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Ross Kivett

WILDCAT LEGENDS: WHERE ARE THEY NOW?! 

Article by Tyler Jackson

Photography by Kansas State Athletics

Ross Kivett

Kansas State Baseball, 2011-2014

  • 2013 Big 12 Player of the Year
  • ABCA/Rawlings All-America Second Team (2013)
  • Baseball America All-America Third Team (2013)
  • Collegiate Baseball Louisville Slugger All-America Third Team (2013)
  • 2013 All-Big 12 First Team
  • 2014 All-Big 12 Second Team
  • MVP of 2013 Manhattan NCAA Regional
  • 2013 MLB Draft / 10th round / 291st overall / Cleveland Indians
  • 2014 MLB Draft / 6th round / 190th overall / Detroit Tigers 


Oh man. The legendary Ross Kivett. This is a big deal right now, bud.

Yeah, I don't know about that <laugh>. But it's truly an honor.

You’re originally from Cleveland, aren't you?

I am. I'm from Cleveland, Ohio.

What part of Cleveland are you from?

I grew up in East Cleveland, but then my parents moved to Broadview Heights. We moved there when I was 15 or 16.

Cleveland's one of those cities that's sneaky underrated. People that talk smack on it have never been there before. Downtown, the East Fourth district and all the lakefront stuff is actually pretty incredible.

Yeah, I'm a fan. My parents will never leave there. They love it. And now that they have built it up around the stadium. They're about to build a dome for the Browns.

Are they really?

Yeah. The owner made a statement about it, so it'll be sooner than later on that.

Good for them!

 So being from Cleveland/Broadview Heights, what was your path to coming to K State?

I think it was tough just because I didn't play on a superior travel ball team. I was playing in a local East Cobb tournament, which would be kinda like a pony league, a good way to kind of describe it. Anyway, I was playing in a tournament and for some reason Sean McCann, who was the (K-State) recruiting coordinator at that time, was going through Cleveland and stopped by the ballpark. Honestly, it felt like it was kind of a fate thing.

 Wow. For sure!

And he watched me play. He wasn't even supposed to be there. He just stopped by, I think he was probably trying to verify the receipts that he was spending on the road <laugh>. So he stopped by a game, and he watched, and he liked it. So, he called and asked for my schedule and kind of followed me around a few other times. And next thing you know, that was my only offer.

Dude, that’s incredible! That's like a movie! Do you ever look at your life like it's a movie, <laugh>, you should, that’s a movie script!

My wife wishes that I would so that way I would be a little bit more positive. But I'm a college baseball coach!<laugh>

I mean, I think that part is certainly kinda wild and it probably fits the narrative for some people that there’s things called destiny. I visited during Bill Snyder's first game back as coach. I went there and they played some sh*t team, but they beat the hell out of 'em, but it was still packed because Bill was back. I think I ended up committing on the next day, like the Monday that I got back home. So, it was a short recruitment for me.

That's incredible! I'm sure you were probably first flattered that a guy from Kansas State University is even talking to you. Then you come and see Manhattan and then it was like, ‘alright, this is a no brainer!’

Yeah, for me it was. I was like, ‘wow, a Power Five school is interested.’ I literally have gone this entire summer and no one's talked to me, and now Kansas State all of a sudden likes me. I just thought the people were really cool and the Cannonball was really interesting for my parents, and they truly love sports, so it was a no brainer.

That's badass, dude. So you then arrived to Kansas State. How was your experience as a student-athlete at K State?

I think the first year was a little bit tough just because I was a 14-hour car ride from home, and that's probably the first time I've really gone away. All my other friends were at schools in Ohio or Michigan, and they all got to see each other. I call that the upper Midwest. Here, I was going to the true Midwest. It was just a little bit different of a culture shock. After that, baseball season came around and you know, you're not playing and you're a little bit down and then halfway through you start playing every day. From then on, it was probably the best experience I've had.

