Keone Kela is a self-described early ’90s baby, the son of a 16-year-old mother and 15-year-old father in South Central Los Angeles.
“It was babies having babies,” said Kela, a 21-year-old right-handed pitcher for Double A Frisco.
He first played baseball at age 4, in Carson, Calif., where he lived with his mother and two sisters as they moved around the gang-ravaged areas south of Los Angeles.
His mother decided she wanted her son and daughters in a different environment, so they packed up and moved to Seattle despite no family connections.
“I think my mom decided that was the place to go because in LA there’s a lot of gangs,” Kela said. “There were not a lot of good crowds for me to affiliate myself with.”
At 8, Kela wasn’t happy about the move, and when money was tight, and travel was impossible, it made for some lonely holidays.
But they leaned on each other.
“I had my mother and two sisters, so I was happy,” he said. “All the love we had, it was enough. You go through a lot of trials and tribulations in life and sometimes they make you stronger and you learn from them.”
Kela has used that philosophy in his baseball career, and it is paying off in his first season at the Double A level. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound reliever has been clocked as high as 102 mph and has 54 strikeouts in 38 innings for Frisco. He’s 2-1 with five saves and a 1.66 ERA. Batters are hitting just .140 against him.
“In this game you have to be confident and somewhat proud, but you also have to humble yourself,” he said. “That’s something I’ve always looked at, where I come from and the struggles that my mom went through for me.”
It’s helped him put baseball in perspective and mature not only as a pitcher, but as a man.
“There has been ups and downs, it’s been a big grind but the development has been very good for me,” he said. “I feel like I’ve taken some very big strides.”
He feels blessed to be pitching on such a talented staff, picking the brains of teammates such as Alex Gonzalez, Jerad Eickhoff and Jake Thompson.
“Not only does it allow you to build relationships with the guys who are highly valued in the organization, but you also get to see where you stand, as well,” he said, echoing the aim of the organization, which was to spur on competition among the farm system’s elite arms and help form bonds between future big-league teammates among position players.
“This is a very talented team. I think we have all the tools to go out and do what everybody thinks we should do,” Kela said of the RoughRiders’ playoff chances. “I’m excited for the playoffs and to see where it takes us.”
He’s also excited about another important bond. His first child is due in October. That has also helped him put what his mother endured in perspective.
“I look back and rejoice at the things she did for me and the lifestyle I’ve lived and what I aspire to have,” he said. “I want to give him something much different.”
But the same amount of love.