While searching for a topic for this week's piece I began, for one reason or another, to think about my favorite (Devil) Ray players of years past. The usual suspects came up; Crawford, Shields, Kazmir, McGriff, etc. A name that appears on my list, and I'm sure no one elses, is Mike Kelly. Hell, I'm sure some(most) Rays fans have no idea who Mike Kelly is.
Michael Raymond Kelly was the Devil Rays starting left fielder in the first game in franchise history.
Kelly was an outstanding collegiate hitter. In fact, while playing for Arizona State in 1991 he was outstanding enough to win the 1991 Golden Spikes Award, given to the top player in the country. The 1991 draft saw Kelly selected second overall by the Atlanta Braves, one spot behind punchy Yankee prospect Brien Taylor. Even after a couple of disappointing minor league seasons Kelly was somehow promoted to the majors in the 1994 season. Kelly would play in 30 games and post an OPS of .806 despite a .300 OBP before the strike shut down the season. In 1995 Kelly would appear in 97 games but starting just 26 of them. His good OPS-fortune from the season before would not transfer over. In his 153 plate appearances Kelly would hit .190 and produce a .572 OPS. Apparently the Braves had seen enough of the outfielder as they would trade him to the Reds in exchange for Chad Fox prior to the 1996 season.
Kelly's stay in the Queen City wouldn't work out any better. He would play in only 19 games for the Reds in 1996 and produce an OPS of .660, though higher than his 1995 total, was still embarrassing. For some reason the in 1997 the Reds felt the need to give Kelly more than double the amount of plate appearances he had received the year before(60 to 151). Kelly took full advantage, turning the 151PA's into an .881 OPS due largely to his absurd .543 slugging percentage. The Reds took full advantage of that fluky season and traded Kelly to the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays in exchange for the man who had been taken two spots behind him in the 1991 draft, Dimitri Young. The Devil Rays would give Kelly something he had always wanted, a starting job. Although he would end up splitting most of the at bats with the immortal Rich Butler, Mike Kelly would play more than he ever had before and the 12 year old version of myself would be there in the left field seats every game, watching him, cultivating my love of the game. He'd finish up the season with a slash line of .240/.295/.401 and be released after spring training the following year. Kelly signed with the Rockies in 1999, but would only get two at bats all season. Those would be the final two at bats he'd see in a major league uniform.
After being out of baseball from 2000-2002 Kelly signed a minor league contract with the Royals prior to the 2003 season. He arguably had his best season as a professional baseball player that season, hitting .296/.382/495 in full time duty with the Royals AAA team. Released following the season Kelly gave it one last shot with the Yankees at the age of 34. He hit resonably well (.784 OPS) but was never going to get the call from New York and hung up his cleates for good at the end of the season.
I Google'd my damndest trying to find out what Mike Kelly is doing with his life these days but my efforts came up empty. His Wikipedia entry may be the least populated page ever. No matter what he is doing now---selling insurance? Used cars? Both?---I hope he has fond memories of that god-awful inaugural Devil Rays team. I know I do. Thanks Mike.