TROY — Tri-City ValleyCats shortstop Grae Kessinger comes from a baseball family with rich tradition, and is hoping to build on that success during his own young career.
The 21-year-old the Houston Astros selected in the second round of the 2019 MLB draft is in his first season with the ValleyCats. Previously, his grandfather Don Kessinger, father Kevin Kessinger and uncle Keith Kessinger all played professional baseball.
“My family’s taught me so much, just [that] from an early age that this game’s hard. It’s not always going to go your way, but every pitch do the best you can on that particular pitch,” Grae Kessinger said. “You’re going to have good days and bad days, but your effort and your energy, you can control every day.”
Each member of the Kessinger baseball family tree has reached different levels of success in their individual careers.
Don Kessinger, 76, spent 16 years in the majors playing with the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox, and was a six-time all-star and a two-time Gold Glove winner. He was also named player-manager of the Chicago White Sox for the 1979 season, and was the last player-manager in the American League.
Meanwhile, dad Kevin Kessinger, 49, and uncle Keith Kessinger, 52, both played in the minors, while Keith Kessinger enjoyed a short stint in the majors.
“They’ve been through it. They understand it. So, if I need advice or I just need to talk to someone — or whatever — they know how I’m feeling and we’re all super-close,” Grae Kessinger said. “I can go to them with anything I need. They know how I’m feeling, and they know what to say and they get me, and I think that’s going to be huge for my career going forward.”
Originally, Grae Kessinger was drafted in the 26th round of the 2016 MLB draft by the San Diego Padres before choosing to attend the University of Mississippi, where his family members also starred. Don Kessinger also served for six seasons as the head coach at Mississippi.
While at Mississippi, Grae Kessinger received multiple individual awards. An All-American, Kessinger was the 2019 Brooks Wallace Award Winner, which recognizes the top college shortstop.
“I think college was good for me. I needed to get more mature. I needed to get stronger. I needed to get bigger,” Kessinger said. “I needed to get mentally more mature.”
His stay with Tri-City, though, could be a short one.
“I don’t think he’ll be here very long,” ValleyCats manager Ozney Guillen said. “I think his skills and his baseball IQ are above here, and he’ll move on quickly.”
Through Monday’s action, Kessinger had started his first professional season batting .294 with three RBIs and a stolen base in 34 plate appearances.
“He’s got a lot of talent. A lot of people always say that his IQ is his highest thing, but he’s a big guy,” Guillen said. “He’s going to have power. He’s going to get bigger and stronger, and defensively he’s probably elite at this level and at any level. He was the college shortstop of the year for a reason, and I think he’s going to get better and keep progressing.”
Tyrell Feaster is an intern at The Daily Gazette. Feaster, a junior at the University at Albany, is majoring in journalism.