“From Phenom to the Farm” releases new episodes every other Tuesday featuring players whose experiences vary across the professional baseball spectrum. Players will discuss their personal experiences going from high school graduation to the life of a professional baseball player.
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During his years in the minor leagues, working toward his goal of making it to the big leagues, Ty Kelly was hungry.
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Yes, hungry for success at each level, and to better his game and gain that exclusive call-up to the big leagues, but that’s not the hunger we’re talking about here.
No, Kelly was literally hungry. As in, despite being a professional athlete working full-time for a multi-million dollar organization, playing games in 100-degree heat, Kelly was making so little money that he often didn’t have a sufficient amount of food to fill his stomach.
“It would be maybe like two eggs at home…just to try to make a dozen eggs last as long as possible,” Kelly said. “We would have chicken fingers from the concession stand basically was our pre-game meal every day…if you ever went over two, you were going to get yelled at by someone.”
“My days would be a couple eggs, a couple chicken fingers, a couple pieces of broccoli, and then getting half-off apps at Applebee’s.”
Not the ideal diet for an athlete spending 10+ hours at a ballpark on a daily basis during the hottest days of summer. Nor was it ideal for that same athlete to be spending each night trying to recover with sleep on an air mattress situated in the middle of the living room of a small apartment—no furniture, no TV, just an open suitcase on the floor.
His small signing bonus and minuscule paychecks didn’t allow for any higher standard of living. Each offseason, Kelly was only able to keep up with the training required to keep his body ready for the ensuing season by giving hitting lessons and relying on his parents with some help paying rent (who did so in exchange for him continuing to work toward his college degree).
Kelly, the Orioles’ 13th round pick in the 2009 draft out of UC-Davis, continued to climb up the MiLB ladder by adapting to both the less than ideal conditions off the field and serving as a Swiss Army Knife on it.
Sent out each year as a second baseman, injuries on the team would lead to Kelly filling in at third base—and also left field—and eventually every spot in the lineup besides pitcher and catcher. When he’d originally been drafted by the Orioles, Kelly looked to the big league club and envisioned turning into a player like the club’s current second baseman, Brian Roberts. Instead, by the time he’d cemented himself as a AAA regular knocking on the door, Kelly had to learn the art of being a utility man—which takes time.
“There’s nothing like game experience,” said Kelly. “You can go shag as many fly balls in left field during batting practice as you want, but there’s nothing that’s going to exactly simulate games like actual game experience.”
His adaptability paid off. Kelly’s longest big league stint came with the 2017 Phillies, where his value to a young, non-competing team was to be a guy that could plug-in and play or pinch-hit whenever the situation called for it. He also played a key role for Team Israel, starting at 3rd base during the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
Kelly is for now retired from professional baseball, although he still plans to man the hot corner for Team Israel during the next WBC. However, he’s not done with his involvement in Minor League Baseball. He’s spending his early post-career days joined up with MiLB Advocates, working to push MLB to make changes ensuring that the days of players surviving on air mattresses and a couple chicken tenders become a thing of the past.
“(My hope) is that they’re able to treat Minor League Baseball like a career, which is what it is,” said Kelly.
On the next episode of ‘From Phenom to the Farm,’ former big leaguer Ty Kelly joins to discuss tough conditions in MiLB, the art of being a utility man, and divulge the best way to cook a sweet potato.