It's in Kelley

Refugio's Jared Kelley recently won the Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year award. (Nick Barraza photo)

REFUGIO — Jared Kelley hoped to be somewhere else during the Major League Baseball draft (June 10-11) that is expected to make him a millionaire, but COVID-19 threw the University Interscholastic League and society a wicked curveball and short-circuited high school athletics this spring.

Kelley, the son of John and Liz Kelley, helped lead his team to the brink of a state baseball tournament as a junior in 2019, and his Refugio Bobcats were poised to challenge for the state championship this year. That’s where he hoped to be as the MLB draft unfolded — manning the pitcher’s mound for the Cats and earning a state championship trophy to go with the one the Refugio football team won six months earlier.

While the coronavirus left unfinished business on the baseball field, Kelley still has the chance to blaze a bright trail in professional or collegiate baseball, pitching for a professional team or for the Texas Longhorns.

“My plan for the future is to see what happens on June 10,” Kelley said. “There is no bad route between professional baseball or college. We will just see what happens.”

The 2020 RHS graduate was recently named the Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year. Kelley was dominant in limited action on the diamond this spring before COVID-19 concerns ended the season prematurely.

“Kelley won the prestigious award for his accomplishments on and off the field, joining an impressive group of former Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year winners who have combined for four MLB MVP awards, 40 All-Star appearances and 27 became MLB first round draft picks,” stated a press release from Gatorade.

Because of coronavirus concerns, Gatorade coordinated a virtual surprise, including a video call by the Philadelphia Phillies’ Bryce Harper to break the exciting news to Kelley.

“I was on the phone with the director of Gatorade and received the award from Bryce Harper,” Kelley said. “When I saw Bryce Harper on the call I was so confused and had no idea what was going on. He then said that I had received the national Gatorade player of the year and I was in shock, and did not know what to say.”

While athletic prowess is a key factor in earning such an award, there were other reasons why Kelley was selected as well.

“The award, which recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field, distinguishes Kelley as the nation’s best high school baseball player,” the press release stated. “A national advisory panel comprised of sport-specific experts and sports journalists helped select Kelley from nearly half a million high school baseball players nationwide.”

Kelley is now a candidate for Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year, which will be announced in July.

The Refugio graduate has already garnered the attention of MLB clubs, many avid baseball fans and sports journalists from coast to coast.

“Jared Kelley owns what is easily the most big-league ready prep arm in the Class of 2020,” said Carlos Collazzo, national writer for Baseball America. “He’s got the best fastball in the high school class, a pitch that routinely brushes the upper-90s. A consistently plus changeup and a solid breaking ball make him an intimidating physical presence. Perhaps what separates him even more than his velo is the ease with which he throws everything along with his ability to dependably locate his entire arsenal. That’s rare for a prep pitcher, and exceedingly so for a pitcher with stuff like his.”

Kelley has already made a mark on one of the most iconic baseball fields in America. He was starting pitcher at the Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field in Chicago in July 2019, throwing two innings without allowing an earned run while striking out five batters to earn the win.

“I’ve had the opportunity to play at Petco Park in San Diego, California, Wrigley Field in Chicago, Arizona Diamondbacks field , Brewers baseball field and other big-time college fields,” Kelley said.

Those rarified experiences are likely only the beginning for Kelley, who has a strong possibility of experiencing many more prestigious venues in the future.

While much of the attention Kelley has earned has been on the baseball field, he also earned appreciation from the community for his participation in recovery efforts following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. And his impact was strong in the classroom as well.

“Kelley devoted many hours to helping the area recover from the destruction,” the release stated. “He loaded and unloaded truckloads of supplies delivered to Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church, and he also helped deliver bags of clothes and food to people’s residences if they were in need of such supplies. In addition, he helped cut down and remove trees, tree limbs and other debris from the homes and yards of citizens in need of assistance. 

“A member of the Refugio High School National Honor Society, he has volunteered cleaning up around the school and at the concession stands during various sporting events. As a teacher’s aide in a seventh grade math class, he helped tutor students who were struggling and falling behind in their math work. He has also donated his time as an umpire for the Refugio Little League Baseball Association and, when he was participating in the Long Beach Area Code Games, he spent time playing baseball with the children undergoing treatment at Rady’s Children’s Hospital in San Diego.”

Refugio High School baseball coach Jarod Kay said he is thrilled at the recognition and accomplishments that Kelley has achieved.

“Jared is just a great young man,” Kay said. “He is someone who is a ‘yes sir, no sir’ kind of kid, a hardworking young man of high character, and someone who it was an absolute joy to be able to coach for the last few years. He is a once in a lifetime talent for a coach to have on his team, and I could not be more proud of him as a player or as a young man representing our school and our program.  

“Winning both the Texas Gatorade Baseball Player of The Year Award and the National Gatorade Baseball Player of The Year Award are tremendous honors for him. These Gatorade awards are some of the most prestigious awards that a high school athlete can receive. To have him recognized alongside names like (baseball greats) Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Clayton Kershaw, to just name a few is unbelievable. We are all very happy for him, and excited to see him continue his career at the highest level.”

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