Growing up in Oregon, the likelihood of a professional baseball player ever getting to play in his hometown is slim.
But for Westview High School graduate and Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Carson Kelly, that dream became a reality when he suited up for the Hillsboro Hops July 27 and July 28 at Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro.
The 27-year-old, who was originally drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012, spent three years in the Cardinals' organization before being traded to Arizona in December 2018. Since then, he's played in more than 200 major league games. Before fracturing his wrist this past June, he was batting .264 with eight home runs through 50 games this year.
No one — including Kelly — ever wants to get hurt. But one of the few silver linings was what he experienced this past week as part of his rehab assignment on his way back to the big leagues: a chance to play in his hometown.
"It's incredible," Kelly said. "Getting drafted in 2012 and being with the Cardinals, and being on the East Coast and Midwest, I haven't really had a chance to come up here.
"Once I got hurt and got the opportunity to come play for the Hops, it's probably one of my best baseball moments to be in front of family and friends. It's cool to be back in the Northwest."
Hops manager Vince Harrison spoke highly of Kelly and the upside of having a major leaguer on an around his team, if even just for a few days. He said the benefits of having a guy like Kelly rubbing shoulders with his young players are endless, but he's also happy for Kelly, who was able to play in front of friends and family in his hometown for the first time as a professional.
"He told me that he obviously never wants to be hurt, but it was on his mind that if he ever were injured, there was a chance he'd get to rehab here," Harrison said. "He's close to home here and said that he'll probably come back here when he's done with baseball. He's really excited about this and he's putting a lot of energy into it. You can't put a value on what this means to all of us here."
Kelly still remembers when he was in those young Hops players' shoes, and what it meant to him to play alongside major leaguers.
"When I was in High-A, I had the opportunity to have a couple guys come down to rehab and I was able to pick their brains and learn from them, and see what it's like to be a big-leaguer," Kelly said. "That's the thing — I'm trying to help these guys, while at the same time learning a little bit myself. There's always an opportunity to learn in this game, and I'm excited to be out here and be a part of the Hops."
Beginning this season, the Hops are playing at a more advanced level than ever before. But players at High-A are still typically three steps away from the major leagues, and in the multi-tiered system of professional baseball development, they still have a lot to learn.
"I think the biggest thing from High-A and going through to the big leagues is everything gets a little sharper," Kelly said. "The competition is about the same and guys throw just as hard, but everything is a little bit sharper and a little bit quicker. But these are the guys that are going to be the next crew going up to Double-A and Triple-A, and hopefully I'll be around long enough to play with some of these guys (with Arizona)."
While Kelly has enjoyed his time in Oregon, Arizona is where the fame and fortune lie, along with the experience he dreamed about growing up.
"It's everything I thought it was going to be," Kelly said. "It was a dream growing up — and here in the Pacific Northwest, we get a lot of rain, but that's not an excuse to not go out and get your work in. You have to get creative with your routines or certain drills, and you've always got to be curious and find ways to get better, because if you put in that work and continue to grow, you have a good shot at making it."
But while thinking about the Diamondbacks, Kelly was also doing his best to help the Hops the only way he knows how — by winning games.
"Over the last couple of days, I really pushed myself to the limit to play at my highest level, and you know, I'm getting really close to getting back," Kelly added.
Kelly was joined in Hillsboro by fellow Westview graduate and 2021 Oregon Ducks standout Kenyon Yovan, who signed with the Los Angeles Angels earlier in July and made his professional debut with the Tri-City Dust Devils July 28.
Yovan singled in his first professional at-bat and finished the game 1-for-3.
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