Former Scarlet Knight Kivlehan takes unusual path to Opening Day roster

Joe Camporeale - USA TODAY Sports

Former Scarlet Knight Kivlehan takes unusual path to Opening Day roster

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We’ve seen athletes pull off the baseball-football crossover before, and some have had tremendous success.

Bo Jackson. Deion Sanders. Jeff Samardzija.

But most didn’t decide to pick up one of those sports back up on a whim, which is pretty much what former Scarlet Knights football player Patrick Kivlehan did during his senior year at Rutgers. Kivlehan played four years of football at Rutgers from 2008-11, racking up 41 tackles in 43 games on special teams and at safety. But he didn’t decide to play college baseball until his senior season.

Fast forward five years to this week, and Kivlehan is on a Major League Baseball Opening Day roster for the first time with the Cincinnati Reds.

As documented by Reds reporter C. Trent Rosecrans in the Cincinnati Enquirer, Kivlehan took the first step on his long path to the majors when he decided to play baseball before graduating from Rutgers, partly because he wanted to put off looking for a real post-grad job. He had played in high school and missed the sport, and apparently had no trouble re-acclimating himself on the diamond in college.

Kivlehan tore it up in his one and only season with the Scarlet Knights, hitting .392/.480/.693 with 14 home runs and 24 stolen bases in 51 games on the way to claiming the Big East Player of the Year award in 2012. That type of season will get you drafted, and Kivlehan was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the fourth round of the 2012 draft.

A spot in The Show is far from guaranteed for a baseball prospect, even for a relatively high draft pick like Kivlehan. His late start in a sport with a minor league system that often favors developing prospects in their teens wasn’t exactly working in his favor, either. But Kivlehan clawed his way up through the minors, hitting .282 with 82 home runs and 367 RBI in 561 career minor-league games over four-plus years. He eventually broke through with the San Diego Padres last season, and he made quite the entrance with a home run in his second career at-bat.

Kivlehan landed with the Reds during the final week of the 2016 season and earned a spot on Cincinnati’s 2017 Opening Day roster as an outfielder after he posted a .370/.407/.630 slash line in 54 spring training at-bats. Even though he technically played for a pre-Big Ten Rutgers, he is one of nearly two dozen players from current Big Ten schools who made Opening Day rosters this season. Fellow Scarlet Knight and current Chicago White Sox third baseman Todd Frazier is the other former Rutgers player currently in the majors, and the two were part of a dedication ceremony for a new indoors Rutgers baseball facility this past winter.

Best of luck to Kivlehan going forward. So many baseball prospects train their whole lives and never sniff the major leagues, which makes his unusual journey that much more impressive.

He’s not the first player to play baseball after a career on the gridiron, but he might be the first major leaguer whose career was sparked by a case of senior-itis.

Alex Roux, BTN.com editor

About Alex Roux: A graduate of the University of Illinois, Roux is a BTN.com web editor and covers news across the Big Ten Conference on BTN.com and BTN's social media platforms. Follow him on Twitter @arouxBTN.

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