Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Kieran Lovegrove moved to California when he was five years old. Growing up throwing a ball around, and hitting golf balls, he readily became enamored of baseball.
“When I came to the states, I picked up baseball very quickly,” said Lovegrove. “It became this infatuation I had with the sport. One of my earliest memories is going to a Dodger game and getting to meet Paul Lo Duca. Then I got to see Eric Gagne’s 55th consecutive save. I started following the game and never looked back from there.”
Lovegrove is a 6’4” right-handed pitcher from Mission Viejo, California. He had been familiar with the game cricket before coming to the United States, and still follows the game – in particular power bowlers.
“You always talk about the different styles of pitching you have,” said Lovegrove. “There’s the same feeling in cricket, you have spin bowlers and power bowlers. I’ve always been fascinated with power bowlers, the way they can continue to do it for such an extended period.”
The Indians selected him in the third round of the 2012 draft. He had signed to go to ASU, but at 17 years old, he was off to Arizona for his first experience as a professional athlete.
“The Indians gave me a great offer and I couldn’t turn it down,” Lovegrove said.
The transition to the professional ranks was not as smooth as he anticipated. An admitted hot head, he was young and thought he knew more about baseball than he really did. He credits the Indians organization for being patient and working with him to mold him into a ball player and conscientious young man.
“I came in at 17 and at that point was still a high school kid. Over the next six years, I spent more time with them than I did with my own family,” Lovegrove said. “Through all the mistakes and effort, they were the people molding me into the man I am today. I owe so much to the Indians organization.”
Lovegrove pitched as a starter for his first four seasons, spending two years in the Arizona League, and then two more at short-season Mahoning Valley. In 2016, the organization converted him to a reliever and he is beginning to have success.
Now 23 years old, he has appeared in 31 games for the High-A Lynchburg club. Lovegrove has a 3.92 ERA in 41 1/3 innings, with 44 strikeouts and only 19 walks. Even better, he has a .212 average against, an important stat for a relief pitcher.
“I would definitely consider myself a power pitcher,” said Lovegrove. “I’ve got a fastball that sits in the mid-90s. This year, I started throwing a knuckle-curveball to get a little more depth. It’s been more successful than my slider was in the past.”
Lovegrove said he must throw regularly, whether in games, during bullpen sessions, or other aspects of practice. It keeps him sharp for games, and this season he has learned how to balance his energy and drive to be successful.
Over his last six games, he has pitched nine and two-thirds innings, allowing only a single earned run, and striking out 14. In the same span, he has only allowed seven hitters on base by a hit or a walk.
“I think I’m trending in the right direction,” he said. “There is definitely growing pains in learning how to pitch, learning how to set guys up and being comfortable throwing a breaking ball in any count.”
Exclusively a pitcher since becoming a professional, Lovegrove does have a good story behind his lone at bat since joining the Indians organization. It came while he was with Mahoning Valley in 2014. An error in the line-up card forced him to hit.
“I had not hit in about three years. They handed me a bat, a helmet and gloves,” he said. “I was batting fifth and I thought to myself, ‘They’re going to hear Kieran Lovegrove, pitcher, announced, so I was hoping for one down the middle’. I was swinging a big bat, Martin Cervenka’s actually, but too big for me. I planned to jump on the first one. I got around on it, but close to my hands, and popped it up to the catcher. Luckily, I didn’t get hit on the knuckles. I realized then maybe it’s time to hang up the bat.”
Watching a video of kids trying to play baseball without equipment or facilities in a township in South Africa motivated Lovegrove. With two of his high school friends, Adam Salcido, Kyle Candalla, and Lovegrove started a charitable organization, the Going-To-Bat Foundation.
“We grew up in Southern California, where there was a big surplus of baseball and baseball equipment,” said Lovegrove. “We collected like three pallets worth of gear and shipped it to South Africa.”
Since that initial foray to provide equipment, the Going-To-Bat Foundation has participated in baseball outreach activities in Louisiana, Alaska, and Minnesota. Lovegrove said he wants to get back to being more involved, but his baseball career has forced him to be less attentive to the direction of the foundation.
“I want to get back to taking a head role in this. Moving the organization more towards the education of the game, teaching young players who don’t have access to knowledge of the game.” Lovegrove said.
The Going-To-Bat Foundation is planning a golf tournament prior to next year’s Spring Training in order to raise funds for this type of outreach.
Outside of baseball, golf is one of the pursuits Lovegrove enjoys.
“I’ve been golfing since I was a kid,” he says. “We get out every so often and play Poplar Grove or London Downs [two courses in the Lynchburg area]. Say I have a career-ending injury. These are the morbid things we talk about in the bullpen. I can always go back to college and play golf since I didn’t use up any of my eligibility.”
In addition to his love of golf, Lovegrove has taken an interest in body art, particularly tattoos.
“Ever since I was a kid I’ve always wanted to have a body covered in tattoos,” he said.
The whole of his lower left leg and left arm and ribs are decorated with tattoos. One of those on his ribs is his favorite.
“The owl on my ribs is for my grandmother,” he shared. “That’s my favorite and I think it will always be my favorite.”
As the Hillcats pitching staff continues to be successful, Lovegrove has become an important part of the bullpen. His high energy power pitching will continue as he refines his game and works to earn a promotion to the next level of the Indians farm system.
Photo: Lathan Goumas/The News and Advance