Ty Kelly had experienced Triple-A before. When the New York Mets signed Kelly back in November 2015 to a minor league contract, the Las Vegas 51s was his fifth Triple-A team he’d played for in his professional career. Little did Kelly know that the fifth, not the third time, would be his charm.
Selected in the thirteenth-round of the 2009 Draft by the Baltimore Orioles, Kelly had been a career minor leaguer up until last year, when the Mets called the switch-hitting utility player up, and made his major league debut on May 24, going hitless in four at-bats. He recorded his first major league hit six days later, singling off White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana in the Mets 1-0 victory.
The 28-year-old has logged a ton of at-bats and games throughout the minors; over 900 games played and over 3200 at-bats. In 2016, Kelly not only got a chance to make his major league debut, he also got to be a part of the Mets chase for a postseason spot. And of course, he was one of only four Met players to record a hit off Giants ace Madison Bumgarner in the Wild Card Game.
Kelly represented Israel in the World Baseball Classic this year, surprising many who felt that Israel would not last past the first round of play. They swept through the first round of Pool A, and won their first game in the second round against Cuba. The Netherlands and Japan outscored Israel 20-5 in Games 2 and 3, ending their Cinderella run.
I had the privilege of speaking to Kelly this week, where we discussed playing in the WBC, learning of his promotion to the Mets last season, and his creative lifestyle outside of baseball.
MMO: What was your experience like playing for Israel in the World Baseball Classic this year?
Ty: It was an awesome experience! Just getting to travel to different countries and play baseball is a really cool thing. Baseball takes us to so many different places, usually just different places around the country. But to get to go to both Korea and Japan to play is amazing, and to experience the atmospheres they have there. People are going crazy every time their country is hitting, it’s really cool to get to see the way other countries experience baseball and how it’s different from the U.S., minor leagues, and big leagues and everything like that.
But baseball wise it was awesome. Then of course, just getting to travel over to Korea and Japan is really cool and experiencing their culture and things like that. We got to go to the demilitarized zone in Korea, the area in between South and North Korea; it’s definitely a once in a lifetime kind of thing that I don’t think that I’d ever get to do a different time.
MMO: You traveled to Israel in January with the team, was that the first time you’ve visited Israel?
Ty: Yeah, that was my first time.
MMO: And what were some of your initial thoughts of Israel? You were there for a week or so, did you get to explore much?
Ty: We were there for about a week, and we went all over the place. We were in Tel Aviv for a couple of days, and then Jerusalem for a few more days. And we traveled around to the Dead Sea and to a ton of different places. We went to the Western Wall and just about everything we could get to in the week we were there. It was another amazing experience! Just getting to be there with a bunch of guys who have Jewish heritage who are spiritually connected with the country and then we also connected with the people there, through baseball and through representing them through the WBC. It was another once in a lifetime experience that baseball brought me to.
MMO: Do they have a big baseball platform there, and do you feel that the success your team had in the WBC brought further awareness and helped promote the game in Israel?
Ty: They don’t have a big baseball platform there, that was one of the things that we were trying to accomplish by visiting and by representing Israel in the WBC. Trying to spark some more interest in Israel for baseball, a lot of the interest there is Americans; people who lived in America or people who visited America and came back or have family in America who are baseball fans. They don’t have a lot of baseball fields there, and one of the things that was good was we were there for the grand opening of where they’re going to build a baseball facility in one of the towns outside of Jerusalem. We’re hoping that we sparked some interest in baseball there and that future World Baseball Classic’s are guys that are all from Israel, that grew up there playing baseball, that are representing them.
MMO: You’ve played with multiple organizations in the minors for more than 900 career games. What’s the journey been like for you through the years, and how do you remain hungry to achieve your goals?
Ty: I think as an athlete we all don’t think we’ve reached our highest potential yet. I know personally I feel like I should be improving every year, so every offseason you go in and you have certain things you want to work on. So I hope for this year I’ve come back and I’m a better player than last year. You take your experiences every year and try to build on them and try to get the most out of your abilities every year.
I think a lot of people assume that athletes are going to come in and put up the same kind of numbers every year and I don’t really think that’s the case. I think we should be evolving and growing as players and gaining from our experiences and everything. So I’ve kind of looked at my career through just trying to gain every year, and to add more to my game. I think the biggest thing for me over the years is continuing to add more positions defensively, I keep getting more and more time in the outfield and then I got some time at short last year. I think that defensively I’ve improved; I continue to improve through reps and through gaining experience.
MMO: As a super utility guy, how do you stay ready and prepared day in and day out?
Ty: You just try to get reps in everywhere that you can and taking ground balls and working on the individual plays at each position. But I mean there’s nothing like game experience. Kind of like what I was saying before, the more that I’ve gotten to play games at different positions, the more comfortable you feel there. Because every position has unique plays that you can’t really replicate by a fungo (bat), or you know where a ball is going before the guy hits it to you. I’ve been pretty fortunate that coaches have moved me around a lot, and I keep learning more and more about every position. I’ve had so much game experience everywhere now that I really do feel comfortable everywhere.
