March 13, 2008


Nine Innings with Keith Kessinger

By Patrick Hyde


Arkansas State head coach Keith Kessinger has led his team to a 10-5 start. Last week the youthful Indians beat then undefeated Ole Miss and swept preseason Sun Belt favorite Louisiana-Lafayette over the weekend. The former big leaguer took some time to talk about his team’s recent success, his first big league at bat, and what it’s like to play the Rajun’ Cajuns.


First Inning – After an up-and-down first two weeks, your team came out and beat one of the nation's top teams in Ole Miss then swept preseason Sun Belt favorite Louisiana-Lafayette. Did the energy from the upset of Ole Miss carry over into the weekend series? 

Obviously beating Ole Miss on the road, when they were undefeated and #2 in the nation was a really good win for our young team and gave us some confidence heading into the series with Louisiana-Lafayette. Our guys certainly built off of that and played extremely well all weekend against the Rajun’ Cajuns.


Second Inning – You played at Ole Miss. What is it like to coach against your alma mater? And to win for the third time in the past few seasons?

The first time we played them six years ago, it was really a strange experience being in the “wrong” dugout and competing against players that I had recruited and the school that I had been a fan of my entire life. Now it is a big game for us because of the job that Mike has done at Ole Miss in making their program one of the best in the country. It is still special for me personally because I get to see a lot of friends and family in a town that my wife and I lived in for more than 10 years. I wish I could explain our success against Ole Miss but we have just played well and been fortunate to get some really good wins.


Third Inning – What was it like in the locker room and on the bus after the last game against Louisiana-Lafayette? Also, what's it like to play there. We hear it's a trip!

Our team was excited about the wins but we try not to get too high or low because the college baseball season is a long journey and this season has just begun. A game at Lafayette is a happening, not just a baseball game. They tailgate before and after the games, cook during the games, and really support their team. It is not very hard to get your team ready to play it that atmosphere when you are the visiting team. Tony has done a great job with that program.


Fourth Inning – How has the buzz from last week carried over to this week in practice and in preparing for your next games?

We have won two out of three this week at home with a big weekend series against MTSU coming up. Sometimes momentum is only as good as the guy on the mound for you or the guy you are facing.


Fifth Inning – Despite winning the most conference games in your career last year, the Tribe was picked to finish near the bottom this year. How important was it for your team to come out and play well like it did against Louisiana-Lafayette?

We don’t get caught up in pre-season polls, they don’t give out championship rings or NCAA tournament bids based on polls. We play in a very competitive league where you play everybody and the standings are decided on the field. Having said that, to win our first three games on the road was obviously a good start.


Sixth Inning – Has your early success changed your goals for the season?

Our goals have always been and will always be to win the Sun Belt title, get to the postseason and make a run in the tournament.


Seventh Inning – For a team with so few seniors and several freshmen playing a lot of innings, what have your staff and/or the team done to help fill that lack of senior leadership?

We are a young team starting four or five freshmen in our lineup but we have a tremendous group of five seniors who have done a great job with our team thus far. All of our players are held accountable for doing their part regardless of what year they are in school. We don’t spend too much time talking about being young or inexperienced, just preparing and playing the game the right way.


Eighth Inning – What lessons and experiences do you take from being a player and apply to managing?

I think you always take your experiences, good and bad, in any career and try to apply it to make other people better. I was fortunate enough to get to play professionally for about eight years and play for some great baseball minds so hopefully some of that comes out every once in a while!


Ninth Inning – How tough is it to sell your program to recruits being in the midst of SEC, Sun Belt and even Big 12 country?

We think we have a lot to sell here in Jonesboro, AR. It is a great college town where you can get a quality education and play in a great baseball conference. We also play an extremely challenging non-conference schedule which gives our players the opportunity to play against the best teams in the country.


Extra Innings – Discuss the transformation of your home field over the years.

We have made some dramatic improvements over the past five years to our stadium and baseball complex and these improvements are scheduled to continue into the future. Over the past two years we have added a large picnic area down the right field line and an additional 200 chair back seats closer to home plate. Four luxury suites are scheduled to be constructed in the near future. We think that when everything is completed that we will have one of the nicest small stadiums (capacity about 1300) in the country.


Extra Innings –Break down your first major league at-bat.

That one is easy. First pitch fastball, away, from Kent Mercker for a 42 hop ground ball base hit to right. I have the ball right next to me in the office.


Extra Innings – You grew up in baseball with your father Don playing 16 years. What are some of your memories of his playing days…clubhouses, favorite players, road trips?

It is one of those things you wish you could go back and experience again and fully appreciate it. At the time you are going through it, you don’t know anything different. I was fortunate enough on the back of his career to be able to bat boy a few games and travel with the team a few times. I just wish I had gotten a few more baseballs signed!