Local Coach Makes Good
Mike Kelly skippers baseballers in his Carmel High alma mater.
Thursday, May 27, 2004
Baseball is a game of numbers, and by anyone’s reckoning Mike Kelly’s numbers as a coach are exceptional. His Carmel High varsity baseball teams have chalked up 257 wins against only 71 losses. His 11-year tenure includes nine league titles and four Central Coast championships. His Padres have won more CCS baseball first-place trophies than anyone; this year, they made it to the semi-finals.
Carmel has competed in the playoffs in ten of Kelly’s eleven years. His playoff record is 22-6, and his Padres have played in the title game six times in the past eight years.
Often, high school teams will experience a bad year when a bunch of winning seniors graduate; Kelly chalks up his continued success to a long succession of good young athletes.
“We’re always getting good kids from our freshman and junior varsity teams,” Kelly says. “For example, this year our ninth-graders won the Monterey Bay League and our junior varsity took the Mission Trail title.”
Strong Little League and Pony League programs get local kids interested in baseball at an early age; and two lower-level squads feeding into the varsity keep that interest alive.
“By keeping more kids involved in the sport, we allow late bloomers to develop,” Kelly says. “It’s amazing how some of these players can suddenly emerge their senior year.”
Examples of this were recent graduates Nathan Roddick and Trafton Chandler. Both boys were good athletes but didn’t receive much varsity playing time until their senior years.
“Nathan, for a non-pitcher, had one of the best years I’ve ever seen one of my players have,” Kelly said.
Chandler also had a fantastic senior year, as he hit over 400 and collected all-league first-team honors. “I was shocked,” Kelly laughs. “I didn’t realize how good he was!”
Kelly also believes that making his players responsible for the field’s maintenance has helped build esprit de corps.
“There’s a lot to do, especially at the beginning of a season,” he says, “but I think that it really makes an amazing difference and builds pride. The kids show the facility and sport more respect after they put this time in.”
Carmel’s home diamond is one of the most scenic in California. Carved out of a hillside overlooking the Carmel Valley, the field does have one practical drawback; of necessity, the fences are in close and balls that might be just long outs in some parks are home runs at Carmel.
Is this a problem for the Padres?
Kelly laughs again. “It’s a home run haven for both teams,” he says. “Our pitchers know they have to keep the ball down and keep the other team off balance so they can’t tee-off on it.”
Kelly’s coaching philosophy is basically to work hard on the practice field and then trust the players to do the right thing during a game.
“If things are not going well, I don’t believe I have to give a speech between each inning,” he says. “If the kids have been given the right direction, they know there will be ups and downs in a game but they’ll get the job done.”
The task of preparing the team is shared by Kelly’s three assistant coaches—Scott Brown, Cliff Kirkpatrick, and Chad Christensen. Kirkpatrick, who coached against Kelly from 1991-99 at King City, joined the Carmel staff in 2000.
“Cliff is the best coach I have ever competed against,” Kelly says. “I don’t think I’d have stayed in coaching this long if he hadn’t joined the staff.”
A homegrown product, Kelly was a three-sport athlete at Carmel High, graduated in 1984, and attended the University of California at Berkeley. He divided his time between baseball and football his first two years as a Golden Bear, but then elected to focus on kicking for the rest of his college career.
Like many high school coaches today, Kelly is not a certificated teacher. When he returned to Carmel in the late 1980s he became an insurance broker. Given the nature of his job, he has been able to to free up his afternoons during the spring.
It took Kelly four years to work his way into his current position. He served under Duke Quinones as a junior varsity coach, and then as a varsity assistant before he took over the reins in 1994.
“We went 19-8 that first year, came in second in the league, and made the CCS play-offs,” Kelly recalls. “My second season we slipped to third in the league with a 16-10 record.”
The third year was the charm for the Padres’ young mentor. “It was amazing we had a 29-2 year, started our streak of league championships and won the CCS Division II title,” Kelly says.
Since 1996 the Padres always have collected 20 or more victories per season. Kelly has received Mission Trail Coach of the Year honors seven times and in 1996 was named CCS Coach of the Year.
With a young son and more family commitments, Kelly is
often asked when he might retire. He smiles, “Would I like to
coach next year? Sure.” But for now he’s only thinking about