Tony Kemp believes the disappointment of not reaching the College World Series only will linger until he can lace up the cleats and jump back on the diamond.
Luckily, he won’t have to wait long.
He starts his professional career on Monday with the Tri-City ValleyCats, a Class A short-season team in the New York-Penn League. The transition comes quickly for Kemp, who was selected by the Houston Astros in the fifth round of last weekend’s Major League Baseball draft. He signed a contract on Wednesday — just three days after his junior season at Vanderbilt ended in a Super Regional to Louisville.
“I think it will sting when I’m on my flight Saturday morning going up to New York,” said Kemp, who wore a brand new Astros hat as he talked to reporters on Thursday while standing outside his parents’ home in Franklin. “It will probably sting for a little bit. But I think Monday once I get playing for the Valley Cats I think that is just going to have be pushed in the past. It’s going to be one of those things where you lose the championship game you have to bounce back and play the next game. That’s what you got to do.”
Kemp was the first of six Commodores drafted last weekend to sign a professional contract. According to Baseball America, Major League Baseball slots $360,800 for the first pick of the fifth round, where Kemp was drafted. Kemp, the Southeastern Conference player of the year, said the finality of his college career hit him on Sunday when the team said their goodbyes just an hour after a 2-1 loss to Louisville.
“It was really emotional because you know you’re not going to be around a team like that ever again in your entire life,” he said.
Kemp is expected to start in the ValleyCats’ season opener on Monday. He said team officials want him to continue to play second base but also to play in center field once or twice a week. Kemp played in left field during his freshman year at Vanderbilt before moving into the infield halfway through the 2012 season.
He won’t be alone in Troy, N.Y., which is just 15 minutes across the Hudson River from Albany. Commodores first baseman Conrad Gregor signed a deal on Thursday with the Astros, who took him in the fourth round. Kemp said Gregor will join him on Monday but won’t start playing until later in the week after he takes a physical.
“Hopefully we can hold down the right side of the infield for a little bit longer,” Kemp said with a wide smile. “I think it is great for him. Hopefully we can be roommates and start our journey for our professional career.”
The duo arrived at Vanderbilt the same year in 2011, both starting and helping the Commodores reach their first College World Series.
Out of Centennial High School, the 5-foot-6, 160-pounder didn’t receive many scholarship offers. In just three years at Vanderbilt, however, he became one of the country’s toughest outs. The left-handed hitter was named a Freshman All-American in 2011. Two years later, he was tabbed a consensus first-team All-American after leading the SEC with a .391 batting average, 104 hits, 64 runs scored and 34 stolen bases.
Needing 16 hours to graduate, Kemp plans to finish his degree during offseason trips back to Nashville. But for now, he felt the timing was ideal to start his professional career.
“It was tough,” Kemp said. “I know that [Mike Yastrzemski] and [Connor] Harrell came back [for the 2013 season] because they wanted to win a national championship. That is a tough task to do. I think the most important thing is you have to look back and see what we have accomplished this year. The 26-3 mark [in SEC play] is one of the marks that might never be touched again. Maybe that was one of the big accomplishments I wanted to have. I’m still 0-3 in SEC championship games, which is tough but I’m going to have put that behind me.
“But other than that I think I’m satisfied with the three years. What I’ve accomplished personally, what the team has accomplished altogether. I think it is my time to go.”