Before the new gates of Jack Kaiser Stadium open for the 2009 St. John’s baseball season, three things need to fall into place.
Some warmer weather would be nice. The club must replace the talent of the five Red Storm pitchers selected in the MLB draft last summer. And most importantly, the team needs to establish leadership to defend their second-consecutive Big East regular season title.
Luckily, head coach Ed Blankmeyer doesn’t have to worry too much about the last item on that to-do list.
Outfielder Brian Kemp has been selected as a co-captain by the coaching staff, that says the junior’s stats are not the sole reason for the honor. Kemp did lead the 2008 squad with a .360 batting average and 16 stolen bases, but it’s his intangible skills that will lead the Storm this year.
“They way we go about our captains,” said Blankmeyer, the 2008 Big East Coach of the Year, “it’s our decision, but [Kemp and fellow captain Nick Luisi] were clearly, by vote of the players, the choice. And the coaches feel they are very good choices.
“[Kemp] does the right things off the field,” Blankmeyer added. “He’s a very good student. He does all the right things.”
Despite working out with the team since Jan. 18, Kemp is feeling the itch to get back on the diamond.
The leadoff man says that the 2007 and 2008 Red Storm are the best teams he’s ever been a part of.
But naturally, Kemp figures 2009 to best both of those years, which won’t be an easy task. St. John’s won a school-record 42 games last season, and their 20 conference wins tied the club’s best mark since their inception in the Big East.
“We had great pitching last year and now we have a lot of new guys,” Kemp said. “They didn’t pick us too high in the Big East [they were picked fourth in the coaches’ poll]. That’s not going to happen; I can guarantee that. Our pitching has straightened out real well.”
The pitching staff has been the major concern over the offseason with seven hurlers moving on, including strikeout leaders, staff aces and a shutdown closer.
While the current Red Storm pitchers certainly appreciate Kemp running down fly balls in centerfield, there is not much interaction beyond that.
That’s where Luisi comes in.
“Nicky, as a captain, has a lot to do with that,” Kemp said. “We talk all the time if I see something I don’t like, and if he sees something from a position player, he can tell me and I can do something about it.”
For Blankmeyer, Kemp’s game is valuable in two contexts. When he went down with an injury last season, the coach admits the offense suffered without their catalyst.
“Offensively with him, we can score runs without getting hits, mainly because of his speed,” he said.
The other aspect of his game is the way he plays it.
Some captains are vocal leaders and some are inspirational leaders. While playing baseball for St. John’s, Kemp just lets the smile on his face do the talking.
“I’d say I lead more by example, but I’ll get vocal if I have to,” Kemp said.
“I love the game; I think it’s the most fun thing in the world to do, so I try to show that I’m having a blast. If other people see me having fun, I figure they’ll enjoy it as much as I do.”