For almost 10 years, Wes Carroll has coached college baseball. Before that, he played five seasons of minor-league ball in the Philadelphia, Montreal and Washington farm systems.
Until this spring, Carroll never had witnessed what Prairie Ridge graduate Kevin Kaczmarski of Cary did this spring.
“It’s the most incredible season I have ever seen,” said Carroll, who has been the head coach at NCAA Division I Evansville since 2008. “I’ll probably never see another one like it in my life.”
Last week, Kaczmarski was named to the 17-member Louisville Slugger D-I All-America first team. The Evansville senior center fielder led the nation in batting average (.465), triples (nine) and triples per game (0.20). He also ranked second nationally with a .543 on-base percentage and a .746 slugging percentage.
Last month, Kaczmarski became the first Missouri Valley Conference Joe Carter Player of the Year.
“The one main thing about Kevin is he plays the game hard,” Carroll said. “Every single day, he sets a great example.”
Kaczmarski’s historic season came about after the disappointment of not being selected in the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, an event comprised of 40 rounds and 1,215 players chosen.
“I started questioning what was going on,” he said.
As a junior, Kaczmarski was a first-team All-MVC player who batted .315 with 50 RBIs.
“For whatever reason, his name wasn’t called,” Carroll said. “It’s going to affect you. It’s a humbling experience.”
How Kaczmarski handled the disappointment, however, thoroughly impressed his coach.
“He went looking for solutions,” Carroll said. “He went to work on things in order to make sure his name is called this year. He used that as fuel. He set out to prove people wrong. Boy, oh boy, did he.”
Kaczmarski’s biggest change was an introspective look at his approach to the game.
Instead of allowing frustration and disappointment to take over, he focused on enjoying the game.
“I learned a lot about life, not just about baseball,” he said. “I’ve learned that I’m a naturally competitive person, so I don’t need to put pressure on myself to be more competitive.”
His competitive nature led Kaczmarski to let bad days at the plate bring him down.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself trying to be perfect,” he said. “That caused me a lot of stress and anxiety. That took the fun out of the game.”
Kaczmarski wanted to ensure that playing the game this season would be more enjoyable for him and his teammates.
“I took my relationships a little further,” he said. “I want to be a good teammate. I let more people in. I wasn’t so closed off. Being around the guys every day, we had a lot of fun.”
Kaczmarski’s skills always made him an example, but his more relaxed approach this season drew even more teammates to him.
“That showed me a lot about his character,” Carroll said. “I’m really proud of the end result.”
Kaczmarski was named a semifinalist for the national Golden Spikes Award, given by USA Baseball to the nation’s top college player. And, he is among the 10 finalists for the Senior CLASS Award, which honors a college senior for athletic, academic and community contributions.
“He’s definitely not a vocal guy,” Carroll said. “Coaching a team of 30 guys, you look for leadership. He’s a positive guy and people like to be around him.”
On the field, Kaczmarski answered a major difficulty this season, facing left-handed pitching. A year ago the left-handed hitting Kaczmarski batted .191, according to Carroll.
This season, his average against lefties ballooned to .552.
“I used to think, ‘Oh no, there’s a lefty out there,’ and I’d feel a lot of pressure,” Kaczmarski said. “Now, I just look at it as it’s just another pitcher on the mound.”
His success this season has sparked plenty of interest from MLB teams as the first day of the draft approaches Monday. Kaczmarski said he already has worked out for the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Mets. He also will work out for the Texas Rangers and worked out with the White Sox on Wednesday at U.S. Cellular Field.
Kaczmarski’s most memorable moment of the season, according to Carroll, wasn’t one of his 28 multi-hit games or his 22-game hitting streak.
During a Sunday road game against Bradley in April, Kaczmarski came to the plate with his team leading 10-0 in the seventh inning. He was already 4 for 4 with a double, a triple, three runs scored and three RBIs.
“He hit a ball into left center, hustled out of the [batter’s] box and beat out a bang-bang play at second for a double,” Carroll said. “He could have had a nice, easy single. I’m going to use that example for the next 10, 15 years – maybe even the rest of my career.”
Senior CLASS Award voting
Evansville baseball player Kevin Kaczmarski, a Prairie Ridge graduate, is a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award. To vote, visit seniorclassaward.com/vote/baseball_2015/