Located some 60 miles south of Davis, St. Mary’s High School in Stockton has developed quite the knack for churning out future Aggies on the court.
Before highlighting UC Davis’ first Division I basketball season as the 2007-2008 Big West Conference Freshman of the Year, guard Mark Payne guided the Rams to a Sac-Joaquin Section title. His partner in crime at St. Mary’s was sophomore Aggie guard Joe Harden, whom UC Davis head coach Gary Stewart has regarded as the best player to come through the program in his five-year tenure.
But the former Ram who has been the biggest surprise for UC Davis isn’t even doing it on the hardwood.
“I was pretty good on the court,” sophomore Aggie third baseman Ty Kelly said. “But with Mark and Joe on the team, I didn’t have to do much. I was pretty much the defensive guy and let them score.”
It’s a different story on the diamond for the Tracy, Calif. native, who is having one of the best offensive campaigns in the Big West this season. Kelly currently tops the conference in both batting average (.415) and on-base percentage (.474).
His path to the UC Davis baseball team began at St. Mary’s, where he played both baseball and basketball, earning All-Tri-City Athletic League and all-area honors on the field and All-TCAL Defensive Player of the Year accolades on the court.
After graduating from St. Mary’s, Kelly headed south to play baseball at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Due to a back injury in 2007, he played in only 11 games.
“We recruited Ty out of high school and went after him pretty hard,” recalled Aggie head coach Rex Peters. “It came down to us and Loyola, and he chose LMU at the time. He went down there and found out it wasn’t as good of a fit as he thought and wanted to come back home.”
Seeking a fresh start and a chance to consistently start, Kelly got in touch with Peters.
“After we sent out the transfer release letter, Coach Peters called me up and asked, ‘How interested are you in coming here,'” Kelly said. “From there on, it’s just worked out really well.”
To simply say that it has gone well would be selling his amazing season short. Kelly’s batting average in his senior year with the Rams was just a shade under .400, but he has been on the better side of it for nearly his entire first season with the Aggies.
Despite nearly clinching the milestone mark at St. Mary’s, Kelly wasn’t sure he’d be able to get that close again in college.
“I hit really well in high school and summer ball, but I had never faced Division I pitching,” Kelly said. “I thought I could hit, but I didn’t really know I’d be able to hit this well. It’s just been really fun this year.”
“He’s a natural hitter who can just jump out of bed and swing the bat,” Peters said. “I thought he was going to hit and be a good hitter in this conference at this level, but I didn’t know he was going to be the type of hitter that could lead the Big West.”
According to his teammates, Kelly is a perfect embodiment of the old saying by Theodore Roosevelt – “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
“He’s a really laid-back, easy-going guy,” senior outfielder Ryan Royster said. “No one expected this [hitting], but it’s a welcome surprise. It was really interesting because he’s just so quiet. So when he started hitting, he also began to come out of his shell a little bit.”
Kelly’s path to Davis was much more circuitous than a simple drive up Interstate 5, but he always somewhat knew he would be reunited with his old Rams teammates.
“Mark, Joe and I have always kind of joked about getting back together at Davis and somehow it all worked out,” Kelly said. “It’s pretty crazy that we got back here, but it’s been great.”
RAY LIN can be reached at email@example.com. XXX