At the end of July the Rainiers added right-handed relief pitcher Shawn Kelley to their bullpen after he spent 14 months on the disabled list. Kelley was drafted by Seattle in 2007. He appeared in one game in Tacoma in 2009 and two last season before undergoing “partial” Tommy John ligament surgery on his right arm last September. Kelley talked recently with Tacoma Weekly baseball writer Karen Westeen about his career as a reliever as well as life as a new father.
TW: You were born in Louisville, Ky. Where do you live now?
SK: My wife and I and our 1-year old son live in Chattanooga, Tenn.
TW: Where did you go to college?
SK: Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn., where I majored in political science.
TW: Did you graduate?
SK: Yes, in 2007.
TW: Did you plan to go into professional baseball after graduation?
SK: Actually I was in it for the schooling and baseball just worked out. I had a good senior year and was seen by some scouts, but I was ready to go to work.
TW: Have you always been a reliever?
SK: I was a starter in college but I’ve always been a reliever in the pros. I was a fifth year senior when I was drafted and they stuck me in the bullpen, but now I wouldn’t have it any other way because it has allowed me to move up quickly. (Kelley appeared in relief in 41 games with Seattle in 2009 and 22 last year. His overall Major League record is 8-5. As of Aug. 30 his record with Tacoma is 1-0 with an ERA of 1.84. He has pitched 14.2 innings while appearing in 12 games.)
TW: You have undergone Tommy John surgery twice in your career. Is that unusual?
SK: No, they’ve done that to lot of players. My first one was nine years ago. I was 18 and a freshman in college. The second time, last September, was only partial. My ligament wasn’t totally torn off, so I did not need to have a new one grafted in; the same one could be reattached. The doctors had never done a partial Tommy John before, so now it’s the Shawn Kelley surgery.
TW: You were out for over a year (June 2010-August 2011) before you started pitching again in games. Are you back to 100 percent yet?
SK: I’m close. Everything is there, I just need a few more miles-an-hour on my fastball.
TW: You had another injury a couple of years ago that did not involve your arm.
SK: In May 2009 I threw a pitch and tore the left oblique (abdominal) muscle off the bone. I fell down because it was extremely painful, but it didn’t require surgery, just six weeks of rehab. At first I couldn’t even sneeze or cough without pain.
TW: What is your outpitch?
SK: My slider. I like to get ahead of batters with my fastball, then finish them off with the slider.
TW: Since you got here, you have been working with Dwight Bernard, a pitching coach you have not had before. What is he teaching you?
SK: He is trying to not reinvent the wheel. He just wants me to be consistent.
TW: Cheney Stadium has changed a lot since you pitched here before. What do you think of it?
SK: The new park is much better. It’s nice to have a real bullpen. The clubhouse has a nice feel to it. Overall I’d say there’s a better atmosphere when we come to the field. Even with the lower fences in right and left fields this is a pretty favorable park for pitchers, especially with such a deep centerfield.
TW: How frustrating was it to not be able to gain any ground on Reno, the team that is first in your division, especially when they swept you at Reno last month?
SK: Of course that puts added pressure on us. We have to have blinders on and not focus on the other teams, just execute at the plate and not worry about it, try to get within a few games. (As of Aug. 29 Tacoma was seven games back of Reno with eight games left to play.)
TW: What has been the highlight of your career so far?
SK: Playing with Ken Griffey, Jr. He was my hero when I was 5 and 6 years old. I always wondered what it would be like to play with him and he was everything I imagined.
TW: Your son was born a year ago, so you got to spend a lot of time with him while you were rehabbing. What was that like?
SK: While I was doing my rehab I was able to focus on him and get away from baseball. It really helped us with our goal of staying together as a family. He is not talking yet but he is jabbering and he has been walking for a couple of months, but I don’t mind, I can chase him around all day.
TW: Did you get to spend his birthday with him?
SK: No, we were on the road so he and his mom went home to Chattanooga.
TW: You are only 27 now so you have got a long career ahead of you. Have you given any thought to what you would like to do when you are done playing?
SK: Maybe go into broadcasting. When I’m with Seattle I host a show called Bullpen Banter on the Mariners’ Sunday radio pregame program. Everybody likes it and says I should get into broadcasting, including Mariner broadcaster Rick Rizzs. I have no problems talking in front of people, although I had to work on becoming more fluent and not using fillers. I’d like to play a few more years, then see what happens after that.
TW: What is your idea of a perfect day?
SK: Well, it’s not striking out someone to win the World Series. Probably just sitting in a boat on a lake back home with my family and my friends.