Well-traveled utility player finds a home with Rainiers

Rainiers' infielder Mike Kinkade is one of the team's most versatile players. Traded from Texas to Seattle in the 2007 off-season, he has experience at every position except pitcher. While Jeff Clement was in Seattle earlier this season, Kinkade was back-up catcher, his favorite position. But his name has not appeared in the line-up since early May when he went on the disabled list with knee problems. The knee is healing, but much slower than anyone expected.

Another thing Kinkade never expected was to play for so many teams during his baseball career. Drafted by the Brewers in 1994, he did not sign then, but returned to Washington State University to complete his college education. When the Brewers drafted him again in 1995, he signed, thinking he would spend his entire career in Milwaukee.

Kinkade did well in the Brewers' farm system. In 1995 he played for Rookie level Helena, Mont., and was on the Pioneer League's All-Star team. The next year, with Single-A Beloit (Wisconsin), he was an all-star for the Midwest League's mid-season game. In 1997, he was named MVP of the Double-A Texas League, while with El Paso. That season he hit .385 and stole 17 bases.

His plan to be a Brewer for life ended abruptly in July 1998 when he was traded to the Mets. In September 1998, Kinkade made his Major-League debut. "I thought it was a homerun," he said of his first ML at bat. "But Bobby Abreu (of the Phillies) caught it at the wall." Kinkade had to wait until the next season to get his first hit in the big leagues. He played only 31 Major-League games with New York. The rest of the time he bounced around between their Double-A and Triple-A teams.

In July 2000 Kinkade was traded again. This time he went to Baltimore, where he appeared in three games before leaving for the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. Kinkade said being on the Olympic team was the highlight of his career. "It's unbelievable to get the chance to play for your country, to wear USA across your uniform." He played third base as former Rainier, Pat Borders, was doing the catching.

Kinkade played a crucial role in helping the United States win the gold medal in baseball. In the semi-final game against South Korea, he scored the team's second run in what ultimately turned out to be a 3-2 come-from-behind victory. In 2006, Kinkade and current teammate Bryan LaHair played for Team USA in the qualifying tournament for the 2008 Olympics. This game was played in Cuba, and the opponent in the championship game was the Cuban team. Kinkade said beating the Cubans at home to clinch a berth for the United States in what may be the final appearance of baseball in the Olympics was as much a thrill as winning Olympic gold.

The 2001 season in Baltimore was pretty exciting also, as it was Cal Ripken, Jr.'s final season. This was the season when Kinkade had his first real Major-League success, as well. He batted .275 in 160 at bats. At season's end, he packed his bags and headed west, signing as a free agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 2002, coming off the bench, he batted .380 with seven extra-base hits in only 50 at bats.

After one more season in LA, he headed even farther west. In 2004, he played for the Hanshin Tigers of the Japanese League. By then, Kinkade and his wife had two young sons and they all enjoyed living in a foreign country. "This was a great learning experience. The boys picked up some Japanese," he said, "but they've forgotten every word now."

When he returned to the United States, Kinkade's baseball travels continued. In 2005, he played for Cleveland's Triple-A team in Buffalo, N.Y. Then it was on to the Marlins (2006 in Albuquerque). He split 2007 between the Iowa Cubs and the Yankees' Double-A team in Trenton, N.J. In February 2008 he signed a minor-league contract with the Mariners.

Kinkade is not sure why he has wandered around so much, but he has enjoyed all the places he has played. Born in Michigan, he graduated from high school in Tigard, Ore., in 1991, before going to WSU.  He majored in business management, but does not see that as part of his future career plans. During the off-seasons he returns to Pullman, where he works in construction, which could be part of his future. He also speaks occasionally at baseball camps and clinics. He likes to spend time in the outdoors with his sons (now 8, 7 and 1), and also coaches the two older boys. He said that he might enjoy coaching professionally at some level eventually. The family will get over to Rainier games at least a couple of times this year.

Kinkade's versatility and experience are great assets for the team, but he also has a secret weapon. He has been known to steal home on a couple of rare occasions, although that is not likely to happen again until the knee is better. While he is rehabbing he has been able to travel with the team, since he never knows when the knee will be healed. "It's hard for me to sit," he admitted, but that and working out with the trainer are his only jobs right now. Once he is back on the field, he plans to do whatever he can, big or little, to help the Rainiers as they work their way back to the top of their division.

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