Missed shot at bigs didn't defeat ex-Mundelein star Kessel
Kyle Kessel, one of the best shot-makers in Mundelein history, had a shot.
And missed it.
Mind you, in an athletic career that included being a two-time all-state basketball player in high school, a Division-I point guard at Texas A&M and a draft pick of the New York Mets, his accuracy with a basketball and baseball allowed him to celebrate many more makes.
In 2001, the 6-foot lefty was on the Houston Astros' 40-man roster and in spring training with the big-league team, which needed to make one more cut before Opening Day. The Astros chose to keep fellow left-hander Wayne Franklin, who was two years older than Kessel and had big-league experience. They sent Kessel to Class AAA New Orleans.
"The last week of spring training they called me in," Kessel said. "They said, 'You're going to be in the big leagues really fast. Just go back to Triple-A, keep doing what you're doing. You're going to get called up.' "
It never happened.
At Triple-A, Kessel couldn't find the strike zone. His rotator cuff was bothering him, causing his velocity to plummet, and in the offseason he was traded to the Detroit Tigers, who released him.
Kessel was 25, wounded and had no desire to ride the buses anymore. He was done, his big-league dream dashed.
"I knew I missed it," Kessel said of his chance to be a big-leaguer. "I wasn't throwing nearly like I knew I had to throw to get big-league hitters out. I said, 'That's it.' I came home."
When the shot-maker got a shot to work his dad, who coached him in both basketball and baseball at Mundelein, Kessel swished it. For the last 18 years, he has coached boys and girls with Kessel Heat, one of the premier AAU teams in the state. Dennis Kessel, who along with Kyle is an Illinois basketball hall of famer, founded Kessel's Training in the late 1990s.
"I put everything into Kessel's Training," said Kessel, 43, who lives in Mundelein with his wife, Kristin, and their four children, all under the age of 12.
His work ethic with Kessel's Training isn't surprising considering his life growing up. He says his dad would make him do 500 pushups every day, even on vacation. His senior year at Mundelein, Kessel and his basketball teammates did intense workouts every day before school.
The work paid off. Led by the skinny Kessel, who was also a slick dribbler and passer, Mundelein won regional championships in 1993 and 1994. His senior year, the Mustangs lost to Libertyville and fellow star guard Matt Heldman in an epic, triple-overtime sectional final at Waukegan. Before the first game that season, Kessel and teammate Thad Miller shaved their heads.
"By the end of the year, we had like 350 students all with their heads shaved supporting us," Kessel said.
Despite Kessel telling the Mets he was going to Texas A&M, they drafted him in the 60th round. Kessel, who was throwing 90 mph, signed for $15,000.
He played two basketball seasons for A&M, finishing seventh in the nation in assists in 1996-97. He played minor-league baseball once school ended. After his sophomore year, he chose to play baseball full-time.
"I knew I could get big-league hitters out," Kessel said. "I didn't know if I could take Allen Iverson off the dribble."
Kessel toiled seven years in the minors and, while with Houston, became good friends with Roy Oswalt, who became a three-time all-star and pitched in a World Series. The Mets had traded Kessel to Astros in a five-player deal that included all-star pitcher Mike Hampton going to the Mets.
Kessel's experiences matured him.
"I learned that to be successful you have to really work. It doesn't just happen," he said. "I was a little, 6-foot kid. I played Division-I basketball and almost made it to the majors in baseball. The reason was because of the work ethic that my dad (instilled) in me."