Keynan Middleton made history last June when the Los Angeles Angels selected him in the third round of the Major League Baseball draft, the earliest round in which a former Lane player has ever been selected.
Middleton, a two sport star at Lane who shined on both the baseball field and basketball court. Almost a year removed from his only season in Eugene, he now finds himself in Tempe, Ariz., for extended spring training.
Middleton spoke with The Torch about making the difficult transition to professional baseball and struggling with giving up his first love, basketball.
The Torch: What was your offseason like?
Middleton: It was just a lot of me relaxing, because that’s what they wanted me to do mainly. I didn’t start throwing until right before January started. I was actually coaching my old high school basketball team.
Q: What kind of specific things have the Angels told you that they want you to improve on?
A: Just repeating my mechanics, and stuff like that. But that’s what they told me coming in here, and they haven’t told me really anything. That sounds weird to say, but I guess I’ve been doing exactly what they want me to do.
Q: What’s been the toughest part of adapting to pro ball so far?
A: Just the grind… It’s the first time I’ve thrown this much or played a season this long.
Q: How big is the difference between a major league baseball spring training camp and starting off your spring at a junior college like you did last year?
A: Oh it’s way different. You can’t make any excuses. They expect you to do it right. Coming here, we’re supposed to be in shape and be ready to throw. And coming out of basketball season and going into baseball season this year, people could understand why I wasn’t on my A-game because I’d been playing basketball for so long. But while I was home this year, I was just worried about playing baseball.
Q: How much has that helped you? Obviously you loved basketball, but has it helped you to just be able to focus on one sport?
A: Oh yeah, that’s helped me a lot. I think I’m picking up the game a lot faster than they thought. I don’t think they really took it into consideration that my main sport was basketball. I love basketball way more than I like baseball. I don’t really think they knew that. But then this offseason, I really worked on my baseball game, and they’re pretty surprised at how I came back.
Q: Are you missing basketball right now?
A: Oh yeah! This offseason was terrible. I wish I could have just grabbed the ball and played on somebody’s team.
Q: Any regrets?
A: I miss basketball, but I do not regret it one bit for signing. The only thing I regret was not playing last year’s games like they were my last.
Q: How much did your time at Lane help you prepare you for a pro career?
A: It helped me a lot. Going into baseball season, I obviously didn’t think I was going to be drafted in the third round or anything like that; I wasn’t really all that serious about baseball. But once it started getting more serious, they told me what to expect more and (Lane picthing coach) Jeff Lyles told me what to expect and what to say and what to do and how to carry myself, and that’s helped me out a lot because honestly I had no clue.
Q: Did you expect this to happen? Were you ready for this?
A: No, last season I was not at all. Last season going into my baseball season, to be honest, I was just so excited for baseball to be over so I could get back to basketball season at Lane for my sophomore season. I definitely know now if I had come back it would have been my team, because I would have been the only sophomore to return.
Q: How much has playing baseball changed for you now that it’s a job and not just something you do for fun?
A: You just have to take everything seriously now. Everybody expects you to do everything right and 100 percent all the time. There’s no being lazy. I mean, it’s not like they yell at us or anything. You just know that if you’re messing around, it’s your career.
Q: Are you looking forward to getting out there for some game action?
A: Oh yeah! During spring training I’ve been throwing a lot of strikes and been getting up to 96 (mph). So I’m excited about the season.
Q: What was your first big purchase after you signed?
A: My baby! A 2014 Camaro.