Kessinger: A Baseball Name

(cheering) – [Announcer #1] The National
League All Star shortstop Don Kessinger, batting 294
with three homers, 40 RBIs. – There’s a line drive hit into center. Coming in to score Qualls. Jenkins stops at second. After two out and nobody on, the Cubs have had four hits in a row. They tie the game at two to two. – Don Kessinger actually
is the Archie Manning of Ole Miss baseball. (string guitar music) – Well when you grow up in Arkansas, you automatically grow
up to be a Razorback fan. Arkansas and Ole Miss basketball
was pretty much the same. But baseball, they were
miles apart at that time. When I visited Ole Miss,
it was just a great place. Everybody was friendly, it
just seemed at home to me. And Ole Miss at that time,
under coach Tom Swayze, had I thought the best
baseball program in the south. – [Narrator] Kessinger made the trek from Forrest City, Arkansas to Oxford in 1960. Joining the Rebels as a two sport athlete. Along the way he would
earn All American honors in both basketball and baseball. – I had a couple of nights that personally were awfully good nights for me. I think I had 49 points
one night against Tulane. And 48 at Tennessee. Which means I shot a lot,
that’s what it really meant. I just went out and
played basketball until basketball was over
then I went to baseball. I just thought that’s
the way it’s suppose be. – [Narrator] Kessinger was
phenomenal for the Rebels. Scoring in double digits in 33
consecutive basketball games. He was all SEC in both
baseball and basketball, in each of his three varsity seasons. And led the SEC in batting with a 429 average his senior year. – My senior year, we had a
really good baseball team. We won our conference. We went to Gastonia, North Carolina. Beat North Carolina in the
finals of the regional. That trip, it was just memorable. Reaching your goal of getting to Omaha. It was the year before the
baseball draft started. We had five or six teams
that were in one day, and made a pitch to us. With my dad and coach Swayze
we just talked it over and thought the Cubs gave
me the best opportunity to get to the big leagues
quicker if I did my part. And so that is the way we went. I wend straight to Fort Worth, Texas to play in the Texas League. Well that was a big jump. But I did good and one year
later I was in the big leagues. It was a real experience. Every year you are either trying
to take somebody’s position or they are trying to take yours. When I first went up,
I made a lot of errors. I tried to make some great plays and probably shouldn’t have
tried to throw it and I did. I made a lot of errors first year. Didn’t hit real good. So I was really trying to
get good enough to settle in and stay there forever. I worked a lot. I would go out early before
the team would come out for batting practice or whatever. I had a coach go out and
just hit ball, after ball, after ball to me and throw
ball, after ball, to first base. I finally felt that I could
throw it to first base with my eyes closed. – [Announcer #2] Ground ball,
and it is flagged down by Kessinger and he is
gonna throw to the plate. And he has got to him. What a play! What a play by Kessinger. Beautiful. – [Announcer #3] Kessinger
set a Major League record a few weeks ago by
playing in 54 consecutive error-less games at shortstop. Breaking Chico Carrasquel
record set back in 1951. – [Narrator] Known for his
outstanding defensive play, Kessinger quickly became
a fan favorite in Chicago. He was named a National
League All Star six times and won two Gold Glove Awards
while playing for the Cubs. Though he was a star to many, to sons Keith and Kevin he was simply Dad. – When you are growing up that
way its the only way I knew. I don’t know that we
felt difference special. Our dad played baseball and
we’d get to go watch him. It was great cause we
got to do cool things, but it didn’t feel I
guess all that different. We didn’t know any different. – I didn’t think much about it. It’s just what your dad did.
It’s the way you grew up. Obviously it was a neat experience, but really it dawned on
me more as I was older. That’s when it kind of occurred
to me where we grew yup. It’s just an experience
so few get to have. We are just very fortunate. – When I was traded from
the Cubs to the Cardinals, we moved to Memphis. – [Narrator] Now located
an hour outside of Oxford, the Kessinger boys would be well exposed to Ole Miss athletics. And before long, Don’s alma
