BY JOE RINI
Instead of root-root-rooting for the hometeam, sometimes you just have to root for the hometown hero as Rocklanders get the chance to root for West Nyack’s Patrick Kivlehan as his Cincinnati Reds take on the New York Mets in the Queen city and the Big Apple this week and next. Patrick was gracious enough to chat with me by telephone from the Reds clubhouse as we discussed his baseball journey that began on the Little League diamond of Dexter Field and included a detour on the football gridiron.
Even from the vantage point of the major leagues, the 27-year old outfielder described playing for the West Nyack’s Little League’s Braves for three years, winning a championship, and playing in the Tournament of Champions as an awesome experience. When high school beckoned, he chose St. Joseph Regional High School in Montvale. He knew people who went there, and after attending an academic showcase for the school, he and his parents “fell in love with it.” He cites SJR coaches Tony Karcich and Frank Salvano and their staffs as major influences in his success.
While Patrick played shortstop at St. Joseph, his keystone complement at second base was Tommy La Stella of Westwood. A decade after turning double plays together on the high school field in Montvale, they’re both in the majors playing for NL Central Division rivals as La Stella plays with the Chicago Cubs. “We’ll get together for lunch,” he said of La Stella when the Reds play the Cubs during the season in addition training together in the offseason.
Patrick also starred at football at SJR and after receiving a scholarship to play defensive back for Rutgers, he put his baseball career on hold. Another member of his recruiting class was Eric LeGrand.
Speaking of LeGrand, who was paralyzed while making a tackle in October 2010, Kivlehan said, “We hung out together…we went to the same parties…I was on the field when it happened.” LeGrand’s injury, Kivlehan said, “Had an effect on all of us…it was a real event…it hit home.” Looking back, Kivlehan said he realized, “Football wasn’t the end all and be all of life.”
This past weekend as major league players commemorated their Little League experiences by wearing Little League inspired alternative uniforms, where other players had childhood nicknames on the back of their jerseys, Kivlehan’s jersey included the word “Believe” as a tribute to LeGrand, to remind people of his story and to tell LeGrand he was thinking of him. “Believe became the mantra and slogan we lived for.”
Kivlehan said he went out for baseball during his senior year after football ended because “I missed it,” and his baseball performance earned him Player of the Year honors in the Big East Conference and being selected by the Seattle Mariners in the fourth round of the 2012. I was shocked to hear he hadn’t played organized ball during the intervening years and he said even his Rutgers teammates joked that he had been “secretly” playing baseball.
As for his two sports career in this era of specialization by young athletes, Kivlehan said, “The more (sports) the merrier…I trained to be an athlete.” He feels that certain movements he developed for football that he might not have developed in baseball has helped him baseball.
Speaking to Kivlehan, he put a human face on the travails of a player trying to break into the major leagues. 2016 included his major league debut where he homered in his second at bat for the San Diego Padres, but it also included being traded twice and being designated for assignment twice. The year included the “highest of the highs and lowest of the lows” because he said it can be tough mentally not having a sense of security and even making friends when you’re not on a team very long. In the end, though, he felt the experience made him stronger and helped him to deal with adversity.
Kivlehan has mostly come off the bench for the Reds this season, which is an adjustment for any rookie. The West Nyack native said he tries to take every experience, good or bad, and tries to take something from it to help him next time. He’s shown promise this year with 8 home runs in 143 at bats.
Kivlehan is looking forward to playing the Mets, the team he rooted for growing up, and having friends and family support him at Citi Field next weekend. He’s an easy guy to root for.