With the bases loaded and no outs, former Blue Valley West High shortstop Connor Kaiser stood at the plate for his Vanderbilt Commodores, facing Clemson’s Travis Marr in an NCAA regional championship game on Sunday afternoon.
Having already sent the first pitch of the at-bat into foul territory and allowing the second to go for a ball, Kaiser prepared himself for another fastball, not taking Marr for a groundout-type of pitcher.
As predicted, Marr sent another fastball high into the zone, but Kaiser wasn’t going to let this pitch slip away from him.
“Luckily I put a good swing on it. Wasn’t sure if it was going to get out,” Kaiser said with a laugh. “Clemson’s kind of short to the corners, so I kind of had a good angle on it. I just kept running, and luckily it got out.”
Got out it did, for a grand slam that gave Vandy a commanding 11-3 lead over the Tigers. Kaiser's Commodores went on to win 19-6, and all the talk afterward was about Kaiser.
Before that game, Kaiser had hit just four home runs in 163 games for Vanderbilt. His grand slam was just one of three huge home runs he hit in that game, bringing his collegiate career total to seven and propelling the Commodores into the NCAA super regionals.
But then Kaiser's week got even better.
On Tuesday, he was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the third round of the MLB draft, taken with the 86th overall pick.
So the magic goes on, and now Kaiser and the Commodores will host the Nashville Super Regional against Mississippi State in a best-of-three series starting Friday. The winner advances to the College World Series.
Throughout his high school and collegiate career, Kaiser had never been a power hitter, always opting for contact and showcasing his talents by running the bases, or with his defense. Sunday against Clemson shouldn’t have been any different ...
“It didn’t feel any different. We prepared as a team the same way we always do, we took some ground balls, we got in the cages,” Kaiser said. “The team was super-relaxed, and the team was just ready to play.”
Kaiser's first at-bat was a flyout in the first inning. His next at-bat, in the third, began to blow the game open. Kaiser's three-run homer gave Vandy a 4-0 lead.
“He threw a curveball up," Kaiser recalled. "And I figured he would go with something off-speed in that situation, because there was a runner on second and third, so I just wanted to be ready for a pitch up in the zone. Luckily I got it, and didn’t miss it.”
Kaiser hit his grand slam in the sixth and added a two-run homer in the seventh. His three home runs tied a Vanderbilt record for single-game home runs, and his 10 RBIs equaled an NCAA tournament single-game record.
Much of what he knows today about the game, Kaiser learned at Blue Valley West. He won a state title with the team in 2013 and picked up a Rawlings Gold Glove Award the same season.
“I played for Coach (Bill) McDonald at Blue Valley West," he said. "He’s awesome. One of the best guys I’ve been around. He kind of reminds me of (Vanderbilt) Coach (Tim) Corbin a lot. Super-consistent like Coach Corbin. And then our assistants — Coach (Matt) Shipley. Super-good guy, he kind of led the pitching staff there, but super-fun to be around.
"Kind of the whole staff, it was fun to be around every day.”