Mt. Lebanon's Don Kelly savors ride to World Series with Tigers
Don Kelly celebrates with teammates after he hit the winning sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Oakland Athletics in Game 2 of the American League Division Series.
Don Kelly watches his winning sacrifice fly in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the American League Division Series.
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Don Kelly has done his share of reflecting in advance of his first World Series appearance.
The Detroit Tigers utility player from Mt. Lebanon has thought about Al Liberi, who was his hitting coach at Point Park University. It was Liberi who helped turn Kelly into a professional prospect good enough to be selected in the eighth round of the 2001 amateur draft by Detroit.
Kelly also has thought about Steve Oramas, a chiropractor at Spine and Sports Injury Rehabilitation in Mt. Lebanon. Oramas has served as Kelly's personal trainer throughout his 13 years in pro baseball.
"There are so many people who [helped] me reach this point, and there are so many of them, too many of them to name," Kelly said before the Tigers worked out Tuesday at AT&T Park in preparation for the first game of the World Series tonight against the San Francisco Giants.
"It has really made appreciate the opportunity. Playing in the World Series is something every kid dreams about. To think I'm in the World Series is really hard to believe. It's a great feeling."
It is safe to say that few players on either team appreciate being in the World Series more than the 32-year-old Kelly. His major league future was tenuous just a few months ago.
Kelly was designated for assignment Aug. 3 and dropped from the 40-man roster as he accepted an outright assignment to Class AAA Toledo.
The Tigers, though, purchased Kelly's contract and restored him to the major league roster Sept. 1.
"There's a lot of uncertainty when you go on waivers and get dropped off the 40-man," Kelly said. "When you get optioned to the minor leagues, it's different. You're still on the 40-man and you figure your chances of getting back to the big leagues again are pretty good. When you're off the 40-man roster, though, it's a whole different story. It could be the end."
Kelly hit .233 with one home run in 20 games at Toledo and batted just .186 with one homer in 75 games with the Tigers in the regular season.
With such anemic offensive numbers, the Tigers were open for second-guessing by including Kelly on their postseason roster. Tigers manager Jim Leyland, however, loves the fact that Kelly has played all nine positions in his five-year career in the major leagues that began in 2007 with a 25-game stint with the Pirates.
"Winning teams need guys like Don Kelly," said Leyland, who managed the Pirates from 1986-96.
"As a manager, it's invaluable to have someone who can play all over the field and, just as importantly, is willing to do so. It gives you a lot of flexibility as a manager."
The Tigers swept the New York Yankees in four games in the American League Championship Series after beating the Oakland Athletics in an American League Division Series that went the full five games.
Kelly appeared in just one game in the ALCS, scoring a run as a pinch-runner.
Kelly, however, was the hero of the Game 2 win against Oakland in his lone appearance in the ALDS. He scored the tying run as a pinch-runner in the eighth, then drove in the winning run with a sacrifice fly an inning later in the 5-4 victory.
It wasn't the first time Kelly has come up big in the postseason. Last year, he homered in the first as the Tigers beat the Yankees, 3-2, in the decisive Game 5 of that ALDS at Yankee Stadium.
"I just try to block everything out, not think about the situation and what is at stake," Kelly said of his big October moments.
"It isn't easy to do but I just try to focus on what I need to do at that moment. If you start to think about the magnitude of the situation, it could be overwhelming."
First Published October 24, 2012 12:00 am