By Tommy Keeler Jr. - firstname.lastname@example.org
STRASBURG -- Kevin Herget wasn't really focused on pitching in his early high school years at Park Ridge (N.J.) High School. He was more of a wrestler, but then something clicked for him in his junior year of baseball and his pitching went up a level.
Now after three years at Kean University, Herget is gaining a lot of attention with his arm -- especially in the Valley League. The Strasburg Express pitcher leads the league in strikeouts and has been a real force for Strasburg this season.
"I don't see all the pitchers because we don't face some guys, but I will say this -- he's in the top 5 in the Valley [League]," Strasburg manager Butch Barnes said. "People say, 'Well he's coming from a D-3 school.' Well he's faced D-1 hitters all summer, and he's leading the league in strikeouts.
"I just think that Kevin needs that recognition because I think he deserves it. He's earned it this summer."
Barnes said he feels Herget still has a lot of upside, especially since he started a little later as a pitcher.
Herget was recently clocked at 96 miles per hour on his fastball. Throwing with so much velocity is something Herget said is hard to explain.
"I work out and work hard on trying to get better and [the velocity] just came with it," Herget said.
Herget was part of a state championship team at Park Ridge High School in his senior year.
"It's a small school, but it was still one of my best years of high school," Herget said.
Herget said he had a lot of D-3 schools in New Jersey looking at him, but he went with Kean because of the team's winning tradition.
"I liked the coach," Herget said. "I liked the way they ran their program, the facilities were awesome. So, that kind of drew me towards them."
Herget said he worked a lot on getting bigger and stronger out of high school, and he worked a lot with the coaches at Kean to get better as a pitcher.
It's worked perfectly for him. In three seasons, Herget has a 21-7 record.
Herget has also faced some stiff competition on the mound.
"My coach put me in position where he wants me to pitch against the best competition that we have," Herget said. "I feel I've fared pretty well. I feel like I've really improved over the years."
Herget's fastball continues to get better and better, even throughout the Valley League season.
"I think now he's getting loose in this hot air and he's starting to cut it loose," Barnes said. "I still think he's got some uncharted waters."
While his fastball has improved, Herget said his curveball has always been a pitch he could count on.
"I've always had my curveball," Herget said. "That's always been a strong suit for me. I never had a pitching coach or anything. I just kinda fooled around with it. I liked it. I liked how it felt, and I kept it."
During his sophomore year at Kean, Herget said he developed his change-up, and now he's trying to work more on locating all three of his pitches.
Herget said one of the most important aspects of pitching is to get ahead in the count.
"Strike one is always most important to me, not that I always get it, but strike one is always most important," Herget said. "My mindset is, if I throw a ball to come back with a strike. It doesn't matter if it's like a nasty pitch, as long as it's a strike."
So far this season Herget has thrown a lot of strikes, as he has 57 strikeouts in 36 innings. Herget has a 2-1 record and a 4.50 ERA.
Herget said he loves being a pitcher and being in control of the game.
"I was always the center of attention in wrestling, and it's one on one," Herget said. "I like that, as a pitcher, all eyes are on you. You have the ball in your hand every single pitch. You're like the main focus of the game, every pitcher would say that. You can't not like that. You're not a pitcher if you don't like that."
Herget is also used to being on winning teams. The last two years Kean has been in the D-3 World Series. Although Kean went 0-2 both times, Herget said it was a valuable experience.
"Even though we lose out there it's a great achievement to get out there," Herget said. "It's a great environment to be around and a great atmosphere with some great players. Obviously everybody says D-1 is a lot better, but D-3's just as good, just to get there. It's awesome."
Herget said he feels like the Express can make plenty of noise too, if they can make it into the playoffs.
He said he's also really enjoying playing for Strasburg and loves the community here.
"It's a nice little town," Herget said. "Everybody is incredible with the atmosphere and the environment. Everybody really backs us well, which is pretty awesome."
Herget still has another year at Kean, but like most every college player he still dreams of one day making it to the Majors.
Barnes said he thinks he has the ability to do so.
"I'm hoping people don't keep him out of that because of his size," Barnes said. "When you hand [the baseball] to him he's going to go out there and compete every night. Even when he doesn't have his best stuff, he's still going to compete for you.
"You can't ask for anymore from a young man like that."