Kelton proud to be member of Cubs’ family
Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 6, 2016
LAGRANGE – Like so many millions of people, David Kelton was riveted by the drama taking place in Cleveland last week.
It was Game 7 of the World Series, and the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians played a thrilling game with nothing less than the championship of Major League Baseball on the line.
Kelton was more than just a passive observer.
Kelton, the head baseball coach at LaGrange College, is a former member of the Cubs’ family.
For eight years, from 1998 to 2005, Kelton was a part of the Chicago Cubs’ organization, mostly as a minor-league player, but he also spent parts of two seasons with the big-league club.
It was a special time in Kelton’s life, one he savors and treasures, so it was with immense joy that he watched the Cubs not only reach the World Series, but win the franchise’s first championship in more than a century.
The Cubs made it a reality when they beat the Indians 7-6 in extra innings on Wednesday.
It capped about a month-long playoff journey for the Cubs, and Kelton was there every step of the way.
“This process was neat watching them in the playoffs,” Kelton said. “For whatever reason, I don’t know what it was about this playoffs, this one brought back a lot of the emotions and memories of when I was in the organization.”
After a remarkable stint as a high-school player at Troup, Kelton was selected by the Cubs in the second round of the draft in 1998.
For most of six years, Kelton made the rounds in the Cubs’ farm system, and he was consistently one of the top hitters for whatever team he played for.
He was enjoying another productive season in 2003 when the call he’d been waiting years for finally came.
“I was in Des Moines Iowa, which is only a hop, skip and a jump from Chicago,” Kelton said. “I got taken out about the mid innings of the game. Afterward, my manager pulled me in and told me that I’d gotten called up.”
Kelton’s wife was with him at the time so he knew she’d be there for the big day, and he called his parents, and they booked a flight and headed to Chicago.
The opponent was the New York Yankees, adding another spark to what was already going to be an unforgettable occasion.
“It was a Sunday night, ESPN game,” Kelton said. “It was as electric a ballpark as you could imagine.”
As the game went along, Kelton’s opportunity arose.
He was called upon as a pinch-hitter, and as he made his way to the batter’s box, he became party to a Cubs’ tradition.
“I didn’t realize it at the time, but I guess it’s tradition in Chicago when you’re a rookie and you make your major-league debut, you get a standing ovation,” Kelton said. “So I got a standing ovation when they announced my name, because I pinch hit later in the game. And I flew out to left field, and I was running off the field, I got another standing ovation. It was a lot of fun.”
During the 2003 and 2004 seasons, Kelton played in 18 games with the Chicago Cubs, and he had three hits, including a double, and one RBI.
Most of Kelton’s eight years in the organization were spent in the minor leagues, and he ended up with 910 hits, including 116 home runs and 175 doubles, and he had 517 RBIs.
In 2006, Kelton’s final year as a professional player, he played in 48 games at Richmond after signing with the Atlanta Braves.
Although he had little more than a cup of coffee with the Chicago Cubs, Kelton has no regrets.
“It’s a ton of memories,” Kelton said. “In a way, I felt like I was raised by the Cubs’ organization. I was 18-years-old when I got in there, and I was 26, 27 when I left the organization. It’s a great organization to be a part of, and great people. They gave me my opportunity in the game, and I was able to fulfill a lot of dreams of mine.”
Kelton said he always appreciated the passion of Cubs’ fans everywhere, and he knew how much they yearned to see their beloved team bring home that elusive title.
“I got a feel for it, all my years coming up through the minor leagues,” Kelton said. “Cubs’ fans, they’re nationwide. Even when I was in the minor leagues making my way up, it didn’t matter what town we went into, we always had great support. There were Cubs’ fans everywhere. You wanted to be that team to get the Cubs back on track. You wanted to be one of those guys that makes it up there. Cub fans, they’ve been longing for success, just to get rid of that curse of not being able to win a World Series.”
Kelton hung up his bat and glove following the 2006 season, but he wasn’t done with the game he loved.
He turned to coaching, and he was the head coach for the Springwood School baseball team in 2007.
Kelton later joined the LaGrange College staff as an assistant to Kevin Howard.
Howard stepped down following the 2013 season, and Kelton was the obvious choice as his replacement.
The Panthers had losing records in 2014 and 2015, but they broke through in a big way last season, going 30-13.
Kelton has no doubt the time he spent with the Cubs has helped him on his coaching journey.
“You draw back on this experiences, as much as you can,” Kelton said. “That’s where I learned the game, the finer details, the detail-oriented approach that you have to take, day in and day out to be successful.”
Kelton said spending nine years playing the game for a living also taught him “how to handle failure and adversity.”
“If you don’t get extremely good at being able to handle the highs, and handle the lows, and not get too high, and not get too low, and learn how to handle adversity day in and day out, the game will swallow you up,” Kelton added. “The mental aspect of professional baseball is what you learn the most. You get to learn on a daily basis, how to adjust, how to cope with failure, not allow it to beat you down, and come out the very next day and hopefully go out there and produce.”
Reach Kevin Eckleberry at (706) 407-2658 or on Twitter @lagrangesports