Did you end up playing a lot your freshman year?

I started the last, I want to say, 25 games. Okay. Brad (Hill, former KSU head coach) was pretty tough on having freshmen earn jobs. My roommate was from Columbus, Ohio and he was an absolutely fantastic player. He earned a job out of fall and spring camp. So, I think that one thing I never really did was get down about not playing or get frustrated about it. I kind of invested my energy in hoping that he did well. Because it was my roommate and I didn't know better <laugh>.  You don't really know that you're competing with these guys because I was so damn green. I was a hockey player. I played three sports, and I just thought that this was what I was supposed to be doing. I didn't know how scholarships worked, or how playing time worked, or all the stuff I know now. I just invested all my energy in making sure that he was ready, because he was playing every day. And I liked to win.

Who was your roommate?

Jared King. He was a good player. He was a third rounder.

Oh goodness, dude. Yes, yes.

It was kinda weird because once you start doing that, you start getting more opportunities and you're kind of prepared. It’s like the baseball gods have repaid you for being a good teammate. So I started to play every day. And then my other roommate, (Shane) Conlon, started to play. For three freshmen to start on a regional team, I don't know if that had happened in the Brad Hill era. It was a really fun freshman year.

Now, my sophomore year we played every day. We just weren't any good <laugh>. That was a wakeup call that summer. So, then obviously the next year we had, and I think it's still the only Big 12 championship, right?

Oh yeah. Some people around here just don’t understand it, either. They can talk about football and basketball all they want. But being in Manhattan, Kansas for that 2013 baseball season, was the best sports season I've ever witnessed in the nearly 20 years of living in this town.  

Yeah, I think that was too. You kinda get chills thinking about it. It’s your best friends, and it was packed. I mean, it was 4 or 5,000, standing room only. People were four or five rows deep on that berm in left field. People couldn't get tickets. I had people asking me when I'm walking into the ballpark to put 'em on the pass list. It was awesome.

It was a blast. Man, that passed ball against Oklahoma. Once that ball went past the catcher, it was like, ‘Oh my goodness, we won the Big 12’!  

<laugh>. Yeah. So was I, dude!  I knew I wasn't going to hit that inning and I wasn't even looking <laugh> I was down like, I don't know what I was doing. Maybe I going through like the next half inning for defense, then everyone starts running out. I look at him and he is like, I think we won <laugh> So then we got to host the regional.

What a feeling. Winning the Big 12, and then hosting the NCAA regional in Manhattan.  

Yeah. Wow. That was the highlight season, obviously. There's a lot of ups and downs in between and around it, but oh, absolutely man. The super regional just felt like it was our time, and then we just kind of ran into a buzz saw. They (Oregon State) were really good, and having the opportunity to play a team that played for the national championship. I wish they would've won. It kind of would've maybe put a… not closure, but at least a little bit of definition on what our team was like. Hey, it took the national champs to beat us, but they were the runner up as well.

It took 'em till the ninth inning to beat us, too. Honestly, if Oregon State would've came from Corvallis and we played them here, they wouldn't have beat us in Manhattan.  

No. No one could beat us at home. I don't know what our home record was, but it was ridiculous. Obviously, that's a tribute to the support. I mean, it was a tough place to play. We went on the road and got worn out at different places. I don't know if anyone was more aggressive with good baseball-talk chirps than our fans. The K State fans were sneaky baseball people. They were just waiting for that deal to kind of explode, and I think that was kind of the first taste that they got of it.

That is why I still, 10/11 years later, tell everybody that the feeling of that baseball season will stay unmatched. I mean, if we won a Natty in football or basketball, that's different. But, it really was that special.

Well, I think it was too because you win the big 12 in football. They win the big 12 in basketball. And, then when we started to play well, you could feel that Manhattan was like, ‘this is going to be our chance.”  We’re going to be the first and forever three time Big 12 champ in the three major sports. So, I think there's a little extra edge too. Which, we certainly didn't feel pressure on that, but we certainly knew that. We knew that we had a chance to do something pretty cool. And when you put a bunch of degenerates in a clubhouse, they play hard. It usually works out.

