By David Driver
For the Baltimore Sun Media Group
Used with permission
BOWIE, MARYLAND - Bowie Baysox infielder Jeff Kemp grew up in Bowie and started going to Baysox games when he was about 5 years old.
A few years later, he went to a game in 1998 with his youth team and he and his teammates were able to go on the field before the first pitch.
Kemp, then 8 years old, found himself standing beside Baysox third baseman Ryan Minor and Kemp's father took a photo of the two of them.
So you can imagine what a thrill it was for Archbishop Spalding grad Kemp when he was drafted by the parent Baltimore Orioles in 2013, and the next season played for manager Minor with the low Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds in Salisbury.
The excitement has increased this season as Kemp had advanced to Double-A Bowie for the first time. But Kemp has had to adjust to a new role as a utility infielder after he was used mostly an everyday player the past two seasons at the Single-A level.
"I kind of knew going into that was probably going to happen," Kemp said. "Most of the guys were here last year; that was a team that won the (Eastern League) title" for the first time.
Another challenge has been Double-A pitchers for Kemp, who attended Glenn Dale Elementary and Tasker Middle School.
"You face a lot of guys (at Single-A) who have a good fastball and are still working on secondary pitches," said Kemp, who hit .188 in his first 38 games with Bowie. "This is where they get a feel for secondary pitches. They are not going to throw you a 2-0 fastball (all of the time). The defense gets better. The infielders make every play. Everyone is more sound defensively."
Kemp lives with his father in Bowie and nearly every game in which he starts, there is a family member or friend in the stands. He has a brother who lives in Centreville, a sister in Crofton and aunts and uncles in the area.
"Some games, I may put down (a request for) 14 or 18 tickets. The Baysox have been great. They have been very accommodating. Even if I forget to put my dad on the list, they know who he is," Kemp said.
Having to deal with all those tickets and playing in front of family most nights could wear on some players. But not Kemp, according to Brian Graham, the director of player development for the parent Orioles.
"I doubt it is a distraction for him. He can handle anything well," said Graham, a former minor league player and former Eastern League manager with Akron.
Graham said that Kemp is valuable to the Baysox, who entered play on Wednesday with a 27-37 record. Kemp has played all four infield spots in his minor league career and once played the outfield to end a game when a player got injured.
"Tremendous versatility. The fact that he can play several positions is a huge asset," Graham said. "And he plays them well. He has handled every situation that has come his way, whether he plays once a week or twice a week or five times a week. His character is his biggest asset. His work ethic is off the charts. He is probably better at second base. He certainly does a good job at short or third."
What about his low batting average with the Baysox?
"It is difficult to hit when you don't get so many opportunities," Graham said.
Another player with the Baysox this year is outfielder Glynn Davis, who is from Pasadena. "It is cool we are both local guys," Kemp said.
Kemp got to see a future big-leaguer when he played in college at Division I Radford in Virginia with pitcher Eddie Butler, now with the Colorado Rockies. Another Radford teammate was pitcher Ryan Meisinger, now in the Orioles system with Delmarva.
"He battled some injuries but he was a workhorse for us," said Radford head coach Joe Raccuia, who noted Kemp was a redshirt in his second year and signed with the Orioles after his senior season. "He was a guy we could build the program around. He has good leadership qualities."
One of Kemp's best friends in the Orioles system is former Bowie outfielder Mike Yastrzemski, now with Triple-A Norfolk. They were drafted the same year by the Orioles and played together in Aberdeen and Delmarva.
Kemp said they used to joke that whoever made it to Bowie first could sleep in Kemp's bed. "He beat me to Bowie and got to sleep in my bed," Kemp noted.