Big South Player of the Week proving strong week in, week out
It’s no wonder being with the Radford baseball team has been the best time of redshirt senior short stop Jeff Kemp’s life. Not many college athletes would pass up a 31st round MLB Draft pick with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to come back and play college ball for one more year. For Kemp, there was never a doubt.
Beginning the long stretch of countless throws and at-bats, Kemp first got the urge to play baseball when he was just 4-years-old. Following in his older brother’s footsteps of competing in the sport, Kemp learned from his dad, who played coach at the start of his early career.
It wasn’t before too long that Kemp began playing in local Bowie leagues in his native southern Maryland town. He eventually progressed to a travel team when he was nine and then competed on the Archbishop Spalding high school team.
Kemp’s brother continued to act as a role model for young Jeff, playing ball as a Division I collegiate athlete for the Hoosiers at Indiana University. For his brother, the outstanding achievements kept adding up when he decided to keep playing ball after college, competing two years professionally with the Texas Rangers.
In an effort to shine like his brother, Kemp applied himself and worked hard to excel with the Highlanders. Although a little unlucky at times with injuries, he was able to exceed expectations.
“I’ve been through it all,” said Kemp. “I had both of my shoulders operated on after my freshman year, sat out basically my entire sophomore year, which was pretty bad, and then turned things around after that.”
An injury is something no athlete ever wants to encounter. Like many ball players, over use of shoulders is typical. Going through surgery and having to sit on the bench, playing cheerleader, Kemp used the time out as a learning experience.
“Coach Joe Raccuia told me when I got hurt to try and just learn as much as I could by sitting and watching,” said Kemp. “He would pull me aside and we bounced ideas off of each other.”
Overcoming a year of what can be called nothing aside from agony, Kemp evolved into a silent leader. Leading by example, it was evident younger teammates flocked to his side, trying to imitate the hard work and dedication Kemp projected. Rather than trying to be a guy who was better than everyone else, Kemp was not one to flaunt.
A member of the baseball roster for nearly five years, Kemp has become familiar with the Raccuia philosophy, able to function as a mentor to the younger players.
When asked in a recent interview, coach Raccuia expressed that Kemp is the best player he has ever had the privilege of coaching and working with at the college level.
“It means a lot to me because I know how many players he’s worked with,” said Kemp. “He’s coached players that are in the major leagues and its humbling to me he would say that.”
Kemp has truly been a stand out on the field in his batting and run averages. Just last week, he batted at an average of .643 with four doubles, a triple and a home run to lead the Highlanders to a 4-1 record, including two Big South wins last week. In what was an already impressive week, he also finished with seven RBI, including two vs. Iona and three against VMI.
Although every game poses as a memory to Kemp, he described his most eminent moment with the RU baseball squad to be when he hit his first home run for the Highs. It was his freshman year, and he hit what was a walk-off grand slam in the first game of a doubleheader against Canisius College with the Highs trailing 3-2 in the ninth inning with one out.
“Hitting a home run is the best feeling in sports,” said Kemp.
Eager to win every time he takes the field, it is no surprise he was selected Big South Baseball Player of the Week Monday, Mar. 18. The honor marked his first nod of the season.
“To do better than the rest of the guys in the conference says a lot,” said Kemp. “It feels good.”
Kemp described his time at Radford as the best five years of his life. He can’t really imagine a life apart from the Highlanders program. Upon graduating at the end of the semester, Kemp plans to pursue baseball at the next level with a major league program. In hopes of playing baseball as long as he can, Kemp expects to hit many more home runs before he puts his bat to rest.
For now, it is finishing up the RU season on an upswing. Kemp wants nothing more than to help lead his team to a strong finish.