Grae Kessinger grew up around baseball, but lately every day has been a new adventure for the Astros’ second selection in last month’s baseball draft.
The grandson of six-time major-league all-star and two-time gold glove winner Don Kessinger may only be three weeks into his professional career, but he’s already climbed one step in the Houston organization and now plays the infield for the Quad-Cities River Bandits.
"It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, but I love every minute of it. This is all I’ve ever wanted to do," said Kessinger, who arrived in the Quad-Cities last Friday after playing 12 games for the Astros’ short-season Tri-City affiliate in the New York-Penn League.
"I’m still kind of soaking everything in, getting used to what this all about. I’m coming out to the ballpark every day ready to work and learn and get better and see where it all leads."
That process is mutual.
Houston is learning about Kessinger with every game he plays.
He was a first-team all-American at Ole Miss, where last month he was selected as the recipient of the Brooks Wallace Award as the top shortstop in college baseball.
A .330 hitter on his way to earning first-team all-SEC honors, Kessinger had already played shortstop, first, second and third base while batting .268 during his 12 games at Tri-City.
"The Astros like their guys to be able to play multiple positions, and I’m fine with that," Kessinger said. "If I’ve got a glove on my hand and the ball is coming my way, I feel confident that I know what to do with it."
River Bandits manager Ray Hernandez expects Kessinger to get plenty of chances to put his glove to use, and he suspects he will join the three other Quad-Cities infielders who have played at least three positions this year: Trey Dawson, David Hensley and Freudis Nova.
"He’ll get some good work in here, and as he settles in, we’ll see what he can do," Hernandez said. "He was a second-rounder for a reason, and we look forward to him being part of our team."
Kessinger, who signed with the Astros on June 14, looks forward to settling in as well and seeing what he can get accomplished during his abbreviated first season as a professional.
"I really didn’t know what to expect out of this season, so I’m just trying to make the most out of every day," he said. "I didn’t know if I would get to this level this season or really what their plans or ideas might be. That’s all out of my hands now. What I can control is the work I put into it every day."
The promotion from Tri-City happened a little sooner than Kessinger anticipated.
"I was talking with the guys in the clubhouse and I said I had barely gotten unpacked in New York and the next thing I know, I’m on my way to Iowa and Quad-Cities," Kessinger said.
"I’m at a point where I’m still working to try to find my routine. In college baseball, there was one routine with games every few days, practices and classes. Here in professional baseball, it’s an entirely different routine. This is what you do, all day, every day."
That’s a routine Kessinger grew up dreaming about in Oxford, Mississippi, relishing the chance to be a part of while upholding the family tradition.
It’s one that his grandfather got used to while working his way to a 16-year major-league career with the Cubs, Cardinals and White Sox.
His father Kevin was drafted by the Cubs in 1992 and played in the organization before an injury ended his career, while his uncle Keith worked his way to the majors in the Reds organization, playing for Cedar Rapids in the Midwest League in 1991 and 1992.
Some of Kessinger’s most vivid childhood memories involve talking baseball with his grandfather, moments he cherishes.
Don Kessinger continued to follow his grandson throughout his college career with the Ole Miss program he coached from 1991-96, and he continues to watch games online and in person now.
"I’ve learned so much baseball from him, so much about the game. I remember riding in the car with him when I was a little kid, talking baseball and how it should be played," the River Bandits infielder said.
"He taught me so much. It’s always been great to be around someone with so much knowledge about the game and just life. The feedback he gives me, it’s spot on, and the best part is that he’s my grandfather."
Grae Kessinger plans to put what he’s learned to work now as his own professional career begins.
He arrived in the Quad-Cities last week with no set-in-stone objectives beyond trying to become the best player he can become from one day to the next.
His goal this season is simply to get acclimated to the nuances of professional baseball, soaking up as much as he can and building a foundation he can use as he progresses to higher levels in the Houston organization.
"I was fortunate enough to be drafted by a great organization that has a reputation of doing a great job of developing its players," Kessinger said. "I’d be foolish not to learn what I can at every step along the way. I’m all in with the way their organization works, and I’m proud to be a part of it."
Before hopping on a bus Wednesday for a six-game road trip that includes games at West Michigan and South Bend, Kessinger already started to feel at home in the River Bandits clubhouse.
"Making that first move, I didn’t know what to expect, but the guys have been very helpful," he said. "There’s a good vibe here, and it’s going to be a good place to learn. I’m anxious to see what I can get done and where it all can lead."
Reuschel visits: One of Don Kessinger’s former Chicago Cubs teammates, pitcher Rick Reuschel, will be making an appearance at a River Bandits game on Aug. 7 when Quad-Cities hosts Clinton.
A pitcher in the major leagues for 20 seasons beginning in 1972, Reuschel will be available to meet and greet fans at the game that night.
It won’t be the first appearance in Davenport for the Camp Point, Illinois, native. He pitched at what was then known as John O’Donnell Stadium on a rehab stint with the Quad-City Cubs during the 1983 season.
River Bandits this week
At West Michigan: Today-Friday, 6:05 p.m.
Manager Lance Parrish’s Tigers affiliate has a league-worst 28-59 record
At South Bend: Saturday, 6 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m.; Monday, noon
The Cubs lead the Midwest League with a .258 team batting average
Dayton: Wednesday, 6:35 p.m.
Bren Spillane, 2018 B1G player of the year, has hit .333 in the second half
LumberKings this week
Lake County: Today-Friday, 6:30 p.m.
The Captains’ Ruben Cardenas is sixth in the league in hitting at .303
Fort Wayne: Saturday, 6:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.; Monday, 11 a.m.
TinCaps SS Xavier Edwards leads the MWL with a .336 average
At Great Lakes: Wednesday, 6 p.m.
First-half East champs have lost their top two hitters: 3B Miguel Vargas and OF Niko Hulsizer