ACE

 

Mahopac ace Kevin Kernan’s pre-varsity baseball resume is highlighted by a perfect game on modified, a no-hitter his freshman year on J.V., and numerous sublime performances in various youth leagues.

In Kernan’s mind, however, vivid memories of one particular game tend to resurface.

The game took place seven years ago, albeit Kernan tends to hark back on it.

Flashbacks of the moment still jolt him to the gym. Those mental replays still supply him with enough motivation to get into the weight room on a Sunday morning.

The lingering effects of that forgettable performance, one most would have blocked from the memory bank, urges him to outwork the competition.

Oddly enough, this game was a WPBA 10U season-opener against Putnam Valley.

Not a little league World Series game before a national audience, not a “who’s who” of young highly-touted players, a low-stakes 10U travel ball affair that few others recall.

Kernan remembers stepping foot on the mound, not knowing what to expect. It was a dreary April day, with blades of grass still frozen from a harsh winter.

Kernan had swiftly transitioned to the role of pitcher in practice. His father helped accelerate the move.

Envisioning that Kernan’s left hand could deceive hitters at that level, he implored his son to try pitching. Kernan, 10 at the time, fell in love with his new niche.

And so this was it, an inspired youngster’s first step towards his dream of becoming a feared ace.

Not so fast.

Kernan was clobbered, yielding a rapid-fire hitting spree.

“I got teed off on during the first inning,” recalls Kernan.

“I think I gave up six runs. I just remember getting pulled from the game. I remember my father’s face on the ride home, seeing how depressed he was.”

Later that night, Kernan picked up his glove and ball and “pegged the side of his house for hours.”

He shook off the residual frustration, honing in and rectifying a few mechanical issues.

Kernan pictured he was back on the mound, retiring batter after batter. He practiced hitting his spots, getting comfortable and locating his pitches. Exhausted, the then smurf-sized elementary schooler finally went inside and called it a night.

“It’s kind of odd that I remember that game more than any others,” Kernan, now 17, said.

“I think it just shows that I never want to relive that moment again. I always want to have my best stuff. I never want to let my parents down and experience that again.”

These days, Kernan’s folks have plenty to be proud as a peacock about.

Kevin Kernan piled up 46 strikeouts in 36 innings his junior season at Mahopac. He’s emerged into a hotly pursued local recruit.

A number of Division-I programs, Iona, Stony Brook, Binghamton, and Sacred Heart, to name a few, have expressed interest in the incoming senior.

Ever since that early walloping he took seven years ago, Kernan has worked to become a level ahead of his class.

The incoming senior features a biting curveball, fastball and a two-seam pitch that he runs away from righties. He’s added a cutter. Kernan is currently developing his changeup, a pitch he recently applied to his arsenal. As a sophomore, Kernan paved a path to coach Chris Miller’s varsity.

“I really didn’t have many expectations coming in,” said Kernan. “Being a sophomore, there wasn’t so much pressure. I kind of went out there and tried to have as much fun as I could. So, it was a nice win-win experience.”

The fun translated to a 4-0 start, when Kernan registered a 1.25 ERA during Mahopac’s scalding 11-1 tear during the first half of the 2012 campaign.

Kernan started began the bat at age seven, but pitching had a unique appeal to him. He’s watched tape of MLB icons such as the venerable Nolan Ryan, developing a fervor for the trade.

Kernan values the fact that the pitcher has a hand in every defensive play.

“It’s so much of a mental game when you pitch,” Kernan said.

“You’re always thinking, what pitch you can throw to get this guy out, what will work against this hitter? You familiarize with the hitters’ style and tendencies. I think it’s a lot more mental than it is physical. I love that aspect of it.”

Kernan’s knack for navigating Westchester’s pressure cooker has helped him stick with pitching.

“I personally love being that guy that can sometimes go out and have his best stuff, then other times really not have the best stuff and labor through it,” Kernan said.

“You have to give your team the opportunity. I personally would rather go out there at any time and say ‘I need to do this for my team, I need to get this done. The pressure is on and I have to answer.’

Kernan wears the current-day Mahopac uniform every game, but he still sports a seven-year chip on his shoulder.

It’s unique. One rough outing during a youth league game has supplied a seven years of motivation to get better and throttle the competition.

Call it a blessing in disguise.

Ready For The Challenge

It happens every day, like the working man’s 1 p.m. coffee break.

Kernan heads into Mahopac High’s weight room in the afternoon, executing the workout plan he has penned down for that week. He’ll spend time on the tread mill, getting limber before he busts out some free weights.

Beads of sweat pour down his face. Sure enough, his t-shirt is drenched. Kernan won’t halt the pace. He’s cognizant that this is a cakewalk compared to pitching in the searing 90+ degree heat.

Then he’s immersed in a laborious leg or back workout depending on which day it is. Before the clock hits 3 p.m., Kernan focuses on sprints at the Mahopac track.

Recently, he’s added a new layer to the regimen with light arm workouts and stretching bands. He gave up football and basketball to focus solely on baseball. The move has ingrained a new work ethic in him.

On Tuesdays and Thursday evenings, Kernan takes in yoga classes from his most influential teacher, Mr. Breidenbach. Plenty of Kernan’s friends and an older crowd take part in the classes.

Yoga has helped stabilize Kernan’s mind in the off-season, keeping him focused on the tasks at hand. He’s always made an effort not to overthink his pitches.

He’s always been careful to avoid overanalyzing his performance. Yoga has been instrumental in steering Kernan’s mind clear.

“Yoga helps me because the game is really mental,” Kernan explained. “It does calm me down to a certain point. You have to be loose with the way you pitch and it helps me stretch out and get really loose.”

Most kids spend their summer leading into senior year partying, mapping out concert trips, combing the keg parties, and relaxing beach-side. Kernan has different set of plans.

The summer offers the opportunity to play in various showcases in the South. Kernan will travel to Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia for travel ball and Showcase Events for Perfect Game USA.

He is hungry to get better. Deep down inside, however, he is thirsting for a full Division-I scholarship. That’s where the bar is set.

The opportunity to play at a school such as Old Dominion or South Carolina would be a fitting reward for all the labor.

The kid who goes by the nickname “King Mullet” in some baseball circles is eager to weigh his stock on southern school recruiting scales.

Kernan holds a 3.6 GPA, favoring courses such as math and history.

Kernan knows plenty about Mahopac history.

He’s done his research on legends such as Dave Fleming, who starred with the Seattle Mariners in the early 1990s.

He’s heard the stories about Frank Chibarro, the former Indians ace who authored a stellar career at Pace University in nearby Pleasantville.

Right now, Kernan is concerned about his and his teammates’ path. He has the whole summer to polish and refine his pitching.

While he wouldn’t make any bold predictions, Kernan believes Mahopac has a legit shot at a Section I crown next season.

“I think (a Section championship) is definitely do-able next year,” Kernan said.

“We definitely have a lot of kids coming up from the JV. Of course we’re losing a lot with the talented senior class that’s graduating. That’s going to leave some holes. Some kids will step right in, we definitely have to win at least the league. The section… I think we definitely have a chance.”