February 7, 2014

CBI Big 12 Preview

Preseason Coaches' Poll


Kivett Eyes Omaha in Senior Campaign

By Zach DiSchiano



Kansas State was voted by coaches of the Big 12 Conference as the best team in the league in a preseason poll, and that’s exactly the opposite of what Wildcats second baseman Ross Kivett (left) wanted.


“I don’t think we are, and I don’t think we want to be preseason No. 1 in the conference,” the 2013 Big 12 Player of the Year said. “I think we want to finish the best. I think Russell Wilson said it the best; he didn’t care how his team played in the beginning of the season, he wanted to finish strong. And I think that’s our mentality.”


Whether predicted to finish first or not, the Wildcats have to like their chances at closing out this season on top of the conference with the return of each of their starting infielders last season, which included three Big 12 First Team selections.


Highlighting the infield is Kivett, who would have left the program after being selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 10th round of last year’s draft if it weren’t for the family-like community in Manhattan, Kan.


“It’s just a hard place to leave once you get down here,” said Kivett, who hit .360 with three homers, 39 RBI and 26 stolen bases last year. “It’s the environment, not a lot of athletes want to leave just because all of the love that the community and the athletic department and everyone else shows.”


To make a tough decision even tougher, the team that selected Kivett was his favorite growing up. As a kid, Kivett’s parents held season tickets throughout the 1990s, and he would watch some of the great Indians teams mark their legacies at Jacobs Field.


Ultimately, Kivett did not want to miss out on the chance to take Kansas State to the College World Series.


“I would hate to be playing pro ball and watch them go to Omaha without me, knowing that I had one more year left,” said Kivett, who earned second-team All-American honors from Louisville Slugger/CollegeBaseballInsider.com in 2013.


Teammate and fellow Big 12 First Team member Shane Conlon said he was initially surprised by Kivett’s decision to stay.


“With such a great year he had, and all the accolades and stuff and how good our team was, at first I was kind of surprised,” Conlon said. “Then we started talking more, and I found out the reasons he wanted to come back about getting that chance to go to Omaha, and that’s why I decided to come back, as well.”


The pair forms a lethal top of the lineup, but Kivett is particularly valuable as a vocal leader of the Wildcats. As a senior, Kivett provides veteran experience and serves as an example for the younger players to look up to, Conlon said.


“Huge, huge competitive guy,” said Conlon, who hit .341 with seven homers and 28 RBI last year. “Big leader on our team. He’s the guy who sets the tone.”


Batting leadoff, Kivett lays the foundation for his teammates and establishes a presence on the field. KSU coach Brad Hill said Kivett’s confidence and competitiveness are as much a part of his game as swinging the bat and fielding ground balls.


“Ross is his own man, I can tell you that,” Hill said. “That’s part of his strength. He is very strong in his beliefs. He’s a fierce, competitive person. He’s got some ego about him, that’s part of it.”


Kivett’s intense competitive nature made it that much more difficult to say goodbye to Kansas State’s College World Series hopes, and that loss to Oregon State – a 4-3 heartbreaker in the Super Regionals that ended a magical 45-19 season – resonated with him all summer long.


“That was tough to get over,” he said. “I felt like that team that I was on was destined for Omaha. I think that it left a sour taste and my mouth and everyone around here’s mouth.”


With the first game of his senior season just around the corner, Kivett has turned his attention to his future. If all goes as he hopes, he said, the Wildcats will end up in Omaha, and he will be selected early in this summer’s draft.


“A lot of the time, if your team wins too many games, they take you too high,” Kivett said, with a chuckle. “I’m hoping that’s the case.”


(photos courtesy of KSU Media Relations Office)