There is a cliché that says: “Adversity is a fact of life. It can’t be controlled. What we can control is how we react to it.” Who wrote this and when it was written is not known, but if one knew Winnipeg Goldeyes left-hander Kevin McGovern they would think that this quote was written directly about him. The 27-year-old has already overcome a great deal in his life to get to where he is, and has proven that any obstacle is nothing more than just a hurdle to overcome on his way to his ultimate goal.
A Pathway Ingrained through Modeling
To understand the story of Kevin McGovern, one must know who has had the biggest influences upon him and how that has given him a character that strives to achieve. To discover this, one need look no further than the two people that he refers to as his greatest inspiration – his dad and his brother.
Growing up in Philadelphia, PA, McGovern was a huge sports fan, but baseball was always his first love. As he describes it, he “grew up born and raised in baseball,” and this was due in large part to the fact that both his older brother and dad were baseball lovers as well. His dad had played semi-pro ball and his brother had played the sport all the way through high school, so the younger McGovern found it only natural that he would love the sport as well.
“I just wanted to follow in their footsteps and it just turns out that I threw pretty well and got to college with it.”
Wanting to emulate his two role models, he decided that the mound would be his domain on the diamond. With the help of his father his success as a pitcher, to Kevin, seemed almost destined.
“My dad and my brother were both pitchers, and being left-handed makes it the obvious place to go. Once I hit seven-years-old I just started throwing off the mound. My dad is my best teacher and got me where I am today.”
Kevin was actively recruited in high school and chose to go to a Division-I LaSalle University at first, but an injury led him to move down to Division-II Philadelphia University where he not only earned a degree in Marketing, but also starred for the Rams. He struggled his first season there as he battled back from injury. His sophomore season the lefty was 2-4 with a 6.88 ERA. He also saved two games and showed that his stuff was outstanding, striking out 33 in 34 innings pitched.
In 2010, he demonstrated the potential that the Rams coaching staff was hoping for. Kevin finished with a 4-3 record and a 2.13 ERA in 71.2 innings pitched, while striking out 53. He allowed just one homerun and showed great control, walking just 22.
In his senior season, the left-hander had another outstanding season. He finished 3-5 with 72 strikeouts in 64-innings pitched. It was a truly brilliant campaign but, surprisingly, it did not earn him a call during the Major League Baseball amateur draft. Scouts had come out to look at the left-hander, but they opted to pass.
Slightly discouraged, Kevin opted to retire. He found himself a good job and decided that it was best that he just moved on with his life. However, he still wanted to keep playing the game. He played summer ball around his home and found that he was actually throwing better than he had when he was at Philadelphia University. He talked to his dad and the two decided that Kevin needed to give it another shot.
“I talked to my dad about going to a trial in Detroit, which is nowhere near Philadelphia, and he encouraged me to give it another shot. I threw well there and then they said they had a spot for me on this random team in this random league, because I had never heard of Indy Ball before, and I was probably as green as they come as a rookie, but I just wanted to go out there and try my best and it just kind of worked out that way.”
Committed to Independent Baseball
Kevin joined London in the Frontier League in 2012. As he pointed out, he was not quite sure what to expect, but simply wanted a chance to prove that he belonged there. He made 23 appearances there, going 1-2 with a 5.26 ERA. While not nearly the numbers he expected out of himself, he did catch the attention of the Rockland Boulders of the Can-Am League who brought him in. The Boulders encouraged the lefty to make a change in his mechanics, something that had very poor results for him.
“I was a side-arm lefty in the Can-Am League and after one inning I realized that was not for me. I listened to one scout here and one scout there and got away from who I was as a pitcher. I didn’t trust in myself enough. You have to be a sponge for information but you also have to keep true to yourself. You’re always going to know best about your own abilities.”
Kevin made just two appearances there, and they were not up to his standards at all. It was time for a change of scenery.
He began the 2014 season in the Pecos League with Trinidad and pitched extremely well there. In nine starts, he was 5-2 with a 3.81 ERA. He struck out an incredible 90 batters in 54.1 innings pitched, and that caught the attention of the Lincoln Saltdogs.
When Kevin arrived, Lincoln was just beginning an impressive run that saw them move from third in the Central Division of the American Association to a division title, and all the way to championship series where they lost to the Wichita Wingnuts. McGovern made 10 starts for the team, going 3-3 with a 4.22 ERA.
Last season the Saltdogs underperformed by their own admission. Kevin finished the season 5-8 with a 5.00 ERA. While those numbers were not the numbers he expected of himself, he was one of just a handful of pitchers to make 20 starts, pitch over 120-innings (127.2) and strikeout at least 100 batters (103). That put him in pretty elite company.
