A Baseball Life

The last name is recognizable, as is the case with many athletically gifted families. But Grae Kessinger stands on his own merits.

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Heading into his sophomore season of high school at Center Hill in Desoto County, the shortstop has committed already to the Ole Miss Rebels.

All things considered, most would have predicted he'd be a Rebel. The talent is there to play college baseball. The legacy is there for him to attend Ole Miss.

But Kessinger said his family allowed him to make his own decision. He is set to sign with Ole Miss in Nov., 2015 as a part of the Class of 2016, the first commitment for that year to Ole Miss baseball.

"I do have a lot of ties there. It helps that I know Ole Miss and everything about it," said Kessinger, considered by many as one of the top prospects at his position in the country in his age group.

The 6-foot-1, 165-pound Kessinger said he looked beyond those ties as far as his future in baseball and in college.

"Mainly it was the coaches and getting to know them. That's what really was the main thing for me," he said. "Coach Bianco, Coach Lafferty, and Coach Godwin. The relationships I have with them is what I really love the most."

Mississippi State, Tennessee, and Louisville were in the mix, and LSU had been mentioned. There would have been more schools had Kessinger not committed to Ole Miss. And with the Ole Miss factor, certainly coaches had to know of his strong ties. But he was ready to commit.

"It is early, but I'm glad I made my decision and know what I'm doing. I can just play and have a good time and get better," said the son of former Ole Miss player Kevin Kessinger, also nephew of former Rebel player Keith Kessinger, and grandson of former Ole Miss player and head coach Don Kessinger.

But it isn't that unusual anymore for players to make up their minds and go ahead and commit, especially in baseball. And usually those commits are firm, as Kessinger says his is. It's a place he's very familiar with.

"I lived there (in Oxford) until I was six years old and in the first grade," said Kessinger, who turned 16 on Aug. 25. "And I've been there a ton since then."

Kessinger pitched some for his high school team as well as playing regularly at shortstop. For his summer league team, he mainly was just at shortstop. He was the leadoff hitter this summer and in high school hits third in the lineup for the Class 5A team.

Kessinger batted .349 for Center Hill as a freshman with 20 RBI, five doubles, 26 runs scored, .468 on-base percentage, .406 slugging percentage, and 13 stolen bases.

He was named a Max Preps Freshman All-American and a second-team freshman all-state by the Clarion-Ledger, All-Desoto County freshman, all district, and a first-team all-state by HS Sports baseball. He won the varsity scholastic award with a 4.0 GPA.

In summer baseball of 2012, he received the Gold Glove at the CABA World Series in Indianapolis. His goals this year and beyond are what you would expect.

"Win a state title. That's the end goal," Kessinger said. "Work on getting stronger and faster. If a ball one-hops the fence, make those home runs. Or on a bang-bang play where I'm out, be safe on those. Just little things that make me a better player in the end."

Tim Dulin of Dulin's Sports Academy in Memphis, said Kessinger has all the tools to be a successful player for years.

Grae Kessinger & grandfather Don, a 6-time All-Star with the Cubs, at Wrigley Field this summer
File Photo

"As you would expect, he's very special," said Dulin who has watched or coached Grae for years. "Great maturity. Reminds me a lot defensively of Zack Cozart. He's got a very easy way of playing shortstop, and we all know how hard shortstop is to play. He's just really, really good."

More from Dulin.

"He's going to get more physical which he needs to. But he's just a sophomore. He's got a chance to be a big-time guy. There's no doubt. Great player. Great kid. Kid that respects the game and understands it.

"He played on a team that won the national championship out of 192 teams," Dulin said of the 15-and-under team that won the Perfect Game World Wooden Bat National Championship in Atlanta this summer. "That team is very special and the majority of those kids will play either SEC or top Division I baseball. He's a quiet leader, not a rah-rah guy. Reminds me of Cozart. Offensively it's just about getting stronger. He definitely has the ability to drive the balls into the gap. I think he will be a guy that is going to drive runs in and hit for some average. He has a very good feel for the game and unbelievable instincts. The total package to us. Can't say enough good things about him. Special kid."

Jason Thompson, a former infielder in the Red Sox organization, was a coach on that national title team this summer.

"The thing that separates Grae is he's so mature as a baseball player," Thompson said. "Mentally he's way ahead of the game than anyone I've seen his age. Some of it is bloodlines. Some of it is he eats, drinks, and sleeps baseball. He's so focused. He's not sidetracked on other stuff like young kids can be.

"He's a good leadoff hitter because he either gets a base hit or works the count deep and gets a walk or gets a hit. Every time to lead off the game, he starts it the right way. Then somehow he ends up on third base with one out. And we score in the first inning every time, or 90 percent of the time. His bat is just as good as everything else. It's really a short-line-drive swing. That doesn't mean he doesn't have power because he does. The shortstop has to be captain and leader of the infield. He really became that this summer. He just has a good approach to the whole game."

Grae indeed has a lot of people to turn to when he needs something concerning baseball.

"I listen to my coaches, like school and Dulin's. And I'll hit with my dad in the offseason. He helps me with my hitting a lot. If I can't figure something out, I'll ask him. He always seems to know what he's talking about. If there's a play I wasn't sure about, I'll go to my grandfather to ask if there was a better way I should handle it. And I'll sometimes hit with my uncle when I go to Oxford, and he'll give me some good pointers."

But when it came down to where to attend college in the years ahead, Grae decided for himself.

"This was completely my decision. I felt no pressure," he said. "They were there if I needed something. Now I just want to get to know Ole Miss more and more. I'm certainly excited. I'm so glad I'm going to get to be a Rebel in three years. It's been my dream since I was little, and to know it's going to come true is pretty great."

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