PG South: Mt. Lebanon's Kelly living a dream in Pirates' camp

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- One might think Don Kelly could not, under the wildest circumstance, be more closely associated with Pittsburgh baseball.

Born in Butler.

Graduated high school in Mt. Lebanon.

Played for Point Park College, right Downtown.

Then, after six seasons of working the middle infield positions in the Detroit Tigers' system, he signed a minor-league contract with the Pirates in mid-November.

As he worded it while standing in the outfield grass at Pirate City, "Growing up in Pittsburgh and watching the team, I always wanted to play for the Buccos. It's an opportunity that came along, and I took advantage of it."

Turns out there was one more step to go.

On Jan. 13, he married his girlfriend of three years, Carrie Elizabeth Walker. The sister of another Pirates farmhand, Neil Walker, another Pittsburgh-area native.

"A dream come true," Kelly said of the wedding. "We'd known each other for a long time, and it's ..."

He paused as Walker sprinted by, heading toward another field.

"Oh, hey, and this guy's my brother-in-law now. Small world, I guess. But that's cool, too. It's neat to be here with Neil, neat to be part of the Pirates. But ..."

But his main goal, quite clearly, is not to get sappy about donning the Pirates' spring uniform.

Rather, it is to make the 25-man roster come the end of March.

It will not be easy but, by all accounts, he has a chance.

For one, although he is 27 and has yet to break into Major League Baseball, he continues to display some pedigree.

His totals in the minors are highlighted by a .286 average, 12 doubles, and an eye-popping 22 triples that underscore his speed. His .311 average in 2005 was the best in the Tigers' system, although that dropped to .250 last season, which he split between Class AA Erie and Class AAA Toledo.

For another, there is opportunity in this camp, albeit slim.

As Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield frequently has pointed out this offseason, middle infield is an area of need, particularly in the high minors. Highly promising Brian Bixler likely will be the shortstop at Class AAA Indianapolis, but the Adam LaRoche trade cost the Pirates another shortstop prospect in Brent Lillibridge.

That was Littlefield's reasoning in loading up on middle infielders on minor-league contracts, from Kelly to Nick Green to Eddy Garabito to yet another return engagement for Jose Hernandez.

"We have a lot of promising possibilities at that position, I'd say," manager Jim Tracy said. "And I can tell you we're going to keep a very close eye on that, as well as keeping an open mind. I don't know too much about these players yet, other than obviously Jose, but that's going to change."

Kelly's chances likely appeared little better last spring with Detroit, but he hung around camp until the Tigers' final cut.

It was difficult at the time, he acknowledged, but he seems to draw confidence from it now.

"It was a good opportunity, and I learned from it," he said.

"Being right in there, thinking you have a chance, getting that close ... hopefully, those experiences will help me this year."

His approach this time?

"I'm just going to come in, play hard and do what I can do. I'll play my game, stay within myself and see what happens."

Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Pirate infielder Don Kelly, a Mt. Lebanon High School graduate, fields a ground ball in a practice session last week at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla
Click photo for larger image.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com .


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