It's tough for a part-time player but, every once in a while, Detroit Tigers utility guy Don Kelly will do something great to justify his spot in the major leagues.
Kelly made a terrific catch Tuesday, robbing J.P. Arencibia of a home run in the Tigers 7-3 victory against the Toronto Blue Jays. In the top of the second inning, Kelly leaped high and hard into the left-field fence at Comerica Park and caught the ball just as it was headed over the top. The catch preserved a 1-0 lead at the time and shaved some points off the ERA of right-hander Anibal Sanchez. It also drew applause from the Tigers dugout, where Justin Verlander could be seen clapping and pointing in appreciation at Kelly.
Among highlights from this particular game, Kelly's catch probably will trail in notoriety behind a three-run homer by Miguel Cabrera and the 2,000th career hit of Torii Hunter. Maybe even the overall performance by Sanchez. If this were an NHL game, Kelly might not even be one of the three stars. But his catch should be noted for the record. And you can bet Jim Leyland noted it.
It can't be stated for certain that Kelly is the most popular current Tigers player because of, well, Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Verlander and so forth, but there is something about Neil Walker's brother-in-law that many Tigers fans — Leyland No. 1 among them — simply find endearing. That certain something is the only way to explain why Kelly has stuck around the major leagues despite hitting just .232./.284/.345 in 364 games over parts of six seasons.
He's a versatile defensive player; that is, he's willing to play anywhere Leyland asks because, please God, don't send me to Triple-A! He's put in time at every defensive position, including pitcher and catcher, though he hasn't played short since he broke in with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2007. Don't be surprised if he becomes the next guy to play all nine positions in a game, unless Leyland just hates shenanigans like that. His love for Kelly only goes so far.
Kelly just seems to be an average fellow playing Major League Baseball, and it starts with his plain-Jane name. "Don Kelly" would have been a cutting-edge name in 1954, but kids these days seem much more likely to be named "Cutter Dykstra." Kelly might as well be named Joe Schmo. And yet, Leyland seemed on the verge of a breakdown when the Tigers booted him off the 40-man roster during the offseason. But nobody else picked him up (hint, hint ... no?) so the Tigers invited him to spring training and he made the team.
It's the story of Kelly's life. Livin' on the edge (yet straight as an arrow).