Recently, I had the chance to interview four-time World Series champion Roberto Kelly about his incredible playing and coaching career. Kelly, a two-time Major-League All-Star who won a ring with the Yankees during his final season in the big leagues in 2000, was a big part of the San Francisco Giants becoming world champions three times in a five-year stretch as a part of their coaching staff.
Now, the Panama City native serves as Program 15 and New Balance Future Stars Series’ national hitting and outfield coordinator, and brings an incredible wealth of knowledge that he’s excited to share with the kids he’s working with.
Mike Ashmore, Program 15: I was hoping to start from the present and then kind of work my way backwards…with that said, how did you end up getting involved with Program 15?
Roberto Kelly: “I was contacted by Trenidad Hubbard and Benji Gil, they told me about Program 15. They wanted to talk to me and see if it was something I was interested in doing. At the time, I really wasn’t sure what Program 15 was, but they flew me out to Houston and I met with the rest of the guys. Once I got there, that’s when I first met (P15 CEO) Jeremy (Booth) and he was explaining what it was. To see how passionate he was about the program and the plans that he had, as well as the other guys and it being a great group of guys, I thought it was something I wouldn’t mind being a part of. Now that I’ve been there, it was the right decision.”
MA: What was it about the opportunity that really spoke to you and made you want to come on board?
RK: “I’ve been coaching for a while, and Jeremy’s thing isn’t only doing things differently, it’s doing it right. You can do things different, but you can do ‘different’ wrong. His big thing was instructing these kids the right way, and paying attention to details as far as fielding, baserunning and hitting and all that. He was big on focusing on doing it the right way. Me coming from a coaching background, it was right in my back alley and something I really wanted to do. It’s not a going through the motions kind of thing, it’s taking your time and making sure we’re teaching these kids the right way. Hopefully, we can do something to make these kids better, and that’s what I like. Sometimes, you have coaches go out there and go through the motions. Jeremy made sure we pay attention to detail coaching these kids.”
MA: You’ve had a long, excellent playing career, and I’m certainly going to ask you about that in a bit. But you also helped build your name as a coach in the Giants organization. How much feedback have you seen on how eager kids have been to work with you given all of your experience?
RK: “I think that what I’ve got to offer to them is that I was in their position at one time. I was a kid who wanted to make it to the big leagues, and obviously my story and telling them what it takes and that there will be bumps and bruises, at the end (of the day), they’ll be listening. That’s what we do. They ask questions, and we give them stories about our lows and our highs, because that’s part of making it. They like listening to the stories and everything that got me through when I was struggling, and how I handled it. That’s part of it too. When you can relate to that and let them know that when you’re struggling, here’s one thing you can do. And when things are going well, you don’t want to get too high. It’s the experience that I’ve had and that I’ve been through that I can share with these kids.”
MA: Your first six years in the big leagues (1987-1992) were with the Yankees during a time period when they were trying to get back to prominence. You were one of the most popular players on that team and had a great run there…what stands out to you from that first run in pinstripes?
RK: “For me, it was nerve-wracking that first day. Every kid in the minor leagues, the goal is to try to make it to the big leagues. Me, going up to Yankee Stadium, I remember that first day being in that lineup, it was nerve-wracking. It was late in September and were playing the Tigers, and the Yankees were tied or close with the Tigers for a playoff spot, and I’m in the lineup and in center field at Yankee Stadium and the place is packed. I couldn’t even feel my legs. It’s something that as a kid, that’s something I always wanted to get to. When you’re there, you look around and see all the people in the stands, and you can’t believe it’s really happening to you. It’s a moment you fight for, and then you get there and you can’t believe it. It’s something you’ll never forget.”
MA: You got to play in two All-Star Games, one in 1992 and the other in 1993, but for different leagues. How memorable was getting to play in both of those games?
RK: “As a player, you want to be recognized with your peers for doing something good. I remember my first one was in San Diego, and it was amazing. I’m very proud of it. I was the type of player that could help the team win, but to make it to the All-Star team, your numbers had to be there. I wasn’t voted in, I was picked by the manager both times. But you had to have some numbers to get picked, so that’s what I was most proud of. My numbers really got me to those games.”
In part two, Kelly speaks about his big hit in that 1992 All-Star Game, as well as replacing Ken Griffey, Jr. in center field…we also talk about experience in the postseason, his last run with the Yankees, transitioning into a successful coaching career and more. Stay tuned later this week for the second half of our chat!
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