Draft : : Story
Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Lovegrove shares the love

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

There seems to be an endless trove of intriguing traits that set Kieran Lovegrove apart from your typical Orange County (Calif.) high school senior. A 92 mph fastball and a lofty standing in the upcoming 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft projections are a good place to start.

But there’s much more to it than that. Lovegrove was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1994, the son of a father (Keith) who was an avid cricket and rugby player and a mother (Kelly) who was a cross country runner and swimmer.

 The family resettled in the United States in 1999, and Kieran became passionate about baseball (he also plays soccer and football) and developed into one of the top prospects in the high school class of 2012. Lovegrove, a 6-foot-4, 180-pound right-hander at Mission Viejo (Calif.) High School, is ranked the 112th overall national prospect in his class and the No. 138 overall prospect in the upcoming MLB draft, even though he won’t celebrate his 18th birthday until July 28.

He’s a kid who’s enjoyed playing baseball ever since he moved to the States, even if his interest in the game came from his father’s background in cricket.

“That’s where I originally learned how to pick up a ball and throw, on the beaches in South Africa with my dad and a cricket ball and a little plastic bat,” Lovegrove said in a recent telephone interview with Perfect Game. “That’s where I learned to do all the basic things that I’m doing now. I’ve been throwing a ball since I was young enough to pick one up so it’s always kind of been in my blood.”

It’s not just his ability to throw a baseball that sets Lovegrove apart. He is an intelligent, engaging and caring young man who seems intent on giving back as much as he’s been given, even at this young age.

THE MISSION STATEMENT AT THE TOP OF THE HOMEPAGE at GoingToBat.org reads like something carefully crafted by thoughtful and compassionate public relations professionals:

“Our Mission: To improve the lives of our youth by providing any child who wishes to play baseball or softball with the means and the opportunity, providing a viable alternative to other destructive options.”

While certainly well-stated, these are not the words of public relations professionals. Instead, they belong to a group of Southern California high school baseball players, including Lovegrove. Together with Mission Viejo junior catcher/outfielder Kyle Candalla and Laguna Hills (Calif.) High School junior shortstop Adam Salcido, Lovegrove helped found The Going To Bat Foundation in 2009. It is a charitable, non-profit organization that operates under the mantra of “No Baseball or Softball Player Left Behind!”

Lovegrove explained that as 14-year-olds he, Candalla and Salcido – working closely with their parents – established the foundation in an effort to provide less fortunate kids with the equipment they may need to continue to play baseball and softball. It was a noble endeavor put forth by a trio of teenagers.

“That’s really where it started – it’s just me and two of my (friends) doing whatever we can do to give back to the sport that’s taken us to all these different places all around the country,” Lovegrove said. “It’s taken a lot of time and effort and it’s been somewhat stressful to try and get all the collections and donations together, but when you see the look on a kid’s face when he gets a new glove or new cleats, and you see how excited they are to be able to play the sport that they love, it makes every bit of time worth it. It’s amazing to think that it’s come so far in such a short time.”

WHILE GETTING THE FOUNDATION SET UP AND RUNNING, Lovegrove continued to further establish his baseball career, both at the high school and national level. He attended the 2010 Perfect Game West Coast Top Prospect Showcase at Arrowhead Credit Union Park in San Bernardino as a newly minted 16-year-old, and earned a top grade of 10.0 after throwing a 91 mph fastball, 77 mph curve, 81 mph slider and 82 mph changeup.

He went on to participate in six more PG events – including two WWBA World Championships with Coach Mike Spiers and the ABD Bulldogs, and the 2011 Perfect Game National Showcase – as well as the 2011 Area Code Games.

“I would say Perfect Game was one of the best things I ever did when I started with one of the showcases at Arrowhead Park. That started my whole career when Mike Spiers told me I should go to (the West Coast Top) because he saw potential in me,” Lovegrove said. “Since then I’ve been to the National Showcase and all these other Perfect Game events that I think have really put me into a position that I’m really being looked at as a legitimate draft prospect.”

In his formative years, he was a member of the Saddleback Coyotes Baseball Team that won the 2005 National Cooperstown Tournament of Champions in New York state.

Lovegrove is in the process of wrapping up his final season of high school ball at Mission Viejo. Through 10 starts, he stood 5-3 with a 1.78 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 55 innings. He’s enjoying everything about his last go-around at the high school level.

“We’re in first place in our league right now and the team’s been doing really well and I’m starting to really get my stride in pitching,” he said. “We’re actually just having a really good time playing baseball and that’s something that makes all the hard work and all the time worth it, when you’re just out there having a good time.”

Lovegrove has signed a national letter-of-intent to join head coach Tim Esmay at traditional national power Arizona State University in the fall. The idea of playing baseball at the NCAA Division I level had become a real possibility for Lovegrove after being observed at the various PG events he attended, and when ASU offered, he pounced.

“I was still a very raw player but the ASU coaches saw potential in me and I started talking to them,” Lovegrove said. “Then I went to visit the school and I saw everything they were about, and they described what their philosophy in baseball was to me, and I knew that was exactly what I wanted. I’m hoping to use that philosophy where ever I go and know that whatever happens I’ll keep the idea that I’m playing baseball the right way – to win as a team.”

KIERAN LOVEGROVE, THE HARD-THROWING NATIVE OF SOUTH AFRICA who first got acquainted with baseball through his father’s lover of cricket, is ready for the next level. He won’t know until sometime after the MLB amateur draft is held June 4-6 if he’ll be playing baseball professionally as early as this summer or next spring at Arizona State. He doesn’t seem worried about the decision being a difficult one.

“I honestly hope it is,” Lovegrove said. “I know that if it comes down to it and it’s June 15th after I graduate and I have to make that decision, I hope it is a hard one, because that means I’ve done everything I can do to put myself into the position where I can either sign or go to college. Obviously, I’ll have to discuss it with my family (and) my coaches and see what the best fit is for me.”

Lovegrove said the possibility of getting drafted hadn’t really entered his mind until late in 2011, but when it finally did he knew he was going to have to get stronger both physically and mentally if he hoped to play the game at the professional level. He got into the gym and began working with a trainer, which involved not only weight-lifting but also discussions about nutrition and diet. He also worked with a pitching coach and the combination of all of those activities enabled him to see “immediate” results.

“I was basically putting in a ton of effort to make myself an even better player and turn into an even better draft prospect,” he said. “It was definitely surprising to me to see the response from scouts but now (the draft is) on my brain a lot.”

Regardless of where the “next level” takes him, Lovegrove is sincere about keeping The Going To Bat Foundation alive. He said Candalla and Salcido – who still have another year of high school remaining – are all-in as well.

“My main goal is to take this foundation as far as I can with me and with my friends, and hopefully bring it to the point where I can help anyone that asks to be helped,” Lovegrove said. “I know that whatever way I go in baseball will help me and I know everybody around me is fully supportive of it, and everybody wants to help out in some way.”

The Going To Bat Foundation website can be accessed by clicking here.

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