MMO: Do you have a favorite position?
Ty: I think I like third the most. It’s the quickest reaction and you’ve got to be ready to go at all times and it’s tough but I really enjoy the challenge of it.
MMO: Growing up, who were some of your favorite players? Any you fashioned your game after?
Ty: I was a big Chipper Jones fan. I grew up in the ’90s, so I think everyone liked Chipper Jones and everybody liked Griffey (Jr). I don’t know if I fashioned my game after one player, but I think kids would go into the backyard and try to match their swings up with guys in the big leagues, and I always really liked Chipper’s swing from both sides.
MMO: Can you talk to me a bit about when you found out you were getting called up to the majors last season? What was that moment like for you when you heard the news?
Ty: It was right before a game in Colorado Springs, I wasn’t in the lineup that day. Wally (Backman) came over and told me I was getting called up, and it was pretty surreal. I wasn’t even sure if he was serious at first, just the reputation that Wally has with being kind of a jokester I guess. It was really exciting for me and then getting to tell my parents, I think they were more excited than I was. I think for fans, when someone gets called up they only think about what the player is experiencing and getting called up, but they don’t realize it affects my family as much as it affects me. And all of my friends are there supporting me and sending me messages, and everyone is as excited if not more excited than I am for the opportunity.
MMO: How do you like New York? Did you get to spend some time exploring the city? Any favorite parts or areas?
Ty: I tried to explore as much as I could! On off days I went through Central Park and I went downtown to Battery Park. I went to the Trade Center; I got to go up to the Freedom Tower with my dad actually the day before the Wild Card Game. We got to go up and do the tour and everything.
So I tried to explore as much as I could, I think it’s just amazing. I always tell people I have the best of both worlds when I’m staying in Manhattan because I have a hotel room to myself, so I don’t have to worry about the cramped up apartments that are really expensive, and I have a job. I don’t have to worry about the Wall Street job or the really stressful New York life job. Growing up with the best of both worlds there.
MMO: You were one of only four Mets to get a hit off of Madison Bumgarner in the Wild Card Game last year. Unfortunately, the outcome wasn’t what you or the fans wanted, but can you talk a bit about what it was like playing for a postseason spot with the Mets last summer?
Ty: Before the Wild Card Game I didn’t know if I would even be on the Wild Card roster. And then the day before the game, Terry came over to me and said that I’d be on the roster and then I didn’t really think I’d be one of the pinch hitters in the game. I was told before the game that I’d most likely would hit against (George) Kontos or Will Smith. And it just happened that Bumgarner was dealing that game, it’s pretty much what he does in the postseason. And I got a chance to hit and I was fortunate enough to come through.
The whole experience last year really was amazing and the fact that it was in New York City and this amazing city, probably the most passionate fans in the country, I think it’s what you dream of as a kid. Games are sold out all the time, they’re packed, and the fans are going crazy. So I think my whole experience was amazing last year. As a team, I feel like towards the end of the season we were so beat up, our rotation was kind of broken down with guys getting injured, and our infield was pretty beat up. I think it’s kind of a testament to the team that we had last year that we were able to come through and get the wild card spot. I mean as a baseball fan that game was unbelievable, Bumgarner and Noah, there’s not much more you can ask for, except with coming out with the win of course.
MMO: I noticed you majored in communication in college. Which brings me to my next question. You and Matt Paré have done some hilarious videos on YouTube, can you talk to me about the collaboration, and how you got involved? I also read you’re writing a screenplay?
Ty: Yeah we met two off seasons ago. He’s in the Giants organization and my other roommate, Matt Lujan, is also in the Giants organization. So they knew each other and Matt (Paré) moved to San Diego and we met, and started working out together. He already had this YouTube channel going and it just ended up that we work really well together. When we’re around each other we can both be very creative and not be afraid to bounce ideas off each other. It really just fell into place that we ended up writing some videos together and acting in them together. It was a really fun offseason, we were very creative and we both set ourselves up to do more videos in the future.
As far as my screenplay, I’ve had this idea for probably five years now. And over the last year, I guess I’ve started to really put it together as much as I can. So I’m maybe like a third of the way through the actual script. And it’s been a really fun process, you know being in New York people have reached out to me and tried to help out. I’ve made a lot of good connections and good resources, and it’s been really fun, and hopefully it’s good.
MMO: Can fans expect to see more videos during the season?
Ty: Yeah, I hope that we’re able to do some stuff during the season. We’ve talked about how we’re going to try and write when we’re not together. We’re at least going to be writing and possibly doing some stuff if we can make it work, videoing separately. But yeah, we’ll see what happens, we definitely plan on picking up where we left off by next offseason.
MMO: I really appreciate the time today Ty, best of luck this season!
Ty: Yeah, no problem, thank you.
Follow Ty on Twitter, @tykelly11