It’s a long journey for any ball player to reach the Major Leagues, but for Kieran Lovegrove the journey is even a little longer.
Lovegrove was born in Johannesburg, South Africa—a region of the world that does not have the strongest baseball following or level of play. When Lovegrove was just five years old, his family moved he and his sister to California and his love of baseball was discovered and flourished.
“Things in South Africa were pretty rough at the time,” Lovegrove said. “My parents thought it would be a good time to get us out, my sister and I.”
Lovegrove’s mother was born in California and his father had visited the United States previously, but most of his early upbringing surrounded playing rugby and cricket. His father had attended the 1988 World Series while visiting Los Angeles and this time took Kieran to a Dodger game. It was love at first site for the young Lovegrove and he began playing baseball at six years old.
Lovegrove—a right-handed pitcher—was the Cleveland Indians third round pick in the 2012 First Year Player Draft and this summer has been assigned to Short Season-A Mahoning Valley. Lovegrove has spent the last two years at Cleveland’s Arizona complex, working on mechanics. The journey to just reach the Mahoning Valley Scrappers has been an untraditional route compared to many players.
The Southern California area is a hot bed for baseball and Lovegrove’s high school, Mission Viejo High School—is the start for several professional baseball players. Because of the depth of talent, Lovegrove never felt as if he was a star until his senior season of high school.
“In my senior year of high school I shined,” Lovegrove said. “Southern California is a hot bed for baseball, so I was never the best. My dad just told me to work hard and it finally paid off.”
His hard work paid off as he committed to pitch at Arizona State and was selected by the Indians in June 2012. The decision to forego his college eligibility and become a professional was a difficult one. While being so young may seem like a logical reason to go to college, it instead became one of the reasons Lovegrove elected to become a professional.
“It was a long kind of talk with parents and coaches,” Lovegrove said. “We decided with me being just 17-years old, I had a head start on everyone in pro ball. It was a huge opportunity to get out there and play everyday and get better mechanically.”
“Now, going into my 20-year old season—I’ll turn 20 in July—I’ve got two years in pro ball and I feel like I’ve grown immensely.”
The Indians have progressed slowly with Lovegrove, having him spend the first two seasons of his professional career in Goodyear, Arizona, pitching in the Arizona League and receiving extra instruction. The adjustment from high school to the professional game has been a big one, but a challenge Lovegrove has embraced.
“It’s pretty big. The big thing for me is the mental side of the game,” Lovegrove said. “Going from being a kid that could get away with errors and flaws due to athleticism, you come out here and everyone has so much talent, it forces you to refine the small parts of your game. I immediately went to work on that and now I feel I have that under control.”
While refining his game on the field, Lovegrove has grown up and had experiences many young men don’t experience at his age. Growing up and viewing different perspectives is something he’s had a lot of experience in youth. After being drafted by the Indians and deciding to turn pro in 2012, Lovegrove moved to Arizona and lived on his own beginning at 17.
“I owe a lot of that to my parents. My parents raised me to be on my own and knew that I would be fine and trusted me to make the right choices and I did just that.”
Another experience Lovegrove has been fortunate enough to enjoy is international competition at it’s highest level. Lovegrove was able to participate in the World Baseball Classic in 2012, representing South Africa in the qualifier in Florida. His view of the game of baseball from his fellow countrymen is something that has inspired him and made him not take the game for granted.
“When I played with the South African national team, I discovered that these guys have a passion for the sport that I’ve never seen,” Lovegrove said. “These guys go to work 9-to-5 and then go play baseball afterwards. It was the most fun I’ve had playing the game.”
His development as a professional and experiences growing up as a young man have prepared him to stay grounded and focused on his development this summer with Mahoning Valley. Currently, Lovegrove is 1-2, with a 6.88 ERA in five starts. His best game so far was five innings of no-hit baseball at Auburn on July 3. While he’s had some ups and downs in his first five starts, Lovegrove’s grounded attitude keeps him focused on just doing the best that he can.
“I’m more than excited to just get in front of a crowd,” Lovegrove said. “My expectations are just to play as consistent as I can. I’m not trying to go out there and be a hero, I’m just going to give them what I can and hopefully get some wins.”
Photo: Mike Brandyberry/DTTWLN photographer