You guys had great chemistry.

Yeah. That group. That group went through a lot, and there wasn't any transfers. There's no portal. It was all the same guys for three or four years. We still all talk. I mean, there's guys on our team that are the godparents of kids and we’ve been in all the weddings and all sorts of stuff. That group's special, and means lot to me.

Then you won the 2013 Big 12 Player of the year.

This is going to sound so bad, but they could have probably given it to anybody on our crew. I was just the most tenured guy, you know. I don't want to totally dismiss the accomplishment, I had a good year, but it was more just because I was the loudest personality. King, (Austin) Fisher, Conlan, anyone could have got it. Obviously, I'm proud of it, but that's a team award to me.

Im sure when the news came out, everybody felt a part of it.

They did. And they still do. No one gives me any sh*t about it. I think they know that when I say it, I mean it - that it should have been others. They just gave it to me. But it's a team award and they appreciate that. I don't really talk about it. I talk about the championship a lot. It was a special group.

After the magical 2013 season, you come back to 2014. What was your senior season like?

It was probably underwhelming for the fan base in the community. We didn't play very good. Now on a personal level, it was fantastic, right? You get to graduate from K State, you get a degree, and you have the opportunity to play another year with your friends. I enjoyed the community. I enjoyed football season, probably a little too much <laugh>. There was some big basketball wins. I just think that the group was different because we had lost so much from the year before, and it just didn't click the same way. So, it was just a little underwhelming for me and that group. And I kind of try to eliminate ‘14 from my brain, but it was cool to get drafted and be a top 10 pick for Coach Hill to put on the resume. If I were to be selfish, that was probably the only highlight of it. ‘11 and ‘13 were probably the two years I remember the most. ‘12 and ‘14, no bueno.

With ’14, there was positives to it. On a personal level, the stats were good. We just didn't win enough and we couldn't really because we had some injuries. We couldn't really connect a bunch of injuries in the fall, a bunch in the spring, and we just couldn't stay healthy. We had some guys that I guess the coaches had thought would come in and be 'plug and play' that just weren't quite ready. And it kinda showed

Like you said, ’13 was the culmination of a homegrown crew. Whenever you have a homegrown crew where everyone’s there for 2, 3, 4 years, stuff can take time to develop.

You lose Davis, King and Witt and Doller and Gerardo. I mean, you lost, let's call it, 70% of your roster. Yeah. It's a heavy loss. But as far as on a personal level, like off the field, it was fantastic. Got a degree and was really happy about that and proud of that. But, baseball wise, I just really remember pro ball that year.

Speaking of which, so you got drafted by your hometown, Cleveland Indians. Then what was your path with pro baseball?

It was kind of different because in ‘13, when the Indians drafted me, I thought, there's no doubt I don't sign. But, I probably wasn't built for professional baseball. And that was proven true. I was more of a college player, just more team based, handle the bat, etc. I wasn't really a pro, so I went back and everyone was like, ‘wow, you didn't sign!’ But the next year in the sixth round with the Tigers, that ended up being probably better. I was more mature. I was ready to do it and wanted to give it a good run. But my thoughts on pro ball, to answer your question in general, is you just have to be either really talented, or not willing to give it up. And I was neither <laugh>

I knew my ceiling was probably higher at something different, but I wanted to make a run at the big leagues just because that's your dream when you're a kid. But I wasn't super talented. I just kind of used my brain to make it through four years of college. And you watched a lot of tape, and I was probably more prepared than I was talented. And you can't do that in professional baseball. The ultimate kicker was you run out of bat speed, and you're not going to hit guys like Jacob deGrom, and Max Scherzer, and guys that are pitching in the big leagues every night, you know? So pro ball was fine, not my cup of tea, but I’m not going to knock it because there are some of my friends made it to the big leagues. It's just not something that I was super pumped for.

You’re just a fascinating person, you know that!

 Well, I don't know about that, but thank you so much!

Last thing on pro ball. Could you imagine playing 162 baseball games in six months?

No. I mean, we played 140 and I couldn't walk after it! The other thing too is if I knew now, or if I knew then what I know now, about prepping your body and recovery and ways to feel better, even when you don't feel good. Then, I probably could have done another year or two. But now my job is to make sure these guys realize what it takes to be a professional. We only play 56, wait till you have to play 156, you know? I think that was a critical…I don't even know what the phrase or the word would be. Something just kind of sparked when I was done playing and was like, man, drinking water and getting good sleep and hitting a sauna and getting a massage, like that sh*t's important. What you fuel your body with is important. Because at K State, like no offense to K State, I'm sure it's different now, but we didn't have training table when I was there. We were crushing Dillon’s salads and McDonald's and we didn't really care. We were physical because our head coach was a psycho about the weight room. We were always in the weight room. But, I'd drink a protein shake and then I would have three Cokes and a bag of Doritos. It didn't matter because I knew I was going to burn it the next day, and I'd never had a problem putting on or losing. So for me, if I'd put on too much, I could lose it in two weeks. If I need to get heavier, I would just run to Chipotle and get a double chicken, you know, I never had that issue.

In pro ball, it's different because you're getting on the bus at 11, you have an eight-hour bus ride, and now what are you going to do? The post-game meal usually sucks. So you know, I just wasn't all in. And honestly, it's not a regret because I didn't have enough anyway. But it would've been interesting to see what would've happened if I was all in.

If you've continued, who knows? You might've burnt completely out of baseball and you might be selling insurance right now in Tremont, Ohio, ya never know.

I could be selling cars or something. But yeah, I got out at the right time. It all happened the right way.

What was your path to get into coaching?

You know, this is so weird, but this guy's a heavy influence in my life, and I didn't really realize it until you called me. But Sean McCann called me again. I played independent league ball after I got released for one week. I was in Traverse City, Michigan, and it was Tequila Tuesday, and I got really banged up. The next morning I'm getting a call from McCann at 9:00 AM and I'm like, ‘I haven't talked to this guy in 10 years. I'm not gonna answer it’! He calls me again like an hour later, I'm like, ‘man, this must be something important.’

I answered the call, and he is like, ‘Hey man, Tony Vitello is gonna call you. You're done playing, right?’ And I was like, ‘yeah, I'm probably done. I'm not gonna get picked up outta here.’ He said, ‘Tony Vitello’s gonna call you.’ I'm like, ‘who the hell's Tony Vitello?!’ And he was like, ‘he's the new head coach at the University of Tennessee, needs an infield guy. Just answer his call. Here's his number and don't be an idiot.’ And I was like, okay…

Tony called, and I didn't know it was an interview. I just thought it was kind of my job because again, I had a late night and I'm super green on the coaching. And I kind of talked to him like, ‘here's what I am gonna do. Here's something to help your program. Here's what I can help you with,’ yada yada, kind of talked him through the value that I could bring to Tennessee. And he called McCann and was like, ‘this guy thinks he has the job!’ And I think McCann's response was, ‘well, if you knew him, you would not be surprised at your last comments!”

<laugh>

<laugh>

Tony called me back probably five o'clock that day. It was raining, so there was no BP. I walked into the manager's office in Traverse City and said, ‘Hey man, I'm done playing baseball. I'm gonna go coach. I hope all's well and see you later.’ I packed the car up and drove to Cleveland. Got in a different car and drove to Knoxville. And the rest is kind of history.

Your life is a movie, Ross Kivett!

Well, again, I hope the ending is Omaha or something with a couple of extra zeros at the end of it. Right now I'm happy where I'm at. It's pretty fun.

So how long were you at Tennessee?

I did four and a half years with them. Okay. We went to Omaha in 2021, and I took the Houston job two days after we got back from Omaha.

What was your first role at Houston?

I guess I kind of did get promoted. My first role was hitting and infield coach. Then now my new title is Associate Head Coach and hitting coach

That's awesome, dude!

Year three this season. I enjoy it down here. My wife loves it. It's a good time.

You probably had to laugh whenever it was announced Houston was joining the Big 12 baseball.

Well I think I was kinda licking my chops a little bit because there's some people in the league that they're going to have to look me in the eye again, which I kind of enjoy.

Oh, heck yeah, man, I love proving everybody wrong.

I don't even know if it's that as much as, you know, guys thought it was easy to pick on Houston early. I don't know how we'll be this year, but they better catch us now, because the way it's going, it’s gonna be pretty good in next few years. All of Houston sports. Everything's growing, and hoops has helped. Football has a real coach now, which is good. And I really believe in our skipper and the way things are going right now.

 Man, I looked at the calendar. I wish we weren't playing down there. I wish you guys were coming up here.

I know, that's what all my friends are telling me too. But, they booked their flights to Houston.

Hey, they'll go find some warmer weather, at least.

Yeah. It'll be warm. And they'll get their Mexican kick, and we'll do some barbecue and they'll come to the house. It'll be a time. Hopefully we win. Not you guys. Hopefully we win, but we'll see.

It’d be hard to cheer against the team that I know that you're coaching for.

<laugh>. Well, I appreciate that. I will tell you this, the club on paper, and again, I say on paper 'cause I don't like to jinx anybody, but that's a good club up there. They did a good job for this year. Now, I don't want them to win the Big 12, but that probably is the closest club to compete for a Big 12 since ‘13. So, yep. That'll be interesting to see how their season unfolds. So we'll, we'll see.

Well, what's your goals? Are you wanting to eventually become a head coach at a university?

Yeah. That I would like to stay in college. I'm not anti-professional baseball, as long as it's in kind of a director role or maybe something professional. They have all these analysts now and they have quality controls, and bench coaches. But, the idea is to stay in college. I really enjoy it here, and obviously the head coach here is very tenured and he's a great human and he's not going anywhere. So, if opportunities were to call, hell yeah. I'd love to run my own program.

Then my friend, my favorite question to ask everybody to kind of round this out. What's the thing that you miss the most about Manhattan, Kansas?

Yeah, I was thinking about that one. It's hard to pick just one. You know, I just miss the waking up every day and having three roommates that are your best pals. (Now don't tell my wife <laugh>, you know, she is my best friend.) But it's just something different when you're going through the workouts, and you're going through practices, and you're going to the movies on Tuesday nights, and you're going to Umi on Friday nights. It’s like, man, you just miss those kind of bonding moments. The comradery of the team. It’s just, yeah. You know, it kind of gets you emotional just because I love that group.

Absolutely.

The first answer about what I miss the most about Manhattan is my teammates and friends. And then the number two would be - that fan base is different. I think they just kind of make you. You're a second baseman on a baseball team that doesn't make any money for the school, but they make you feel like you're the quarterback. You miss the people. Brad did such a good job with the staff, and we had such a good staff.

And Jamie Hamor is still there, who's my academic counselor. I had dinner with her when she was down here. You’re having dinner with her and reminiscing and you're like, ‘damn, I miss you. You were such an influence, you're like my second mom, right?’

It’s certainly the team first and then the people second. The people had to earn it because I'm a tough trust. They certainly surpassed any expectation I had of what a fan base or what a community could be in the middle of f*cking Kansas. I'll tell you that.

Wildcat Legends: Where are they now? is brought to you by Community First National Bank. With two locations in Manhattan to serve you, Community First National Bank is helping to create the legend in you! Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender. 

All Photos Courtesy of Kansas State Athletics 

 

 

 

 

 







 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




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