Playing professional baseball -- even college baseball -- is a hard enough task that only a small percentage of those players that work at refining their skills day in and day out get the chance to achieve by playing at the game's highest levels. Now imagine taking more than four years off from working on those skills, actually working on a whole different set of skills, then stepping back in to pick the game up and not missing a beat. That is part of the amazing tale of Patrick Kivlehan.
A collegiate athlete on the gridiron for four years at Rutgers before returning to the game of baseball that he loves dearly, Kivlehan clearly didn't miss a beat, winning the league MVP and turning in the first Triple Crown in Big East history before being selected by Seattle in the 4th round of the 2012 draft. He wrapped up his storybook debut season in the Mariners system by winning the League MVP for the Everett Aquasox.
Patrick -- who checked in on our Top-50 as the Seattle Mariners No. 21 prospect -- recently took the time to talk with SeattleClubhouse's Rick Randall about the unlikely ride and the challenges that still lie ahead as he works to reach the ultimate goal of becoming a Major League Baseball player.
SeattleClubhouse: Hello Patrick, glad to finally get the chance to talk with you today.
Patrick Kivlehan: Yeah, glad we could finally connect and I'm excited to talk with you.
SC: You're background has been talked about quite a bit, but what can you tell me about the transition from focusing solely on football for four years then getting back to baseball with such great success at Rutgers?
PK: It was definitely an adjustment, going from football all the time back to baseball. Because with football, it was literally all year-round. It was the season in the fall, we got winter break off, but once we got back it was weight training and that led straight into spring ball to even part of the summers we were here at the school working out every day, practicing, taking classes and so on. It was really a full-time job. So to jump to another sport altogether there was definitely an adjustment period. Getting used to the way baseball is as compared to the way football is -- they're just totally different sports. So it definitely took some time to adjust but I felt like once I got it all figured out, and once I'd adjusted to hanging out with all the guys -- because there is a difference between football players and baseball players -- it was fine. It took some adjusting and some getting used to, but in the end it worked out fine.
SC: Obviously not playing for four years isn't your typical recipe for success for a baseball player, but how much do you think the physical and mental demands of practicing and playing competitive football at such a high level helped you once you did get back to baseball?
PK: I think it helped me a lot more than people think. I get asked a lot now, "If you could do it all again would you still have played football?" and I say yes. Because I feel that deep down playing football helped me out in a lot of ways that most kids don't get to experience. For instance, I think I got a lot stronger while I was playing football than I ever would have if I had been playing baseball. And I also feel like coach [former Rutgers head football coach Greg] Schiano taught us a lot of things that helped me grow up and help me be a man. And some of those things, in a sense, football taught me in a way that baseball wouldn't necessarily have been able to teach me in the same way. I think there is a certain mental toughness that a football player has, that you learn when you're playing football, that gives you a little edge.
SC: I'm sure that when you committed to play football in college that you had aspirations of playing at the next level in the NFL. Once football had ended and you decided to give baseball a go again, what expectations did you have for your future in the game of baseball?
PK: I really didn't have any expectations. Honestly my only expectations or aspirations at that point were that I wanted to make the team. The summer before my senior year, I talked to a friend who knew Coach Fred Hill and had played for him so he got me his number. We talked and he just told me that I could try out. There were no promises, no expectations on his end and no guarantees that I would play or even make the team or anything. So my first goal was just to make the team and once I accomplished that goal I built other goals. So once I made the team I wanted to start. Once I got to start I wanted to stay there. Once I got that I wanted to produce, then make a name for myself, win; stuff like that on down the line.
SC: Success in baseball -- really all sports -- is very much a product of repetition, muscle memory, reactions to familiar happenings. How long did it take for those game situations, pitch sequences and things of that nature to come back to you and start to feel natural once you started playing again?
PK: It took a pretty decent amount of time. My first game at Rutgers I was the starter because the regular starting third baseman went down with an injury, he blew out his knee, so that kind of opened up a spot for me. So I started the first couple of games but I didn't do very well so I actually got benched. So then I watched a few games from the bench and I think that really helped me. Just to sit and get familiar with the game again since I hadn't played in so long. I got to watch for certain situations and see the way that guys worked and stuff like that. So then once I got back on the field, it just started to come back to me a little more naturally.
SC: You played on a very talented Everett AquaSox roster this past season with some very good prospects in the Mariners organization and in the entire Northwest League and you came out as the League's MVP. Did you surprise yourself at all with your success?
PK: Yes. I mean, I certainly didn't set an expectation for myself to be the MVP of the Northwest League, I just wanted to get my feet wet in pro ball, see if I could hang a little bit and try to put up some decent numbers to see if I could be satisfied with my progress on the field.
