Pat Kelly still making a big impact in baseballRetired infielder is now helping the next generation reach "The Show"
Pat Kelly was in that category, as 1996 was the sixth of his seven seasons with the Yankees, and while he was limited to just 13 games that season, being part of the team that brought the Commissioner's Trophy back to the Bronx for the first time in almost two decades was an honor he called "magical."
Kelly played all 13 games at second base that year and spent 99 percent of his career there, but he actually came up at another position; Kelly made his Yankees debut in May 1991 at third base and played 80 games there that year, becoming one of those guys who had to fit in wherever he could to give himself the chance to be an everyday player.
He never played third again in a Major League game after 1991, but Kelly credited that switch as helping him stick in the Majors for almost a decade and gave a nod to those like Jayson Nix and Alberto Gonzalez, who have done the same this year for the Yankees.
"You have to do what's best for the team, and if you have to play a different position every day, then that's what it takes," Kelly said. "Until you establish yourself or a job opens up, you're in that role. I had to do it in the early 1990s, and a lot of guys had to do it - even Jeter may have had to do it at some point if Tony Fernandez didn't get hurt in 1995, but Jeet stepped right in and took over. You have to keep yourself around until a job opens up; there's only so many out there, so you have to do your due diligence and keep working, and hopefully it falls into place."
These days, Kelly returns once a year to take part in Old-Timers' Day and once again plays wherever he's needed, something he's happy to do to be part of the tradition once more.
"One of the best things is that I'm not the youngest guy here anymore…although is that a good or a bad thing?" he joked. "But no, it's always great to come back and see some friends; I just saw Jimmy Leyritz (who was in attendance but not part of the festivities) and just talked to (Mariano Rivera), and that pretty much spans 25 years right there."
From that 1996 team, only Rivera, Jeter, and Andy Pettitte remain active, and that list will dwindle by at least one come October - but one thing that hasn't changed, Kelly said, is Rivera's personality.
"He was a fantastic kid when he came up in 1995, and he hasn't changed an inkling; Mo's still the same wonderful guy with the same smile on his face, and we talk about the same things," Kelly said, before launching into a fun story regarding the greatest closer of all-time.
"I just talked to him about an error I made in 1997; he was closing a game in Miami, and it was the second game of a doubleheader so I was cramping up and tired. A guy hit one that went right through my legs and they walked us off," he recalled. "I told Mo 'hey, I owe you one more save," and he said didn't remember much about it so I was relieved. It might have only been his 20th save or so back then, but it was a big deal for me. We came back here to play the Mets the next day, and I checked just to make sure my name was in the lineup!"
Rivera may join Kelly as early as next year at the festivities, and the current retiree had some advice that he gave to the newcomers like Andy Phillips and Brian Dorsett in 2013.
"Enjoy it, man," Kelly urged. "Some of these guys are worried about their performance and whether or not they can get a hit, but I say just enjoy it; soak it up and enjoy the day with your family and all the events we had during the week."
And as for when he's not hobnobbing with past Yankees greats, Kelly still has a lot to do with baseball. Now living in Australia, Kelly has served as an assistant coach on the Aussie National Team and as the GM for the Adelaide Bite of the Australian Baseball League, but his current job has already allowed him to have a big impact on Major League Baseball.
"I'm the director of Pacific Rim scouting for the Los Angeles Dodgers, so I'm keeping myself busy," he said, adding that he was one of the biggest influences in the Dodgers' signing of Korean pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu. "I saw Ryu maybe 30 times and highly recommended him, and the first thing in my scouting report was 'David Wells.' He was a kid in Korea who pitched like David Wells, and the first thing we did when I was hired was go out and get him."
If Ryu has even half the career that "Boomer" did, consider it just another success for Pat Kelly.