Watching Ross Kivett take a few swings in the on deck circle that afternoon, onlookers got a glimpse into a day in the life of the outfielder. "I woke up this morning and thought, 'Today is going to be a good day,'" Kivett said, shooting a grin in the direction of the home crowd.
With enthusiasm that would rival that of a five-year-old, the perspective on life by the West Michigan Whitecaps outfielder is infectious.
"I don't really sit still," Kivett said with a laugh. "I'm always moving, I'm always talking. It's kind of been my knack, even in the Tigers organization."
Considering his recent success, you may find it hard to believe that this story didn't begin on a baseball field; it began with a pair of ice skates.
Growing up in Broadview Heights, Ohio, the oldest of three children to Mike and Mary Kivett, Ross had no trouble channeling his endless energy onto the ice rink and found it came naturally to him.
The four-year honor roll student at St. Edward High School used his passionate approach to the game of hockey to earn a reputation for playing hard, producing an impact and most likely to be found smack in the middle of a clash of players in the middle of the ice somewhere.
Over time, baseball was slowly, but surely beginning to grow on Ross and he was faced with the decision of where his passion truly lie.
"I bounced around hockey and baseball throughout high school, just playing summer ball and not really until my junior year of high school did I really say, 'You know what, I'm going to try and play at the next level,'" Kivett remembers. "I played well enough to get a scholarship at Kansas State and from there, it was like, "Write your own history book."
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As a senior at St. Edward, Kivett's performance made it clear that his decision to chase after baseball was going to pay off more quickly than any anticipated. Kivett closed out his high school career, hitting .485 with 10 doubles and 16 RBI, as well as posting 16 stolen bases.
When it was all said and done, even Kivett couldn't ignore the pull towards the ball field.
"You know, the writing was kind of on the wall. It was kind of weird that both sports are so different. I love playing outdoors, love being in the sun," Kivett said. "The sport, it's been around for so long. There's so much beauty in it and ultimately it pushed me that way."
As a member of the Kansas State Wildcats, Kivett once again found a way to jump on the radar, hitting .314 and posting a 12-game hit streak as well as 12 multi-hit games as a freshman. While his transition to the collegiate level of baseball came a bit more naturally, the transition into the Kansas State culture took a little more getting used to.
"The music is a little bit slower and the people, well, the people are nicer, but they move a little bit slower," Kivett said. "Trying to get a personality that's really hyper, aggressive and assertive down in there with some of the country boys, it was a little bit different."
The seasons to follow continued to elevate Kivett's value; enough so to grab the attention of his hometown franchise, the Cleveland Indians. Cleveland made the move to select Kivett in the 10th round of the 2013 MLB draft. After thinking back over his junior year with the Panthers, the pull to return to Kansas State was something he couldn't ignore.
"I don't think I could have really let go and the opportunity to graduate from college was at one point not even in my head and now was so seizable," Kivett said.
A return to the Wildcats produced another list of accomplishments, surfacing as yet another gamble that worked in his favor; giving him a second shot at the professional level.
"Man, such a weird roller coaster day," Kivett remembered. "You're stressed, because you're hearing all these different things. You're trying to relax and people are telling you to relax and you're like, 'Oh, man.' I was definitely more prepared for the phone call, but when you hear those MLB announcers read out your name, it's pretty exciting."
The Detroit Tigers selected the four-year second baseman in the 6th round of the 2014 draft, this time with a college degree, just as Kivett wanted.
Coming into West Michigan this season, Kivett has not only produced eye-catching offense, he's also working to perfect his first full season as a minor league outfielder. To some, this may provide a roadblock to overcome, but to Kivett, it's one more chance to excel in the game he loves.
"I just like to think that the more positions you play, the better chance you've got to stay in the lineup," Kivett said. "I'm trying to perfect it as best I can. Baseball is beautiful, because it's not a perfectionist sport."
Photo Credit: Emily Waldon / Bless You Boys
Kivett is not only leading the pack at the plate in West Michigan in multiple categories, his numbers are gaining command league-wide, making it very hard to ignore the performance of the 23-year-old.
Kivett is hitting .295/.347/.404 with a team and league-leading 56 runs, 101 hits (second to outfield partner Michael Gerber), a team-high 23 doubles and 40 RBI (second, again to Gerber). The one-two punch of Kivett and Gerber at the plate has made a staggering impact on the production of West Michigan this season.
"I just try to get on for him," Kivett said with a chuckle. "I usually determine my days by how many times Gerber drives me in that day."
Working alongside baseball veterans Andrew Graham and Phil Clark has given access to guidance and direction that Kivett hasn't taken for granted.
"There's strides that need to be made with my swing and I think mentally everyday approaching the game the same way; not letting the one at bat take over your day and I think I've been doing a decent job so far."
Kivett and the Whitecaps have made a strong push coming into the start of the second half of the season, currently leading the Midwest League Eastern Division with a record of 14-7.
Although Kivett may not be opposed to strapping on a pair of skates now and then, it's safe to say that the kid from Cleveland won't be leaving the baseball field anytime soon.