Kelly finishes journey back to baseball
Billiken outfielder successfully transitions from football
Sometimes, you just have to follow your heart.
Three years ago, Saint Louis junior outfielder Alex Kelly’s heart told him to turn in his football pads for a baseball bat and see where that led him.
Kelly was a two-sport star who played football and baseball at Rocky Mountain High School in Fort Collins, Colo., in the shadows of Colorado State. He was an all-state quarterback who set school records in passing yards and touchdown passes as a senior, and also sparked the baseball squad to a pair of state titles in 2007 and 2008. Kelly garnered first-team all-state honors as an outfielder in 2008 after hitting .470 with 10 home runs and 43 RBI.
While he excelled at both sports, Kelly was recruited by CSU to play quarterback. He had grown up watching the Rams play and lived right next to the stadium. When he was offered a full-ride to play for his hometown football team, it was an easy decision to make.
“It was like a dream-come-true,” Kelly said. “How could I not take this opportunity?”
Kelly redshirted his freshman season at CSU, but enjoyed his time with the program as the Rams posted an unexpected 7-6 record to earn an invitation to the 2008 New Mexico Bowl where they secured a winning season with a victory against Fresno State.
When spring football rolled around in March, Kelly was in the mix to compete for the starting quarterback job and was a favorite for the local fans.
But as he stood on the football practice field, Kelly was longing to be somewhere else -- on the baseball diamond.
“It kind of hit me that I wasn’t ever going to play baseball again,” Kelly said. “I missed it like crazy. I just realized I needed to play baseball…I was a baseball player at heart. I loved football, but my heart was with baseball.”
CSU does not sponsor a baseball program, so being a two-sport athlete for the Rams was not an option. If he wanted to play baseball, Kelly had to leave Fort Collins.
“It was tough to leave that full-ride opportunity but I talked to my parents about it and decided to make the switch and transfer,” Kelly said.
Kelly transferred to Garden City Community College in Kansas with an eventual goal of signing with a Division I team.
“It wasn’t as big-time, but I was playing baseball,” Kelly said.
Because of his year-long hiatus from the diamond, Kelly spent the summer prior to attending Garden City getting back in the baseball groove.
“It was an adjustment to get my swing back,” Kelly said. “My two years at junior college really helped me develop and mature. It definitely paid off for me.”
Kelly eventually claimed second-team All-Jayhawk Community College Conference honors as a sophomore after leading the squad with eight doubles and 22 doubles, and left a good impression with some Division I coaches. The Saint Louis coaching staff heard about Kelly and liked what they saw during a postseason tournament in Wichita.
“We didn’t know about him in high school,” SLU assistant coach Kevin Moulder said. “He was more of football recruit at the time. He’s obviously a pretty athletic kid. After a couple years at junior college, he’s turned himself into a pretty nice player.”
Kelly’s heart did not lead him astray. He has already fulfilled his goal of becoming a Division I baseball player. Kelly has started every game for the Billikens, and is the second-leading hitter on the team with a .351 batting average. Kelly has contributed nine doubles, three homers and 25 RBI.
“The competition is great and it is exciting to play at this level,” Kelly said. “I am loving it here. It’s a good opportunity.”
“He brings a football mentality to the team,” Moulder said. “He’s extremely high energy and a big, physical kid. He hits for pretty good power. He’s a physical presence in the middle of the lineup.”
The Billikens have posted a 24-11 record, and even earned mention in Collegiate Baseball National Poll earlier this season. Kelly, who leads the team with 47 hits, is an integral part of the squad’s success.
And while Kelly does not miss his football days, he does appreciate the experience and what he learned from it.
“Going through a year of college football helped me learn toughness and how to grind things out,” Kelly said.
“He’s better than I thought he would be when we signed him,” Moulder said. “He took a year off and didn’t play baseball. Now, he’s been back playing for a couple years and has come a long way in a short time. He’s gone from being a pretty good player to being a really good player.”