Former Westview star Carson Kelly loving life as a pro

Carson Kelly thought he was dreaming.

As he climbed the steps of the St. Louis Cardinals' dugout at their spring training complex in Jupiter, Fla., and prepared to run out on the field for the first time as a professional baseball player, Kelly almost asked teammate John Kelly to pinch him.

This can't be real, the baby-faced 18-year-old, thought. Is that actually Carlos Beltran and Matt Holiday warming up in the outfield? Did I just see Daniel Descalso give me a knowing head nod?

Just one year ago, Kelly was taking infield at Westview High School, trying to carry the Wildcats back to the state championship game and secure his legacy as one of Oregon's best high school baseball players of all time. There was always the possibility of getting drafted and heading straight to pro baseball, even when Kelly committed to the University of Oregon, but the ever humble infielder never wanted to look that far ahead. by: COURTESY PHOTO: JOE PUTNAM STATE COLLEGE SPIKES - Former Westview star Carson Kelly is suiting up for the State College Spikes this summer.

When the Cardinals picked him in the second round of the 2012 Major League Draft, Kelly thought one day in the near future he'd arrive on the big stage, but not 10 months after his senior prom.

Now, on this cool March day with friends and family watching on ESPN back home in Beaverton, the third baseman was about to embark on the plan he set out years ago as a young tot.

Wide-eyed and gripped by the fact he was sharing the field with the same childhood heroes he used to plaster on his bedroom walls, Kelly allowed himself a moment to just sit back and drink it all in: the aroma of the perfectly cut grass, the way the ball sounded different off the bat, the amount of fans in the stands for a Grapefruit League game.

“I was like 'Wow, I'm here. This is the coolest thing I've ever experienced in my life',” said Kelly. “It's a taste of your dream. Ever since I was a little kid I dreamed about playing with the big league guys. It took the wind out of me... I was like 'Oh man, this is what I want to do in the future'.”

Draped in the classic red and yellow attire with the red cardinal sitting on the yellow bat glued to his New Era cap, Kelly took the field in the sixth inning against the Miami Marlins. And, just as he's done since his days as a Little Leaguer, Kelly manned the hot corner perfectly, throwing two runners out at first, including Giancarlo Stanton, one of the beefiest sluggers in the MLB. by: COURTESY PHOTO: JOE PUTNAM STATE COLLEGE SPIKES - Carson Kelly said playing baseball for a living has been a lifelong aspiration.

“I think that was the biggest guy I've ever seen in the batter's box,” said Kelly with a laugh. “All my family and friends back home were like 'Oh, look at that!' and going crazy.”

Not only did Kelly get to pick the brains of Jay and Beltran on the finer tips of hitting at the highest level of hardball, but the third baseman raked a base hit to left field.

“Career, I'm one-for-three in my major league career,” pointed out Kelly.

Jay and Descalso took Kelly under their wing during St. Louis' spring training in Jupiter, Fla., and showed the teenaged tyro little tips on what it means to be a pro. The results will take care of themselves, said the pair of 2011 World Series champs. St. Louis manager Mike Matheny — a multiple time Gold Glover — pulled Kelly aside and told him to be aggressive and not be timid to make a mistake.

Kelly said the Cardinals made him feel highly at ease and comfortable hanging with the same guys he used to study on YouTube.

“It was a really cool experience,” said Kelly. “The cool thing about the Cardinals is they like to bring up those young guys to get that experience. Then, once we hopefully make it up there one day, you fit in right away. You're not nervous. The Cardinals get that out of the way early.”

Kelly — the second youngest player at the Cardinals' minor league camp — was eventually designated to the Cardinals' Class A Short Season New York-Penn League squad, the State College Spikes. It was an unforgettable whiff of The Show, one Kelly said only roused his single-mindedness to someday get to the big league level permanently. by: COURTESY PHOTO: JOE PUTNAM STATE COLLEGE SPIKES - Carson Kelly said playing baseball for a living has been a lifelong aspiration.

Shifting from high school pitchers, who throw in the mid 80s tops, to pros, who effortlessly fling 90 mph petrol and integrate nauseating off-speed clutter, has been an admitted and anticipated adjustment for Kelly. Few rookies ever begin their careers hitting .600 with a lofty on-base percentage and the former Westview star knows that. He has to take his lumps just like every other newbie playing in the Class A Short Season New York-Penn League. But, Kelly's willing to put in the exertion it takes to let his untaught abilities as a hitter and corner infielder come to light.

“It definitely takes time, but you just have to keep working,” said Kelly. “Just talking to the guys at spring training, it really opened up my eyes, knowing there's a lot of work to do if I want to get to that level.”

The Spikes play nearly every day with maybe an off-day here and there to ease the amount of travel between cities. State College travels up and down the East Coast in a Greyhound tour bus, and it gives Kelly a chance to get acquainted with guys he will potentially move up the ranks with. It can be uncomfortable at times, with one closet-sized bathroom for 25 grown men, yet Kelly said the team's always talking music, playing cards or swapping stories from their famed pasts. The team hotels range from the Holiday Inn to unelaborated one star shacks in the middle of nowhere, but Kelly said he wouldn't trade it for anything.

“Every single game, you just go out and have fun,” said Kelly. “You do all the work before, and once it's game time, you just have fun. It's definitely been a grind, but we've had a lot of fun.

“You have to be prepared for everything,” continued Kelly. “You're kind of living out of a suitcase, and at times, you're like 'Oh great, I have to go pack up again,' but at the same time you embrace it. It's truly an opportunity of a lifetime to play professional baseball.”

The pressure of being a second round pick who's expected to move quickly through the farm system as well as live up to that hefty signing bonus doesn't unsettle Kelly. He's content with the developmental process and trying to soak up the nuances of one of the most difficult sports in the world to master. Baseball can humble a player, as Kelly's discovered early on. There were games Kelly went hitless early in the season, something that happened once in a blue moon as a Wildcat. Everyone's talented, everyone's good at the minor league and major league level. It's the ones who stay after practice, who hit hours before the game starts and absorb lessons from those around them who make it to the bigs, and more importantly, stay there.

In the last 10 games, Kelly's really started to come on at the dish, hitting .308, including a recent 3-4 outing

“It's taking baby steps with everything,” said Kelly. “My hitting approach, my swing, fielding, everything has to get better as you move up the levels. I'm working toward my plan and sticking to the process that I've developed the last year and a half and keep adding to that.”

Kelly's junior year at Westview went 66-6 combined between the OIBA and spring seasons when the Wildcats won the state championship. This fall and winter when the minor league season comes to a close, Kelly will return to Beaverton for the offseason. His little brother, Parker was a star for the Wildcats this year who tried out for the Team USA's 16-and-under squad.

“I miss my friends and all my family back home, but I know I have a lot of work to do to get where I want to be,” said Kelly. “At the same time, I can't wait to come back this offseason because the Northwest is where I'm from. That's where I love to be. I can't wait to get back.”

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