in,” Chris says. “I got to where I got because of the work I put in.”  

Leon Lee, who coached Kinsey on his International Baseball Academy travel ball team, also provided keen insights and wisdom, especially on how to deal with scouts and agents. 

In his junior year Kinsey again posted impressive numbers (18 doubles, seven home runs and 44 RBI while going 7-6 with a 4.25 ERA and 98 strikeouts in a team-high 95.1 innings). As Sac State that year did not play in a conference, Chris was selected to the 2003 All-Independent Team, along with teammates Mikela Olsen and Jesse Schmidt

Kinsey was selected by Arizona in the fourth round of the 2003 MLB June Amateur Draft, at the time tied for the highest ever by a Sac State player (until Tim Wheeler’s first-round selection by the Rockies in 2009). 

Fred Costello, the Arizona scout who signed Kinsey, remembers “Chris could already pitch, he had good delivery, (was) super athletic, already had a feel for three pitches. He was a guy, I figured, who only needed to focus on pitching, and get a little bit better and he would be on his way. 

“Plus, he was a great kid,” says Costello, who now scouts for the Washington Nationals. 

 Kinsey_pitching

During his pro career, Kinsey pitched in the Arizona Fall League, comprised of the top young minor league talent. Behind him are former Giant farmhands Kevin Frandsen (shortstop)
and Fred Lewis (left field). (Photo couresty of Chris Kinsey Collection)


Although elated to be drafted, Kinsey was hoping to sign as “an everyday player,” which is where most other scouts had projected him. Arizona, however, thought his talents belonged on the hill. In rookie ball, Kinsey not only didn’t swing a stick, but initially he was used as a relief pitcher, something he’d never done. Eventually, Arizona moved him back to a starting role. 


Kinsey admits the first two years of pro ball were an adjustment. “It was a battle,” he says about sitting in the dugout, and not hitting on game days. “It took awhile to get used to.” 

“I know that mentally, hitting helped my pitching.” The Elk Grove native says he put in a lot of work at pitching and concedes that his mechanics weren’t flawless coming out of Sac State. “I was real raw. In college, it was just competing. I hadn’t worked a whole lot on my mechanics, but I did the things necessary.”  

Hornets’ former pitching coach Jim Barr, Kinsey recalls, mostly worked on his mental approach to the game, focusing on how to keep his body strong throughout a game to be in contention to finish in the ninth inning.

Coach Barr remembers working with Chris on pitch selection early on. 

“He had a good arm. And he could throw hard,” Barr says. But when Kinsey reported to Sac State, he tended to rely on his curve too much. “What he didn’t understand was that he had just as good a fastball. That was one thing I tried to get him to do, was throw his fastball (more). Because when he threw his fastball, his curve ball was just devastating.”

In 2008, Kinsey culminated his pro career with a promotion to Arizona’s Triple-A club, Tucson. But an unusual arm injury that spring sidelined him, forcing him to miss the trip to play at Raley Field in Sacramento before the hometown crowd.  

That May, the Diamondbacks gave Kinsey his release. The news hit him hard. “I still felt young and that I had a lot left in my arm,” Chris says. “Honestly, it took about three years (to make the adjustment). I took it pretty hard. I felt I was so close.” 

He concluded his pro career that summer by playing for Joliet in the Independent League. Head coach and former New York Met Wally Backman even allowed Kinsey to get back in the batter’s box for almost 50 ABs; a bittersweet way to end his career. 

Meantime, Kinsey is back on campus completing his degree in mass communications and assisting coach Christiansen whereever he is needed.  

The biggest difference for him now at Sac State? Those first three years the emphasis admittedly was on baseball. “Now, it’s more of a school commitment,” Kinsey says. “It’s a lot tougher, too, as I have to juggle school (a part-time) job, and coaching.” 

After graduation, he would like to get a job in baseball, perhaps scouting.  

For younger players interested in turning pro he offers this advice: “It all comes down to hard work. Talent is one thing,” Kinsey offers. “But you get what you put in.”

Listen to the Big Man. 

 

Uploaded 03/19/12
All contents © Rick Cabral 2012

 

 

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