Kinney still throwing strikes

Port Allegany native Josh Kinney warms up before a recent game. Kinney currently has a 1-2 record and a 3.60 ERA for the Class AAA Charlotte Knights, the top affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. (Photo courtesy of the Knights' media relations department.)

Lori Chase
Port Allegany Reporter Argus
May 26, 2011

Before Port Allegany started its own high school baseball program, students who wanted to play had to catch the bus over the hill to Shinglehouse for practices and games as part of a co-op agreement with Oswayo Valley, a trip the players jokingly called the “squirrel trail.”

Little did pitcher Josh Kinney know that those rides through the northern Pennsylvania woods would lead to a World Series ring and an 11-year – and counting – professional baseball career.

“I don’t think you could ever plan it like this. I count my blessings every day,” the 1997 Port High grad says during a Sunday-morning chat in Buffalo, where his Charlotte Knights are preparing to play the Bisons that afternoon. “When I look back on stuff like that, it’s just funny how it all works, because I didn’t think I’d be playing baseball for a living. I just always played because it’s what I like to do.

“But I really cherish those memories and those times,” he adds. “Guys don’t get to do that now, because we’ve got our own team.”


Kinney spent 10 years in the St. Louis organization, going from the unimaginable high of the 2006 World Series championship run to the low of reconstructive surgery on his elbow the next spring and the lengthy rehab which followed. He finished with a 1-4 record for their Class AAA affiliate in Memphis in 2010, earning 17 saves and compiling a 1.80 ERA in 56 appearances, but his time with the Cardinals came to a close when they removed him from their 40-man roster and allowed him to become a free agent after the season.

“When they took me off, I was pitching really well, felt great. It was one of those things where I never really understood what was going on,” he says. “In baseball, as a player, you have a perspective from the player’s view. You don’t know what owners and managers are thinking. But when they took me off, they kept giving me lip service, telling me, ‘We can still call you back up. We’ve still got plans for you. We were just trying to trade for someone and our roster was full, so you were a guy we thought we could take off without anybody grabbing you.’ Stuff like that. Then I tried to get traded and they wouldn’t trade me, so they just basically let me sit there. I really still don’t know why, but that’s neither here nor there. I finished the year and had one of the best years I’ve ever had. You look at my numbers, they speak for themselves.”

While the Cards were no longer interested in his services – a stark reminder that at its highest levels, baseball is as much a business as a game – at least four other teams were. Kinney chose the Chicago White Sox from the offers he received, thinking it was his best chance to get back to the big leagues, but for now he’s with their Triple-A team in Charlotte.

“In the offseason – you’re looking at November when I signed with these guys – at that time, they had lost several guys out of their bullpen. They only had four or five guys returning to their pen, so it looked like it would be a good fit. Then they signed a bunch of guys after that, and here we are,” he says, then shrugs. “But that’s the way it goes. All you can really do is just play the game and do your best, and hopefully it works out.”

Signing with Chicago meant plenty of adjustments for Kinney, including a move to North Carolina and his first trip through the International League.

“I was pretty excited about it, to tell you the truth,” he says. “Being that it’s a totally new league, every park I go to is new. After playing as long as I’ve played, it’s neat to have something fresh, wear a different-colored uniform. I wore red for 10 years – wouldn’t change it – but red cleats every day for 10 years, and all of a sudden I got a pair of black ones sent to me. It’s like, ‘What is this?’

“But the change has been good. I really like our team. I like our coaches a lot – our manager, our pitching coach here, our hitting coach. They’re good people that know the game, that played it, so you have respect for them. It’s good. I’m enjoying it.”

The respect is mutual from Knights manager Joe McEwing, a former major-leaguer who split time between four teams during a nine-year pro career.

“He’s a pro’s pro,” McEwing says. “He’s taken guys under his wing and showed them the right way. He leads by presence and by example, the way he goes about his business every day. Guys can look at it and say, ‘This is what it takes to get to the big leagues.’ I’m very fortunate to be in a situation where I have a veteran leader like Josh – the type of person he is, and the way he goes about his business – and that doesn’t even mention what goes on on the field. He’s an outstanding pitcher, and hopefully we can get him back to the big leagues.”

