As Triple-A Norfolk’s pitching coach, Kennie Steenstra won’t divide his attention this afternoon. His focus will stay on the field. He’ll be locked into Tides starter Alexander Wells and anyone else who comes into the game.
But the final out will send him scurrying for updates on the College World Series in Omaha, where son Logan’s University of Tennessee Volunteers are playing the University of Virginia at 2 p.m.
A coach can turn back into a nervous father real fast.
Also a proud one.
Logan is a sophomore infielder who transferred from Cowley College in Kansas and made the 2020-21 Southeastern Conference first-year academic honor roll. He missed last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
“The good thing is, most of the time they’re on the ESPN app, so I can watch the game later or go to the parts I want to see and that sort of thing,” Kennie said yesterday while sitting in the Norfolk dugout. “I don’t always see it live. I’m usually able to watch the whole thing later.”
Steenstra will celebrate Father’s Day by catching as much of Tennessee’s opener as he can, with Norfolk’s game starting an hour earlier. The Tides had just finished playing in Jacksonville when the Vols were attempting to clinch a berth in the World Series.
“It was about the fifth or sixth inning, so I sat in the clubhouse and watched the last bit of that game before we went back to the hotel,” Steenstra said.
“I gave him a little time and called him later that night and congratulated him. I wanted to make sure he had some time to celebrate if he wanted to. He’s a little bit like his dad and his mom. He’s a little laid back and doesn’t go for the party scene and stuff, but he was still very excited.”
The Vols (50-16) swept LSU in the Knoxville Super Regional and made it back to the World Series for the fifth time in the program’s history and the first since 2005. They’ve appeared in only one final, back in 1951.
“It’s been crazy,” Steenstra said. “Unfortunately, he hasn’t been playing as much the last few weeks as he did in the middle of the season, but it’s still fun watching a team do what they’ve done. Where they’ve been the last 10-15 years, the program’s really been down, so to see where they are right now and what they’ve accomplished already, it’s obviously a very proud moment for our family.”
A baseball family that gave Logan and younger brother Peyton, now 19, early exposure to clubhouse life.
“When I found out you wanted to talk to me, I immediately thought back to when I was still playing in Tucson with the Diamondbacks in 2001 and I could remember bringing (Logan) into the clubhouse, barely a year old, and he’d just scamper on the floor trying to grab every ball,” Steenstra said. “We’d roll the ball down the hallway and he’d go run after it. Those are kind of the first memories of him in baseball. And once I got into coaching, he was constantly in the clubhouse every summer.
“Even though I haven’t been able to be with him a lot these last few years, especially those years, it was tremendous amount of fun for me.”
The good times now involve tracking Logan’s games when the Norfolk schedule allows it.
“I don’t want my attention to be divided, but at the same time you can’t help it as a dad,” he said. “You do worry a little bit about him and make sure, especially the playing time’s been limited. That’s been tough, I’m sure, on him and it’s been tough on me, too, to not see him have a chance to play. But they’re so loaded this year, it’s really nothing he could have done to change that. It’s just one of those situations he’s going to have to get through.”
Wells has allowed one run for Norfolk in 14 innings this month, with no walks and 14 strikeouts. An aggressive comeback from the oblique injury in spring training and 9.88 ERA, 2.20 WHIP and .394 average against in May.
“When he first got here, his first outing was in Jacksonville and he met us there from Sarasota. I’ve seen a lot of him, and he just didn’t look himself,” Steenstra said. “He had some concerns, we had some concerns, but at the same time I knew the kind of guy he was, and once he got in the flow of things he’d be fine.
“He’s cruising along pretty well right now. There’s still some things he’s got to get better at, but for this level he’s doing some really good things. He’s never going to blow people away and you know this, and so the command has to be pinpoint. The slider has really come a long way. That was a pitch we worked on all of ‘19 to try to neutralize the left-handers a little bit, and even to the righties to some extent, and it’s vastly improved since ‘19. But it’s still not big league-average right now, in my opinion. It needs to get a little better. But just the finish on all his stuff, the fine-tuning that he’ll need to go from Triple-A to the big leagues.”
Meanwhile, the Orioles will go for the series win this afternoon against the Blue Jays after mishandling a 7-4 lead in the ninth inning yesterday and losing 10-7.
Matt Harvey is on the mound for the Orioles and left-hander Hyun Jin Ryu for the Blue Jays.
The first six Orioles hits yesterday were home runs, a first in franchise history, according to STATS. The last team to do it was the Indians, on June 24, 1989 in Texas. Their only hits in that game were homers.
The six home runs hit by the Orioles were the most since Aug. 18, 2016 against the Astros. The team record is eight, on June 16, 2015 versus the Phillies.