Baseball: Pitcher Kevin Elder making most of ‘lost’ seasonKevin Elder practices with Burlington Central's baseball team last month. | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 5, 2012 10:55PM
Kevin Elder made plenty of news during the high school baseball offseason, but all is quiet for the highly-touted prospect these days.
Instead of reinforcing his status as one of the top pitchers in the state, Elder is watching from the sidelines this spring after being ruled inelgible by the IHSA.
The ruling was part of an eventful offseason that saw Elder sign with Arizona last August and then transfer from Westminster Chrisitan in Elgin to Burlington Central in late December following the first semester of his senior year. The Elder family claims the decision to transfer was made for financial reasons, but the IHSA was nontheless compelled to rule Elder ineligible in February.
The circumstances certainly aren’t ideal, but Elder remains undeterred in his quest to elevate his game.
“I’ve just tried to make the most of the situation and take the good out of it and throw away the bad,” Elder said.
On board with a new team
Elder is looking at the situation as nothing more than a minor speed bump as he chases his dream of some day pitching in the big leagues. Despite being sidelined this spring, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound right-hander still has a 92 mph fastball and all of the potential that comes with such a live arm.
Elder has also gained a new team at Burlington Central.
Although he is unable to suit up for the Rockets, Elder still attends almost every practice and game. He works out with the team and holds his bullpen sessions with Burlington Central’s pitchers. When it comes time for the Rockets to take the field, Elder lends a hand as a team manager.
“I enjoy it because it’s not completely like I’m not playing baseball this year,” Elder said. “Being with the team and going to games still kind of gives me something to do besides just doing baseball workouts for myself.”
Elder has also been able to keep his competitive juices flowing by pitching in Iowa on the weekend.
When he learned of his ineligibility, Elder took advantage of an opportunity to play in Perfect Game USA’s Iowa Spring League. The traveling league showcases for some of the top talent in Iowa, which doesn’t begin its high school season until May.
Elder has pitched 20 innings for the Perfect Game Black team. He has 37 strikeouts, three hits allowed, one earned run allowed and four walks, numbers which are on par with the dominating statistics he posted during his three varsity seasons at Westminster Christian.
With the Iowa high school season set to begin, Elder plans to make his final trip to pitch in the league Sunday. After that he’ll have to wait until after the Illinois high school season is complete to get some game action in at a few tournaments with the McHenry County Hurricanes travel team before leaving for Arizona in July.
Staying busy is a top priority for Elder, and his presence is more than welcome at Burlington Central.
“I think we’re a better team for having (Elder) around us,” Burlington Central coach Kyle Nelson said. “He gets along well with a lot of the kids and he’s developed some good relationships with some of the guys. It’s good for the guys to see someone like him who can’t play this year but is still doing whatever he can to help.”
No turning back
At Westminster Christian, Elder and former teammate Ryan Perez made up one of the top pitching duos in the state. The two All-State honorees helped guide the Warriors to the 2010 Class 1A state championship as sophomores, and expectations were high for their senior campaigns in 2012.
Those expectations took a hit in November when Perez, an ambidextrous standout, underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. A month later Elder caught Westminster’s program off guard when he transferred.
Elder said he hasn’t had any contact with his former teammates or coaches since leaving the school. Westminster Christian did not sign off on Elder’s transfer, which the IHSA cited as one of the reasons Elder was ruled ineligible.
“It’s weird not playing, but I’ve pretty much accepted it,” Elder said. “When they said I couldn’t play I didn’t dwell on it because I knew I had the opportunity to go to Iowa.
“In some aspects it’s probably better because now I know I’m only going to be pitching and I can have my routine set for the week.”
Still, there are some definite drawbacks associated with Elder missing his senior season.
“I think it’s hardest for my parents,” Elder said. “For them this is the last year they can see me play every day. They’ll still see me next year, but it’s not like they’ll be at every game.”
Promising future ahead
In a sense, Elder is just in a holding pattern as he bides his time before beginning the next part of his baseball career.
The coaches at Arizona gave Elder a running and throwing program to follow this spring. He plans on reporting to Tucson, Ariz., on July 9 to begin summer school and start working out with the Wildcats, who normally rank among the top teams in the nation.
Elder also faces the prospect of being selected in next month’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He plans to throw at the 2012 Perfect Game National Pre-Draft Showcase on May 14 in Iowa, where he will have one last chance to make a lasting impression on pro scouts.
“There is a possibility I get drafted, but it is most likely going to be in a low round,” Elder said. “If I get drafted it would be something for me to work towards in college.
“It’s something I’d like to happen. It’s a dream.”
Armed with an effective fastball, change-up, overhand slider and sidearm curve ball, it’s no surprise Elder is confident as he looks to turn the page from his high school playing days to whatever awaits.
“Everything feels good,” Elder said. “I’m staying healthy and doing my thing.”