One other change in his job description: Because the White Sox are an American League team which uses the designated hitter, batting practice is a thing of the past.

“I haven’t swung a bat since I’ve been over here, and that’s fine with me. Those days are over,” he says with a laugh. “Any more, I’d go swing and I’d be sore from swinging it, so I don’t care anymore. Besides, I hit last year. My last at-bat, I got a hit.”


Saturday night was a good one for Kinney. Walking to the mound in the bottom of the seventh inning with a two-run lead, he rolled up five strikeouts in two scoreless innings of work, handed the game over to closer Brian Bruney for the save in Charlotte’s 6-3 win, and got a hug from mom Debbie outside the clubhouse afterward.

“This is awesome. I got to see my family last night. To me, that’s wonderful,” he says. “Today, I’m going home after the game, and I haven’t been home in the summertime since I was in college. Just getting to see familiar faces has been nice. You know, actually, I was thinking about that last night …”

Kinney goes on to note that on seemingly every Knights road trip, someone from Port Allegany – which he still considers home, no matter where he’s playing – has shown up at a game.

“It’s been great,” he says. “I didn’t get that with the Cardinals. It was so far away from home that you just didn’t run into people. In the big leagues, I had people come to Pittsburgh, Washington, New York … But it’s different when you’re in the big leagues. You really don’t have as much time to spend, and do everything. So I’m excited to be here.”


The biggest adjustment of all had nothing – and everything – to do with Kinney’s baseball career, when wife Jorni delivered the couple’s first child, son Saxton Thomas Robert, shortly before he left for spring training. How’s the new dad doing?

“It’s awesome,” he says. “I don’t know how it happened so quick. You look at this game, you’ve honestly got to be kind of selfish to play baseball and do it at a high level. You’ve just got to be committed to it; I don’t know how to describe it other than that. You’ve got to be committed to the game – the work, the time here – and I’ve always been good with that.

“Now, there’s somebody more important. I’ve got a wife, and now I’ve got a son. I realized when I got married, you know what? There’s a lot more to today than how many runs I give up or how many strikeouts I get, how bad I pitch or how good I pitch. Now it’s not about me, it’s about my family.

“I went through that with my wife a little bit, but it’s a lot easier dealing with an adult. You can reason with them,” he jokes before quickly adding, “I love being married. And now we have a son, and it’s just wonderful. I mean, it’s so nice to come home and see him, to have him puke on me or whatever else he does, but we’re just having a blast. Aside from the no-sleep part” – Kinney’s stellar outing against Buffalo becomes even more impressive when he explains that he’d gotten only two hours of shuteye the night before – “it’s been great. Had to learn how to change diapers, I’ve been peed on several times, and I wouldn’t change it. Love it.

“It’s so hard for me just to go on an eight-day road trip. Yesterday, I had to kiss them goodbye. Kiss my wife, kiss the baby, kiss the dog … Before, it was no big deal. Now, I come home and he’s doing stuff different. When we came home from the last eight-day road trip, it looked like he grew, he gained a pound or something. His hair looks different, and he’s grabbing stuff, and blowing bubbles, so I don’t know what he’ll be doing this time. It’s great.”

While the 32-year-old Kinney misses his young family on the road, it doesn’t sound like he’s ready to make the transition from professional baseball player to stay-at-home father just yet.

“The competitive side of me, I love it. I don’t know if it’ll ever go away,” he says. “Last night was great going out there, close game, my family’s here. And obviously I’ve still got a little bit of stuff. I got some guys out.

“I feel good, as far as my age and my body. I’d be lying if I told you I haven’t thought about what I’d do if it was over, being what I went through with my arm and now that I have a family. But I feel too good, and I still love it too much, to just quit.”


Kinney doesn’t get into Sunday’s game, as the Bisons rough up Knights starter Matt Zaleski on their way to a 7-5 win. But he’s all smiles as he heads for the clubhouse door – the first player out – dropping into the coaches’ room on the way by to tell them, “See you tomorrow. I’m going to go home and shoot a turkey.”

McEwing tells him that if he gets one, to bring it back with him and they’ll have the Bisons’ chefs cook it for them. A coach adds, “Get a deer and we’ll cut that bad boy up, too.”

Everyone laughs, and Kinney heads out the door, shouldering his backpack and walking down the hallway to his waiting rental car.