Taking Control of His Own Success
This season, Kevin McGovern finds himself as one of the key pieces of the Winnipeg Goldeyes staff. He has already looked more like the 2014 version, going 1-1 with a 4.37 ERA, but those numbers are not reflective of how well he has pitched. The left-hander has allowed one earned run or less in each of his first four starts to the season, but came away with no decisions each time. Clearly, he could be 4-1 or 5-1 at this point with a little better fortune, but the left-hander is not one to complain.
“Everything is in my control. Even if a guy makes an error it is still in my control to make a great pitch with the next hitter. I never think back on the pitch before. I always focus on the next pitch and try to get the next out. Just thinking that every single time I can execute pitches better and get ahead.”
This is one of the aspects of Kevin McGovern that makes him so special and is why Manager Rick Forney wanted him in Winnipeg. He is the epitome of the quote at the start of this article, only reacting to how he is performing and not to what others are doing around him. It is this attitude that he takes the mound each time, knowing that if he focuses on his game and trusts in his teammates that they will have his back.
“I like to think that being one of the better pitchers is an attitude that your team wants to rally behind. So when I take the mound I want my team to believe in me, and I want them to believe that they can win today, especially if we lose four or five games; I want to take the ball and say, ‘It’s stopping here.’ I want my team to believe in me and I feel that they have played the best for me.”
A key piece to giving him success is to focus on building a close relationship with his catchers. There is arguably no relationship in sports that requires greater trust than the one between catcher and pitcher. To make that relationship one that is as close as brothers, Kevin makes sure that he and his battery mates are good friends on and off the field.
“Chemistry off the field is just as important as it is on, because I feel that anytime I start to lose control of the game, when the catcher comes out, we are not talking about mechanics or anything like that. We are just in the moment ourselves. So being able to have that shared experience off the field helps with trusting each other on the field.”
These are important lessons that make McGovern one of the better and more reliable pitchers in the American Association. You will rarely, if ever, see him upset or frazzled on the mound, and there is never a time when he comes back to the dugout pointing fingers at his teammates. He is in control on the mound and that is something that he credits to his two biggest fans.
“My dad and my brother didn’t play professional baseball, but they played plenty growing up and so all the new experiences that I have learned I always look back to them to center myself and to not lose control or get caught up in the moment. They kind of bring me down to remembering to trust myself and to not get too caught up in the moment.”
Earning a Master’s Degree in the Game of Baseball
What has helped Kevin McGovern succeed and overcome the challenges that he has faced is that he has become a devout student of the game. He has taken every opportunity he has had to learn, especially from the veterans that have been on any team he has played for.
“I definitely wanted to be a student of the game when I first arrived and I never wanted to change that. I always want to talk to veterans and get as much information as I can. If I can feed off anyone at all then I feel like I got better today than I was yesterday.”
One of the key lessons he has learned already is to put more trust in himself. He learned in the Can-Am League that coaches can have the best of intentions but the results may not work out. This has taught him that if he is going to be successful it has to be an attitude that is focused more on what he does right and less on what the hitter does poorly.
“My game plan is to play to my strengths instead of focusing on their weaknesses. Since there are times in this league where I don’t really know what a person’s weaknesses are, it has really become important to make sure that I am making my best pitch. As the game goes along I will make adjustments, but I want to make sure I am going with my best. Baseball is a game of adjustments and as long as I am confident in what I have I can go out and get anyone out whether I have faced them one time or 100 times.”
Kevin is also one who wants to learn from his past performances. Whether good or bad, he knows that there are lessons to be learned.
“I look back at past performances and I make sure not to repeat past mistakes and to learn from the success that I had before, whether it’s working on a new pitch or locating the fastball and just building on that every time. I don’t want to be back peddling, so I don’t want to focus on any mistakes but I want to learn from them.”
The Pathway Seems Clear
It has been an interesting ride for Kevin McGovern, and looks to be one that still has a very bright future. The 27-year-old has had to battle quite a bit of adversity to reach this point in his career, and with his attitude and intelligence it is likely that we have only seen the very tip of a very large iceberg in what he is capable of achieving. If anyone doubts his commitment, consider his own words for a moment.
“I got cut from a lot of teams and I didn’t get drafted. I had an injury early on and I had a lot of negative things that happened in my career. I ended up in the Pecos League for a little bit, which is $50 a week job. I went through a lot of adversity to get where I am at and I have a long way to go, but I am still going to keep going to reach my ultimate goal.”
Whether he ever reaches that ultimate goal time will tell. One thing is for sure, however. If he has any part in controlling his own future in baseball, don’t be surprised if he is starting Game 7 of the World Series one day. It would just be another hurdle to overcome.
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA