The life of a major leaguer is full of ups and downs.
Brad Kilby’s plans didn’t include a summer in Elk Grove. His presence in his hometown is evidence of just how fragile a professional baseball career can be.
Kilby, 28, graduated from in 2001 and has been a pitcher in the Oakland A’s organization with big-league stints in both 2009 and 2010. Last week, he underwent season-ending surgery on his throwing shoulder, the second consecutive season-ending shoulder surgery for the left-handed reliever.
Kilby says he hasn't given up, but his injuries have served as reminders of the high stakes and sudden turns he set himself up for when he entered the world of professional sports.
“You have to be lucky,” Kilby, 28, said. “Just to get to that big league level, you have to be in the right place at the right time, especially if you are not a top-round guy. You might get your one shot and you have to make the most of it—and you have to stay healthy.”
Kilby was drafted by the Oakland A’s in the 29th round of the 2005 Major League Baseball amateur draft. He had the luxury of playing close to home, pitching for the Single-A Stockton Ports and later for the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats, among other teams on the minor league ladder. An underdog as a late-round guy, Kilby impressed when he got his shot with the A’s, posting an 0.53 ERA in 17 innings (11 games). In 2010 with Oakland, he threw 8.1 innings (five games) and had an ERA of 2.16.
Kilby has already begun to rehab his shoulder in hopes of a return to baseball next season. Elk Grove Patch caught up with Kilby to discuss his recent setback, Elk Grove fans and life in the majors.
You’ve already seen success in the big leagues. What was that like?
I got a chance to do what I have wanted to do my whole life. I told my dad at five years old that I wanted to be in the big leagues. That’s what I wanted to do for my job. There aren’t a lot of 29th round and lower guys who make it to the big leagues. I had to put up good numbers for five years in a row to make it.
And you got to see your dream come true in front of friends and family.
Once you get there, it’s so exhilarating. You walk out on to that field and it’s the best thing ever. I was even luckier. The first game I pitched in, there was about 100 people from Elk Grove and Sacramento in the stands. People I have known forever, most of my family was there. I had a great start to my career.
What is that dynamic like, playing in front of friends and family? I’m sure it has its pros and cons.
There are lots of guys in the big leagues from Northern California who don’t want to play for the A’s or Giants because it’s a lot of pressure. You look up in the stands and behind the bullpen and see people you know. Then you have to worry about leaving 30 to 40 tickets for a game; ‘Did I forget someone?’ You’re constantly dealing with that stuff but if you play in a different state, you don’t have to worry about it. Still, I cherished pitching at home and in front of hometown fans. To look up there and see people I know encouraged me. Playing in Sacramento was like playing for the 31st Major League Baseball team. The fans are unbelievable.
This time around, when did you know something was wrong with your shoulder?
Last year, my surgery in July was really conservative. I rehabbed that last season and in the offseason, but at spring training I had a little setback. Then again in mid to late April, [and] recently. Anytime I got ready to start facing hitters it would start hurting. After getting an MRI, I had the option to rehab more or try surgery. I decided to have another surgery and my arm is feeling OK now after just 11 days.
Was it a pretty obvious decision to have the surgery or was there some debate for a while?
It was pretty clear. It was to the point when I wore a seatbelt my shoulder was hurting, and I was tired of trying to play through pain. Everyone has a little day-to-day pain in the long season of baseball, but I was at the point when I couldn’t deal with it anymore.
How have you handled the mental effects of the injury?
I am a lot better at this point than I was last year when I was contemplating surgery. I am definitely staying positive. I am heading to therapy three days a week. Doing my therapy in Sacramento instead of Arizona is nice [because of] the support system at home.
How long do you plan to continue playing baseball through the injuries? Is there a moment when you would know to step away?
I had surgery on June 5, so when March or April comes around, if I am not close, I will definitely be thinking about it. But I am giving it a year before I really reassess things.
Do you have any interest in coaching?
I would definitely consider being a coach in the minor leagues, or in college or wherever. There has been a little talk that if I can’t come back, maybe the A’s would invite me to be a coach in the minors. It’s a rough life, but it’s baseball and you’ll still be getting a life in the game.
You remain tied to the Elk Grove community. Your brother Bryan Kilby is a teacher and a baseball coach at Franklin High School in Elk Grove. You’ve helped him out with coaching baseball in the past and you even volunteer to run the scoreboard for Franklin basketball games. How’s that experience?
My brother is my best friend and he announces the games. Anytime I get to spend time with my brother during the school year when he doesn’t have a lot of free time, I’ll take it.
What advice do you have for high school players who are looking towards a life of professional baseball?
Stay positive. Baseball is a game of failure. If you hit .230 for the first few years you have to keep your head up. Staying positive is the number one thing. You see kids go out who have hit .500 for their whole life and nobody hits .500 in pro ball, it’s tough just to hit .300. The failure part of the game is tough to take because they’ve never had to deal with that. The game can eat them up and I’ve seen it happen to so many guys.