Going home.

© Lori Chase, 2011.

Softball: Power surge lifts Gators past Ramettes in D-9 opener

Lori Chase
Port Allegany Reporter Argus
May 26, 2011

Kyley Mickle settled underneath the towering pop fly, a smile spreading across the Gator shortstop’s face as she waved her teammates back. As the ball landed safely in her glove for the final out of Port Allegany’s 9-4 win over Johnsonburg in Monday’s District 9 softball playoff opener, the on-field celebration began, but Mickle already had Port’s next opponent on her mind.

“I was just like, ‘We’re going to Coudy!’” she said with a grin, looking ahead to Wednesday afternoon’s quarterfinal game against the third-seeded Falcons (12-2) in Coudersport.

First, though, the sixth-seeded Gators (12-6) had to get past visiting No. 11 Johnsonburg. The Ramettes weren’t going back to Elk County without a fight, taking a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the fifth inning of a back-and-forth game.

That’s when, following a season-long trend of late-game power surges, the Port High bats came alive. Catcher Cora Bova started the rally with a one-out single, then raced all the way home to score the tying run on Mickle’s double to right field. First baseman Rachel Taylor left no doubt on her next swing of the bat, launching a rocket over the centerfield fence to put Port in front for good.

“I knew it was gone when she hit it, because she hit it solid,” coach Dave Morey said of Taylor’s two-run homer, which gave his squad a 5-3 lead.

Johnsonburg would get one back in the top of the sixth, but the Gators answered with a four-spot in the bottom of the inning – highlighted by Mickle’s two-run blast to left, followed by doubles from Taylor and Kris-Ann Raymo – and the Ramettes went down in order in the seventh to end the game.

“They were just so far out in front of that pitcher,” Morey explained. “They finally figured her out and started hitting the ball. Our defense has been good, but we just didn’t hit. Once we started hitting, it was all over.”

Mickle (2-3, HR, 2B, 3 RBI) and Taylor (2-4, HR, 2B, 3 RBI) led the way at the plate, with Bova (2-3, RBI), Becky Andrus, and Sarah Brodhun (2-3) also doubling and Becca Lathrop sacrificing in a run. Andrus and Jenny Shelley shared pitching duties for the Gators, while Kiana Myers took the loss for Johnsonburg.

“I thought it was going to hit the fence,” Mickle said of her first career homer, finally reaching a goal she’d set for herself as a freshman. “That’s how it’s been all year – I almost had two of them, but one hit the fence and a girl caught the other one over the fence. This one just kept carrying, and it was out.”

And the timing couldn’t have been any better for Mickle and her fellow seniors.

“This is our first playoff game. We haven’t been here in five or six years,” she said. “To finally get a win … I can’t explain it. It’s just awesome.”

Now, it’s off to Coudy, which swept the season series by scores of 8-3 and 10-0. But the playoffs are a brand-new season, and Mickle believes.

“I think we can do it,” she said. “If we keep playing like we have been, I think we really can do it. They’ve been our rivals in every sport, they always beat us, so it’s nice to get one last shot at them.”

At Port Allegany, May 23:

Johnsonburg 0 1 1 1 0 1 0 4 2 3
Port Allegany 1 1 0 0 3 4 X 9 11 0

Kiana Myers (1 SO, 2 BB) and Dani Dwyer
Becky Andrus (6 SO, 5 BB), Jenny Shelley (6) (1 BB) and Cora Bova

HR: Taylor (PA), Mickle (PA). 2B: Bova (PA), Mickle (PA), Taylor (PA), Andrus (PA), Brodhun (PA), Raymo (PA), K. Myers (J).

T/F: Conway wins D-9 title; Stuckey also advances to states

Following Friday’s District 9 track meet in Kane, Port Allegany will have two athletes representing the school at the PIAA state championships in Shippensburg, including the first district champ in coach George Riley’s tenure with the squad.

Sophomore Nick Conway cemented his standing as the top 110-meter hurdler in the area, winning the title in :15.53 – almost four-tenths of a second faster than the second-place finisher – and adding a third-place finish in the 300 hurdles. Meanwhile, Camrin Stuckey qualified in the javelin with a third-place throw of 176′ 2”, and also managed to finish sixth in the long jump.

