There are long shots to make it to the big leagues, and then there’s Zack Kelly. Even calling Kelly a “longshot” might be an understatement.
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Kelly would’ve been an anomaly enough had he just thrown one inning in professional baseball. He began his career at Division 2 Concord University, a school most baseball fans haven’t heard of, and then transferred to Division 2 Newberry College—another school most baseball fans haven’t heard of. At both stops, Kelly turned in solid results and lit up the radar gun enough to garner interest on the mound from professional teams.
“You get the questionnaires, and every questionnaire is pretty much the exact same questions to a T,” said Kelly. “Every single one of them says, ‘What will you sign for?’ I’m a Division 2 senior; what do you want me to put, a million dollars? On every single one, I put ‘Anything.’”
Kelly showed enough during his senior season at Newberry to elicit the possibility of being selected in the 2017 MLB Draft. A few calls came throughout the draft, but forty rounds came and went with no selection. Post-draft, Kelly got on the phone with a scout from the A’s.
“He called me and said, ‘Alright, here’s the deal, I pushed for you—I’ll get you a free agent deal for $500; you have to be out here in three days,’” said Kelly. “(I said) thank you, I’m pumped; this is all I’ve ever wanted, you just let me know when I need to leave my house, and I’ll be there.”
How long did that $500 last?
“It lasted me about three hours,” said Kelly. After paying for rent and a “2 For $20” from a Scottsdale Applebees, Kelly had no money, but did have a job with the A’s.
At least, he did until being released following the end of spring training in 2018. The righthander licked his wounds and headed to an independent league tryout but received a call from the Angels upon arrival. Kelly spent the 2018 season with the organization, throwing well over three levels, but serving more as A-ball organizational depth—when the Halos needed an arm to toss innings in short-season, Low-A, or High-A, or extended spring training, Kelly was that guy.
During off-seasons both Kelly and his wife worked odd jobs to make ends meet while the latter finished her nursing degree. Kelly gave pitching lessons and cut costs elsewhere to afford a membership at a gym that housed other professional baseball players, such as longtime big leaguer Jordan Lyles, which allowed him to…