There is no bigger fan of Shohei Ohtani than Brooks Kieschnick.
“I hope he comes over here and just dominates. I think it’s going to be a great thing for baseball. It’s something exciting,” Kieschnick said of the 23-year-old two-way Japanese star who signed with the Angels in December. “You had the Cubs win the World Series (in 2016), then you had the Astros (in 2017), so baseball is in a really, really good place right now. I want it to keep it going that way, and I think this will definitely be a step in the right direction for him coming over and providing another spark for our game.”
Kieschnick is the last player to both hit and pitch regularly in the same major league season, doing so for the 2003 Brewers with a modicum of success. The lefthanded batter hit .300 with seven home runs over 70 at-bats that season—he started three games in left field and four at DH—while recording a 5.26 ERA in 42 appearances as a righthanded reliever.
Today, Kieschnick is married with two young children. He owns Dispersion Group, a medical device distribution company in San Antonio.
Kieschnick clubbed a program-record 43 home runs and compiled a 34-8 record as a starting pitcher for the University of Texas from 1990-93. He was the Baseball America College Player of the Year in 1993. An online poll in 2002 recognized Kieschnick as the best player in Texas program history. He was one of the inaugural inductees into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006 and had his No. 23 jersey retired by the Longhorns in 2009.
Major league organizations faced much uncertainty when evaluating Kieschnick out of college. Most were not certain whether he fit better hitting or pitching, and if either talent merited him being a first-round selection.
The Cubs took Kieschnick with the 10th overall pick in 1993 and signed him as a two-way player for $650,000.
He toiled in the minor leagues as an outfielder/DH before reaching the major leagues in brief stints with the Cubs in 1996 and ’97, the Reds in 2000 and the Rockies in 2001. Then Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin and manager Ned Yost threw their support behind Kieschnick two-way project for the 2003 season.
“I went to spring training and figured out how to work it,” Kieschnick said. “I would DH a few games and pinch-hit in a few games, and spend a lot of time on the mound. I was having the most fun playing baseball since the first time I signed.”
Benefiting from having two players in one, the Brewers effectively extended their roster to 26 players in 2003. The following season for Milwaukee, an injury limited Kieschnick to pitching and pinch-hitting only, so he wasn’t getting a chance to step in the batter’s box on a regular basis.
“I guess I’ll never know,” the 45-year-old Kieschnick said when asked if he might have extended his career by concentrating on one aspect of the game.
“I’ll never know because there wasn’t the opportunity to fail. I put so much pressure on myself to get two hits in one at-bat, instead of just going up there and having fun.”
Now the fun for Kieschnick will be in watching to see if Ohtani can pull off being a two-way player.