mater would come calling. – When Ole Miss offered Keith, they way I remember it
the opportunity to come, basically his answer was if you’re offering I am taking it. – [Announcer #4] 25 years
ago this young shortstop led the Ole Miss Rebels to
the College World Series before going on to be an
All Star for the Cubs. His contributions to
Ole Miss still continue. Now in the form of his
children, like son Keith. Who now some 25 years later, provides that same glue
in the Rebels’ infield. – [Don] Where he went, we
wanted that to be his choice. And to live his life. – When Ole Miss gave me that opportunity it was an easy answer. It’s where I wanted to play and the fact that mom and dad can see me play all the time was fantastic. – What’s special about it
really is because you have lived his dream with
him to get to do that. And when you see him run out
there your thrill is for him. – [Narrator] Like Don, Keith
was a two sport athlete for the Rebels. And would soon be joined on the diamond by younger brother Kevin. Keith was a senior and I was a freshman. So I got to play one year
with my brother here. He played short, I played right that year. I led off a lot, he hit third. That was just something that
people can’t take away from ya. For their mother and me,
nothing could top that. Keith was an established
shortstop and all SEC type player. And then Kevin came along
and was able to make the starting lineup after a game or two. It was to us just an
unbelievable experience. What topped that off was knowing how badly they wanted to do that. When Jake Gibbs retired here
I was given the opportunity to come here and coach which is something that was really kind of a dream for me. But that was amplified by
the fact that I was gonna have the opportunity that
I was going to coach Kevin for a couple of years. – He did a great job from
separating father son, coach player. So when we were on the field
it was coach and player. Off the field, you know we
didn’t talk much about it. If we were going to have dinner, if I had to go and get my
clothes washed at their house, we didn’t talk about it. But on the field we just
try to keep them separate. He did a good job. I did my best. (piano music) – I have been to Swayze every year since I was four years old probably. I haven’t missed a big series at home. Just like I hadn’t missed
a big home football game in five, six years. Getting experience as a fan, now getting the experience as a player, it’s going to be really
interesting while I am out there. 10,000 fans were cheering for me, like I was cheering for them. – When he played in the Under
Armour All American game in Wrigley Field, I told him before he left. I said, if you are going
up to play in my dirt, I’m gonna be there to watch you. Play in the same position I did. In the same ball park that I did. And wore the same number
that I did that day. – When he ran out to shortstop
when that game started in all the years we grew there, I get chocked up thinking about it now. – As much as I want to
write my own chapter and do my own thing, it’s really cool when you
see like a fan or somebody and they say I watched your dad here. I watched your grandfather here and knowing they also
now get to watch you. It’s just something that not
everyone gets to experience. Until I guess, we saw him out
on the field the other day at the scrimmage and we
were like wow that where the same uniform that my
dad, my brother, and now me, and my now son wears, that’s something that very
few people can experience. – We are so blessed that he
will be the fourth Kessinger to put on the Ole Miss
uniform and run out there. It has been a thrill
with each one of them. And it’s gonna be a thrill again. (country music)

9 thoughts on “Kessinger: A Baseball Name

  1. It was 1969 or 70 in Deerfield Illinois Don Kessinger came to our Little League game… His son was on the other team… we surrounded him for autographs… Lost it somewhere, wish I still had it… Loved Kessinger… Anyone who grew up with that era of Cubs was blessed… Wrigley is packed winners or losers… most cities cannot claim that…

  2. 1969, Wrigley Field, fondest and most thrilling memory was getting Don' s autograph before a game against the Phillies. Same day got Billy Williams, Fergi Jenkins, Phil Regan's, and Mr
    Cubs himself, Ernie Banks.
    That was 50 years ago when I was 11, and I still have the program that they signed to this day… probably the most prized piece of memorabilia I own.

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