Kiger Works His Way Back

The Binghamton second baseman was called up during the 2006 postseason for a short stint with the Oakland Athletics. After signing with the Mets, he restarts his journey back to the top. He sat down with Inside Pitch for a revealing story about what he has been through.

He was supposed to be walking back to the dugout to take his first swings as a Major Leaguer to lead off the top of the tenth, to start the rally that saved the season. Not because Magglio Ordonez had just broken a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the ninth in Game 4 of the 2006 ALCS with a three-run home run, not because the Tigers had just won the pennant—not because the Athletics' season was over.

Second baseman Mark Kiger entered the game just three batters before Maggs' dagger as a defensive replacement for D'Angelo Jimenez (technically pinch-hitter Bobby Kielty) in that ninth inning. When the same thing had happened the day before, that time in eighth inning, it gave the 26-year-old Kiger the distinction of being the first player in the modern era to make his Major League debut in the playoffs. (Called up in replacement of regular second baseman Mark Ellis, who had broken his finger, he did not receive an at-bat.)

"It was awesome, it's a great experience playing with guys you watch growing up like Frank Thomas," he said. "You get you up there in a big pressure-filled situation; must-win when the season's on the line—playing in front of 65,000 is a pretty cool experience. I was coming up in the next inning, Ordonez hit a homer, what are you going to do? But just being up there and playing ... in those type of games when it's 3-3, ninth inning, you know you don't get any more pressure than that."

Now he is a Binghamton Met. On a good day he's playing in front of maybe one-twelfth as many people, and that means he's back in Double-A, about to become a 27-year-old in May. Entering May 8, he is second on the team only to Fernando Martinez in hitting with a .296 average, and he is tops with a .404 OBP.

Kiger could be disappointed at his age, with the success he's had so far this year and his resume. He was Athletics general manager Billy Beane's fifth-round pick, out of the University of Florida, in the notable "Moneyball" draft of 2002. He still has to grind it out on the farm, but that experience begets perspective.

"I've been up there, I've played about a full season at Triple-A, and I think that it doesn't really matter where you're at as long as you're doing well," Kiger said. "I think that if you're in Triple-A or even the big leagues and you're not doing well then you're not going to be there very long, and people are going to give up on you. That's if you're in Double-A and doing well, that's better than being in Triple-A and not doing well. I think Double-A, Triple-A and the big leagues are all similar as far as talent you're playing."

His wisdom also gives him an opportunity to be a leader, and his advice is lost on no one in the clubhouse.

"He's like a breath of oxygen," said B-Mets manager Mako Oliveras. "He's the veteran. Kiger's been around; to me he's like an extra coach. He leads by example, plays more than one position. He's a hard-nose type of player—I call those players dirt-movers."

He can play every position but pitcher and catcher, and has already done some dirty work this season off the field. He leads team meetings in an attempt to inspire a club that's already gone through a seven-game losing streak on its way to a record of ten games below .500.

"We've had some meetings to try to get guys going; me and him talk a lot about where this team's going, and things like that," said third baseman Corey Ragsdale, who, even at 24 years old in his third season as a B-Met.

"He's trying to help guys out, he's been to Triple-A, he's had time in the big leagues, he knows what it takes. Anything he has to say, I think that all of the guys look up to him."

Kiger got a new start with the Mets. The Mets were one of five or six teams he said his agent found interest in him after Oakland—which, hoped to avoid losing him through waivers. Instead, they re-signed him through free agency and attempted to non-tender him in the winter. That's when Kiger got a chance to see what other opportunities were available.

"You don't really have an idea when you're under contract, you just kind of know what the organization you're with thinks, so we got a lot of positive feedback," he said. "Utility guys in the National League are a lot more important than utility guys in the American League, and that's kind of the deciding factor."

Kiger was not exactly distraught about leaving the A's.

"If you can hit, you can hit. Oakland I think almost made me a worse hitter, because the things that they wanted me to do I naturally did, and then when I started thinking about trying to do what they wanted me to do, the power numbers go because you start taking pitches that you normally would drive out of the yard, just so that you can get 3-2," he said.

"Last year I changed my approach, I had nine or ten homers in the last three months of the season because I kind of just decided to go back to what I do, not to try to think about what the organization wants, because I naturally do that anyway … kind of figuring out, look: I do all the stuff you're supposed to do as a hitter, I don't need to think about it," he added.

Hitting coach Nelson Silverio works to tame him at the plate, not in regards to his pitch selection, but his actual swing.

"For him, too much movement to the ball, let the ball travel a little bit longer, and shorten up his strides," Silverio said.

"It's just staying back and seeing the ball, I'm real aggressive, and I kind of have to take a step back from that kind of personality, because that's what gets me into trouble. I just try to be too aggressive. I try to do too much every single pitch," Kiger said.

Now he wants to get back to the place he belonged briefly last fall, to where he believes he belongs today.

"I talked to Ellis and a lot of the guys last year: the hardest thing about the big leagues is getting there, because once you're there, it's not as hard," he said. "I think I could be an everyday second baseman, a good everyday second baseman in the big leagues, hit .280 to .300, hit 10 to 20 [home runs] depending on the year—I don't see too many second baseman that I can't play with in the big leagues. Just getting up there and getting that chance to show off and stay."

A few more weeks at his current pace, particularly with the recent injury to Major League starting second baseman Jose Valentin and the promotion of New Orleans' Ruben Gotay, and Kiger may have his chance.

"He's playing well here," said vice president for player development Tony Bernazard. "It's early in the season and it depends on how he continues to perform. That's how we're going to make the determination of what we're going to do with him."

Amazin Clubhouse Top Stories