Rejuvenated Kinney finds baseball fun again
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
Around this time last year, Jake Kinney was a very unhappy baseball player.
Then he came to Tallahassee Community College after appealing to coach Mike McLeod to give him a shot at pitching for the Eagles. It didn’t take long for Kinney to regain the passion he said he came close to losing for the game.
His rejuvenation showed on the field and at the end of his first season at TCC, Kinney walked away with the FCSAA Fireman of the Year award. It came just a week after he was named the best pitcher in the Pan-handle Conference.
That’s much more than he saw in his future a year ago when he spent a red-shirt season at Florida Southern. And, that’s not all. He will play next season at FSU but that might depend on whether the 6-foot-7, 235-pound right hander gets drafted.
That call he made to Mc-Leod was the turning point from the days he sat on the bench at Florida Southern.
“I just wanted the opportunity to pitch and play for coach (McLeod),” he said. “My biggest concern was just to keep having fun playing baseball. Luckily, things turned out in my favor.”
He made 25 relief appearances for the Eagles, going 4-0, with seven saves and a 1.70 ERA. He struck out 60 batters in just 37 in-nings.
McLeod gives Kinney a lot of credit for the Eagles getting to this year’s state championship tournament.
“The hardest thing to do at our level is close a ball-game,” McLeod said. “It’s just a tough job for these kids. We have had some good closers at TCC but they are far and few be-tween. To find those guys that make you feel very confident if you have a 2-1 lead in the ninth, we are go-ing to the house with a win. That’s how we felt about Jake. He was that dominant and consistent for us.”
McLeod didn’t know how to use Kinney at first, but as he developed his 91-miles per hour fastball, he settled into being the Eagles’ closer. His “big-time slider” also helped in deciding the best spot for Kinney, McLeod said.
“He likes to throw the fastball more than he throws the slider,” he said. “You’ve got to respect that because he is not afraid of getting hit. He comes right after you. He throws strikes and he is very intelligent. He fields his position very well for a 6-7 guy.
“He covers a lot of ground so if you’re going to drop a bomb it better be perfect otherwise he is go-ing to take about two steps and be all over it.”
Kinney spent a lot of time working on his condition and pitching before coming to TCC. He took a methodical approach, he said.
“Essentially I had a purpose with everything I did,” he said, “knowing what I wanted to do with every small thing towards getting better.”
Brimming with confidence that he’d be able to deliver, Kinney said he is looking forward to playing at FSU in a role that the season at TCC helped him prepare for.
“A lot of people see that as a high-pressure situation, but it’s very fun,” he said. “You go into a game and it’s close; there is no pressure. You face the guy and if it goes your way it goes your way.”