SC: What part of your game from 2012 were you least satisfied with?
PK: I definitely struck out a lot more than I had hoped. But I guess that is something that comes along with getting more at bats under my belt and just being more comfortable overall. So moving forward in 2013 I'm hoping to improve on that for sure.
SC: Your success at the plate and in the power department is clearly what led to the nod as the MVP, but you were very successful on the base paths, too, stealing 14 bases in 15 tries. You're a big guy, built like a defensive back, strangely enough. How much do you think speed is going to be a part of your game going forward?
PK: I think speed can always be a part of my game. If you have some speed I think that you should always try and use it to your advantage. I'm not a super fast guy so I'm not going to go out and steal 40 or 50 bags a year, but if teams are giving me a base there is no reason why I shouldn't have the mindset to be able to take advantage of that.
SC: Positional flexibility is something that the Mariners value in their prospects. You played some shortstop at Rutgers and third base last season for Everett; have you been working at or preparing for any other defensive assignments over the off-season?
PK: I've mostly been focusing on third base, but I actually just got back from Rutgers and I was training down there with them for a couple of days and it was perfect timing because we got in a couple of outdoor scrimmages. But I played some outfield down there, too. I figure that being just a little more versatile and having a little flexibility defensively is a good thing.
SC: Who do you count as the most influential coach or person that has helped you reach this level of success so far on the baseball field?
PK: Definitely Coach Schiano taught me a lot in my time in football about football and about myself. But I'd have to say my teammate at Rutgers Jeff Melillo. He's a guy a knew a little bit before, and once I decided to go ahead and play baseball he helped me out with everything -- watching my swing, told me anything I was doing wrong -- kind of like taught me the game all over again. He was our catcher, hit third, All Big East catcher. He definitely looked out for me in a way that nobody else really did. Everyone was really helpful, don't get me wrong, but I kind of feel that Jeff went above and beyond in helping me out and taking me under his wing as a player by doing all of those little things.
SC: Do you set goals day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year to help with motivation and making sure you're staying on the right path?
PK: I guess in a way, yeah. I think it is good to have some goals just so you have an idea of where you are going, what you are doing and staying on the right track. Sometimes in the past I've gone without really setting any goals, but I think it is good to have something out there to make sure you are staying on the right track and doing the right things to get there.
SC: What are your favorite sports memories as a fan and as a player?
PK: My favorite baseball memory is from when I was 16. The team that I was on won the state baseball tournament. And it was cool because it wasn't like an All-Star team or Select team or anything like that, it was just one of those teams that I was on with all of my friends growing up. We all played summer ball together that year together and we kind of outdid ourselves and ended up winning the state championship. That is probably my greatest baseball memory, because it was with my really best friends, no one really gave us a shot and we just surprised ourselves and everyone and went on to the championship.
SC: Did you participate in any of the high-profile camps, clinics or tryouts like Perfect Game back in your high school days?
PK: No, I actually didn't. Looking back now I obviously wish that I had, but I was just concentrating 100% on football at that point in time.
SC: So then back in high school were you already planning to not try and play baseball at the next level? Were you already focusing your training and everything with a football tilt to it back when you were a junior and senior in high school?
PK: In the summers I did but in the winters I would train for both. I wasn't completely just a football player; I really loved baseball, too. At the time I really wanted to play both but in the end the full scholarship that I got for football was too good to pass up. I had some partial offers to play baseball, too, but I couldn't pass up the full scholarship to Rutgers. So then every time any college would call and talk to my high school coach he would tell them, "No, he's already committed to play football."
SC: Obviously the famous, or infamous, play in recent Rutgers football history was the injury to Eric LeGrand on that kick return back in 2010 where he ended up paralyzed. Were you on that kick coverage team?
PK: Yes I was. I was actually three people away from him when we lined up and I was standing right next to him when the collision happened. I remember that very vividly. That is probably the play in my football career that sticks out the most in my mind. I was right there, so I saw everything. But he's doing well now. He's doing radio for Rutgers games and he's practically a celebrity around there now.
SC: You talked about the difference between hanging out with football players and baseball players earlier, who was your top teammate this past year in Everett?
PK: Ooh. I don't really think I can choose just one. We really had a great group of guys there and pretty much everyone that got drafted [in 2012] just really looked out for one another.
SC: Thanks again for your time, Patrick, and wishes to your continued success on the field as your baseball career progresses.
PK: Thank you very much, Rick.
Looking for more Mariners prospect player interviews, news and articles? Want to keep up with which prospects are hot and cold for the M's? "Like" SeattleClubhouse on Facebook and follow SeattleClubhouse's Rick Randall on Twitter at @randallball.