Goal Was Simple: Take Care of Their Own
During the first week of May, the sporting world fixates its attention upon Kentucky with the Kentucky Derby. The most prestigious event in horse racing, the pursuit of the Triple Crown has made “My Old Kentucky Home” a part of pop culture.
But in 2017, that home, the Bluegrass State, has also captured the attention of the amateur baseball world. While California, Florida, the Carolinas and Texas can boast some of the most traditional-laden programs in college baseball, only Kentucky, with the University of Louisville and University of Kentucky, can claim two top-six programs in Baseball America’s first May top 25 ranking. Before the chase for the Triple Crown began, the road to Omaha was being built to go through Kentucky. And one travel baseball organization has been instrumental in leading the charge of the Cardinals and Wildcats.
“Kentucky, throughout the nation, is thought of as a basketball state, but it truly is a hotbed for youth baseball,” said Kevin Clary the head coach of the 17u Louisville Slugger Prime Kentucky Baseball Club.
Based in Lexington, Kentucky, KBC has developed and sent some of Kentucky’s top prep players to the next level. Between the graduating classes of 2012 and 2016, they saw 121 players commit to a college or university. Included in that group is Louisville closer Lincoln Henzman and shortstop Devin Hairston, as well as Kentucky’s starting shortstop Connor Heady.
KBC has produced collegiate All-Americans, and top draft picks, but when the organization started in 2006 the goal was simple: take care of their own.
“The first goal was to take care of the kids in our state first,” Clary said.
KBC was established in a backroom of the Champions Sports Academy in Lexington. Clary, alongside Mark Blythe and Ken Jackson, were instructors at Champions. But each would go their separate way in the summer, coaching different teams throughout Kentucky. In an effort to best serve Kentucky, Jackson saw that the three became one.
“Mr. Jackson had young kids at the time, coming up through the travel program and we wanted to do it based on what we knew and to get all of the best players in one organization, not saturated throughout the state,” Clary said. “Mr. Jackson was very integral in it. He's a baseball visionary, a go-getter and he can put things together. Once we sat down and talked about it, it was a home run. He's was kind of the mastermind behind it.
“The philosophy came out of a meeting in the back of Champions, in the back room one night. We just all banned together and came up with the idea and it really took off from there.”
With 40,000 square feet of batting cages, bullpens, a weight room and office space, the Champions Sports Academy helps KBC provide year-round instruction and development. Clary calls Champions a Godsend, in not only being the place with the travel organization was birthed, but for the ability in identifying, developing and producing top players. Where some travel organizations start with one team and take off from there, KBC saw that there was a need to be an organization that saw the growth and development of players from junior high through high school, in an effort to make sure they were best serving Kentucky’s youth baseball players.
“Our initial goal was to be a premier organization from the ages of 13 to 18, every single year, and compete at the highest of highest levels with players from our state. We started from the get go, ages 13 all the way up to 18. We had six or seven teams that very first year,” Clary said.
“Lexington is a hotbed for youth baseball. We have some excellent youth programs that feed into our program. We capitalized on that in 2007. Started out with the Lexington kids, then ventured out to the surrounding areas, now there are kids from all over the state.”
Now, from the eastern part of the state, in the Appalachians, to the Mississippi at its west, KBC has border-to-border coverage within Kentucky. That’s exactly what Blythe, Clary and Jackson saw, creating an organization built on pride in Kentucky and the loyalty to those within.
“Loyalty is a big deal to use and it's served us well,” said Clary, leading the charge of amateur baseball in his old Kentucky home.