With the University of Louisville baseball team well into their fall ball season, the task for head coach Dan McDonnell is to fill the holes left by the departed seniors and drafted underclassmen. The banner at the entrance of Jim Patterson Stadium states, “the road to Omaha goes through Louisville” and with that goal, as the coaches and players describe it, “a way of life,” McDonnell will need a few of the squad’s newcomers to make an impact.
Iowa Western Community College transfer Grant Kay is expected to be one of those that will play a crucial role in the Cardinals quest for a return trip to the College World Series. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound infielder is a proven hitter and is solid defensively at either second base or shortstop.
A native of Omaha, Neb., Kay’s abilities at the plate and in the field has drawn comparisons to former Cardinal All-American second basemen Justin McClanahan. McClanahan, who was also a junior college transfer, helped Louisville reach the program’s first College World Series trip in 2007.
“He reminds us a lot of McClanahan and that’s a compliment in the sense that McClanahan loved the game, very versatile, can play anywhere on the field, he’s an offensive presence and he understands the game,” said McDonnell. “He’s going to move the ball, he has some power and can hit to the gaps. Those are the things that got McLanahan on the All-American wall and Grant seems very similar in that skill level.”
Kay, who joined the program last May, compared himself to Nick Ratajczak, a former junior college transfer who played a significant role for the Cardinals the past two seasons.
“When I came on my visit I had the chance to meet Nick Ratajczk and he sold me right out of the gate,” Kay said. “He reminds me a lot of myself. I wanted to come into a program and play right away and Louisville was the perfect fit.”
A three-time high school All-State performer, Kay continued to excel on the junior college level. As a freshman he hit .406 and helped Iowa Western win the 2012 JC National Championship. The following summer, he played for the Keane Swamp Bats in the New England Collegiate League and became the only junior college player to earn First Team Summer League All-American honors from Perfect Game.
He’s continued his hot hitting during fall ball workouts.
“I think half of it is just confidence,” he told Cardinal Authority following a 3-for-3 performance that included a pair of doubles.
The opportunity to join a program that has annual expectations of winning conference titles, hosting Regionals and reaching the College World Series is something that Kay desired. Having experienced the excitement of the College World Series as an Omaha resident, the chance to play for a national title in his hometown is part of his motivation.
“Hopefully it will be good luck,” he said of the Cardinals having an Omaha native on the team. “I’m so excited. This is my first chance to go to Omaha and actually play. I want nothing more than to play back at home. That’s the goal here every year. Our number one goal is to win it all this year, but it starts with the regular season. It’s a long road to get there.”
Kay continues to adjust to Division I baseball and the demands that McDonnell requires, but his work ethic and approach is certain to have him ready when the season begins in February.
“It’s going to take awhile to adjust, but I’m learning new things every day,” he explained. “I’m already starting to figure things out. I’m going to give it 110% every time. I’m going to come out work every day and hopefully I’m in the lineup every day and that I stay there.”
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The Cardinals will continue fall ball into October, capping it off with the annual Pizza Bowl.