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’
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’
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
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
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
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
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
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!