Perry Keith was reminded the other day how time flies.
“We’ll be lined up for the national anthem and I’ll look down the line and see guys from all over the place that I’ve brought in here and there he is. And just like that I find myself wondering if I’m savoring this enough,” the Connors State skipper said.
Keith’s lived this out on a regular basis all of his 28 seasons as players cycle through the junior college baseball program every couple of years. But this year is different. His son Korey is playing out that cycle.
“One day after he had just hit a home run, I’m out there hollering to get someone up in the pen to throw which was what would come normal in that but it dawned on me, this is my kid,” Keith said. “You get caught up in this because you’ve been doing it so long and you have to stop and remind yourself of it.”
The 21-year-old Keith was an All-Phoenix selection his junior season out of Warner High School, where he pitched and played first base. That was a pudgier Korey who realized he needed a transformation before his first fall at a place he always thought he’d be.
He adjusted 20 to 25 pounds from the gut to muscles with a changed diet, lots of running and hitting the weights.
“I didn’t do nearly as much of that at Warner, obviously,” he said. “I knew I could hit a little but I probably couldn’t run like other guys could and I wasn’t as strong as other guys. I had to work on those areas so I started eating right, working out more and running every day.”
But while he’s always fit in with the guys he has known as family all his life, he knew he had to legitimize that relationship as an on-field contributor — which he’s done. He battled his way into the starting lineup as a freshman a year ago and is currently near the top in almost every offensive category, including a .434 batting average (fourth), 37 RBIs (third), 5 home runs (second) and .657 slugging percentage (second).
“He’s always had a good left-handed swing and some kids over time get better, some stay the same. But his body finally caught up with his skills,” Perry Keith said. “My deal as a father was just hoping he could get here and make his own way. Once your peers can see you perform, everything’s OK.”
In his mind, Korey had planned this all along.
“I never wanted to go anywhere else and that’s not really because of my dad. I’ve just always wanted to play for Connors State,” he said. “It’s been a top 10 program and it’s really all I’ve ever known.”
In his early years, he had to get used to the revolving door of adopted brothers who on one occasion might throw him some BP, or come by for a Sunday dinner or a game of catch in the yard — current and former major leaguers like Julio Lugo, Jeff Salazar and George Kottaras to name a few.
“Kyle DeGrace and Michael Zurmehly are two that I probably got closer to than any of them and they were (hurt or redshirted) three-year players,” Korey Keith said. (Assistant coach) Bobby Foreman, I’ve spent a lot of time with him with my hitting.”
Dad coached him in coach pitch and up to about Korey’s 10th birthday.
“I’m probably the world’s worst little league coach, the anti of what’s out there now, because to me, getting away from here where it’s work and you know, where people know I’m a competitive SOB was sort of a separation from work and the way I thought little league should be, about having fun and teaching kids to love the game,” Perry Keith said.
Korey Keith went on to play for a traveling team from that point and then high school and legion ball. That separation translated to college, where his bedroom is in the dorm, not at the Keith household.
“He said when I started he wanted to treat me like one of the guys and it’s how I wanted it,” Korey said.
And he’s fit in.
“There’s a core of guys who are leaders on this team and I think he falls into that group,” Perry Keith said.
What’s now become awkward is the calls he receives regularly from college and pro scouts, where Korey’s name comes up. Brian Kohlsheen, a Norman resident and scouting supervisor for the Philadelphia Phillies, sat him down so to speak about it in a recent conversation. Multiple names were being tossed about. Korey’s hadn’t.
“I said to him ‘this doesn’t make any sense. The kid’s got ability.’” Kohlsheen said. “As dads we’re hesitant to give our kids too much credit and at the same time you don’t want to shortchange them. He can hit.
“He’s smart, like having a coach on the field. Plus, everything he does is about winning . If he’s not hitting, he’ll do something on the field. A lot of guys at this level are more concerned with how hard I hit it or how fast I threw it. These kind of guys would see their chances enhanced if they had a little more of Korey’s approach. He gets it.”
Korey’s thinking more about the only college decision he’s ever had to make — where to spend the two years beyond the only place he’s ever seen himself play at.
“I didn’t want to jump at anything in the early signing period because this is a tough choice for me. Part of it involves what I want to do beyond playing.”
And what is that?
“Coaching,” he said.
Like father, like son.
But this chapter’s counting down.
“It’s strange because here we are, in something we’ve looked forward to our entire lives and in a couple of months, it’s going to be over,” Perry Keith said. “That’s sad to me, the finality of this.
“But it’s sad every year. He’s seen these guys leave and he’d be bawling his eyes out. He grew to understand that the family just expands. He and his sister (Heather, 24) have more brothers and sisters out there than they could imagine.”
Connors State’s baseball clan is ever-revolving. But this pair’s two-year run is the real deal.
Perry Keith was reminded the other day how time flies.
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