Other Gator placewinners included Brock Taylor (3rd in discus and 4th in shot put), Kelsey Payne (4th in high jump), Max Morris (4th in long jump), Seth Lowery (5th in shot put), and Tyce Miller (5th in high jump).

“Everybody did well,” Riley said. “If you look at where we were seeded and where we ended up, we had a great day today.”

Elk County Catholic won both Class AA team titles, with the Gator boys finishing sixth, tops among North Tier League teams.

“One of the things that I’ve been wanting to say and haven’t had a chance is, it’s not just me,” Riley said. “I have a great coaching staff, with Bob Haskins doing throwing and Dan Eskesen helping out with jumping and running. And then my volunteer coaches – Kelly Burgess helping out with the girls but also doing some hurdle work, long jump and triple jump, Tom Murphy in long jump and triple jump, Hunter Conway in hurdles and high jump, and Steve Frison at pole vault. They’re all good at what they do, they specialize in what they do, and it makes my job a whole lot easier. We wouldn’t be as good as we are without those guys. So they need a little tip of the hat, my thanks and the school’s thanks.”

Baseball: Gators drop playoff opener to Hubs

Thanks to a spring full of rainouts and canceled games, when Port Allegany and Smethport met in Tuesday’s District 9 baseball playoff opener at Roulette, the longtime rivals were seeing each other for the first time all season.

For the Hubbers, it was worth the wait. Al Myers and Tony Farrell keyed a seven-run second inning with back-to-back home runs off Gator ace Garrett Drabert, and following a Port rally which cut the margin to 9-6, Kolin Strawcutter added another two-run shot in the fourth to power the ninth seed to an 11-7 victory and a quarterfinal-round matchup against No. 1 Coudersport on Thursday.

“We’ve been struggling all year, but it seems like when it’s warm out we swing the bat, and tonight they did against a very good team,” Smethport coach Rick Austin said before admitting, “I was scared to death coming over here to play. I know what Stuckey can do, Lowery, Drabert, all of them. We knew coming in it was going to be a tough game. They’re very well coached. It was exactly what we had planned, but I didn’t think it would be by this amount of runs. Big win.”

In the opposing dugout, Port coach Nate Zitnik reflected on a game – and season – that seemed to slip just out of the Gators’ grasp.

“A couple of those hits, if you shift them over a few feet, were double-play balls and ground-ball outs,” he said. “And Garrett does a great job getting guys on their front foot and getting fly balls, but when the wind is blowing out and you’ve got 320 feet in the power alleys … I’m not making excuses, but it just didn’t match up well for us today.”

Jory Okerlund picked up the win for Smethport with Brian Zetwick and Clay Schuler coming on in relief, while Drabert and Camrin Stuckey shared mound duties for the Gators.

“I do give credit to Camrin,” Zitnik said. “He was the first pitcher we’ve had this season to throw over 100 pitches, and he gutted it out. He wanted the opportunity to keep us close, and he did. We didn’t take advantage of opportunities that we should have.”

So while the Hubbers (8-4) move on to face a 12-1 Falcons team which eked out a pair of one-run wins in their two meetings this season, the Gators conclude an on-again, off-again year at 10-5.

“With the type of season we had, not being able to practice outside, being stuck in the gym … I wouldn’t trade any of these guys,” Zitnik said. “They didn’t hit the panic button. One of these times they’ll get rewarded for that work ethic and effort; I just hope it happens sooner rather than later.

“I feel awful for the seniors that they had to go out on this note, with this type of season, because it really wasn’t a baseball season. It’s unfortunate for them. It was a good senior class, and I’m upset that we couldn’t have done more with those guys.”

At Roulette, May 24:
Smethport 1 7 1 2 0 0 0 – 11 8 2
Port Allegany 1 0 5 0 0 0 1 – 7 7 5
Jory Okerlund (4 SO, 3 BB), Brian Zetwick (3) (4 SO, 3 BB), Clay Schuler (6) (3 SO) and Al Myers
Garrett Drabert (1 SO, 1 BB), Camrin Stuckey (3) (8 SO, 3 BB) and Zach Sigafoes
HR: Myers (S), Farrell (S), Strawcutter (S). 3B: Kysor (PA)