After a 7-2 win against Northside Prep early in the season, Maine East’s Antoine Kelly jogged directly to left field and proceeded to run from foul pole to foul pole six times.
“Usually before and after every game I run poles just so I don’t get sore and to make sure I go the amount of innings I need to,” said Kelly. “It’s just something that I do, it’s nothing really special.”
It may have not seemed like a big deal to the soft spoken Kelly, but that sort of maturity and work ethic is one of many reasons he is considered one of the best prospects in the state of Illinois.
Being able to throw a 90 mph fastball with late movement sure doesn’t hurt either.
At 6’5″ and just 175 pounds Kelly may not be the most intimidating presence on the diamond, but the lanky lefty has gotten the attention of colleges and MLB teams alike, an even more impressive feat when you consider the difficulty of pitching in a cold weather state.
Kelly said: “My first showcase was sophomore year, after that I started to get a little bit of attention. It didn’t really blow up until summer of my junior year.”
The scores of scouts, showcases, and media would be overwhelming for professional athletes let alone a teenager, but Kelly’s mindset with the media and his future prospects are the same as when he’s on the mound, one pitch at a time.
“The showcases weren’t really that big of a difference, it is a lot better competition but pitching to those prospects is no problem, it’s just like any other kid I throw to,” said Kelly.
“He’s very locked in and has a great routine when he’s pitching,” added Maine East head coach Ron Clark. “He’s kind of on a mission this year and you can tell he has a real edge to how he’s pitching and how he’s approaching things.”
Despite being one of the best pitching prospects in the state, Kelly is as humble as they come and has had to overcome everything from normal teenager problems such as confidence issues, to professional athlete problems such as media attention and adhering to a strict pitching schedule.
“Honestly, the pitching schedule kind of sucks,” said Kelly. “The first game of the season I felt like I could go all seven innings but I couldn’t. The throwing schedules are tough to follow, but I somehow have to do it and it’s been working.”
But before Kelly turns his attention to the MLB draft in June, the focus is still on the now. Kelly along with fellow pitcher Ashton Schwab have a chance to lead Maine East baseball to their best season in years, and their first regional title since 1983.
“You know, Ashton is a really good pitcher and I think we can pitch with anybody.” said Clark. “We’re young in spots, but it’s exciting.”
Not known for being a preps powerhouse, the attention that the small program from Park Ridge has received is unprecedented, and despite having plenty of opportunities to move to a warm weather state like Florida, or Arizona to hone his craft, Kelly prefers the comforts of Des Plaines and Maine East.
“My four years here I really built a relationship with the kids, I got used to and and if I went to another school it would be awkward,” said Kelly. “My freshman year I didn’t really talk to anybody but I’ve just gotten more comfortable and I didn’t want to start over.”
Although Maine East has a tall task ahead being the 14 seed in their sectional, the duo of Schwab and Kelly certainly have the ability to make some noise and give top seeded OPRF a run for their money, as shown by their impressive combined effort against New Trier this year.
And while nationwide recognition is certainly the horizon for Kelly, there’s nothing quite a chance to make history from the comforts of your own backyard.
“It’s nice to be apart of a group like this. We’ll have some bad days but we can still complete with everybody and win games,” concluded Kelly. “Personally, I just focus on every outing, one pitch at a time and whatever happens, happens.”
Kelly will have one last run in his hometown as Maine East start their playoff run at home on Monday against Von Steuben.