Former Wake Forest baseball player Kevin Jordan was Wednesday night’s special guest at the March Hot Stove League meeting. In 2011 Jordan made national headlines when his coach donated a kidney to him. After chowing down on some pizza and some opening remarks from host Johnny Tallant, Kevin shared some of his story. Jordan’s smile, enthusiasm, and love for baseball lit up the room.
Kevin grew up in tiny Vienna and played tee ball and Little League. When his family moved to Columbus the competition became tougher. He began to be noticed after going 5-5 in one of the first games of his sophomore season, against a powerful McDonough team the year after Jason Heyward graduated. Heyward’s younger brother was a standout on the team. Success on the diamond gave Kevin with confidence.
He was recruited by a travel team, the Atlanta Blue Jays, and played with Delinio DeShields Jr. and Cam Bedrosian. Jordan learned that he could play with elite competition. Manny Machado, a teammate on his Royals scout team, displayed “a major league aura.” Jordan played for the Blue Jays for all three years of high school: 2008 – 2010. He played in nine Perfect Game Tournaments, and may have crossed paths with Will at East Cobb.
According to their slick website, this past year the Blue Jays’ roster boasted players from all around the state, plus Florida (six players), Tennessee, Puerto Rico (2 players), and Canada. Man am I glad I got out of that racket.
Almost every ACC and SEC recruited Jordan, though he received only nominal interest from Tech and Georgia. Many MLB teams were interested in him as well. Jordan said some projected him as a first round pick. He narrowed his colleges to Wake Forest and Auburn, and signed with Wake.
In January Kevin got sick, but thought nothing of it. In his first game as a senior Jordan went 4-5 with a triple, but the scouts thought he looked tired. Tests revealed his kidney function was down to 15%, but the doctors allowed him to play. During the season his weight dropped from almost 200 to 150 pounds.
As his senior season winded down Jordan was still ranked the 17th best prospect in the state by Baseball America, behind DeShields (3), Bedrosian (4), and Tatnall Square’s DeAndre Smelter (7). His Baseball America bio:
Kevin Jordan began the year as a potential Top 200 talent, but he came down with an illness that caused him to lose about 15 pounds and much of his strength. Scouts estimated that Jordan was playing at about 75 percent when he started playing again in late April, but they still came out in droves for a mid-May matchup with Delino DeShields Jr. and Woodward High. At his best last summer, the left-handed-hitting speedster showed good barrel awareness and above-average raw tools offensively and defensively for center field. Jordan was expected to be a summer follow but also could wind up at Wake Forest, where he'd start from day one.
He told all the MLB teams of his illness so they wouldn’t draft him. The Yankees drafted him anyway, in the 19th round. His weight had dropped from 200 to 150 pounds. Wake head coach Tom Walter encouraged Jordan to come to school despite his illness. Kevin’s kidney function continued to drop, and he was on dialysis three times a week. Walter first met Kevin at the hospital. Kevin could see the shock on his coach’s face. He could participate in some of the baseball drills, but not all of them.
Since the kidney failure had been the result of an auto-immune disorder, Kevin’s parents and brother tested to see if they could donate. They didn’t match, so Coach Walter volunteered: he had the same blood type. The surgery took place February 7, 2011 at Emory University Hospital, and made the national news.
Fourteen days after the surgery Coach Walter was back on the field. Wake Forest was on the road at LSU, and 10,000 fans gave Walter a standing ovation. When someone said a book should be written, Kevin agreed, saying “the story is definitely about Coach Walt.”
The transplant did not limit Kevin’s play. He said his problem was the curve. He played four years at Wake, but his average (and playing time) fell each year. Jordan’s two seasons of summer ball were also a struggle. He didn’t play summer ball his last two seasons in school. At bats decreased: 125 87 39 42. Games decreased: 45 34 22 23. Average 224 184 103 167. Strike out rate: 43% at Wake, 41% in college summer leagues.
Kevin now lives and works in Smyrna. He’s studying for graduate school. Hates traffic. Met Braves infielder Chase d’Arnaud at a coffee shop. Watches ACC baseball games every chance he gets. Looking into a coaching position at a small college in Allentown Pennsylvania.
293 35 55 12 02 04 25 15 06 36 126 05 02 01 WF
108 16 22 03 01 04 11 04 03 10 044 04 02 01 CC
188 287 283 570 WF
125 364 125 489 cape cod
217 294 402 696 coastal plain
Kevin’s Perfect Game Tournaments
07.01.2008 East Cobb
07.08.2008 East Cobb
10.23.2008 Jupiter FL
06.30.2009 East Cobb
07.07.2009 East Cobb
07.14.2009 Fort Myers FL
10.24.2009 Jupiter FL
06.29.2010 East Cobb
07.06.2010 East Cobb
Hot Stove host Johnny had followed Kevin’s story from the beginning. Tallant’s young grandson Hyde had a kidney transplant around the same time. A stranger to no one, Johnny had swapped emails with Coach Walter. While touring Washington DC Johnny crossed paths with a fellow in a Wake Forest Baseball jacket. Johnny told the guy he’d been emailing the coach. The guy said “That’s me!”
Interesting reminder of how so many top high school prospects fall by the wayside both in college and the minor leagues. Same thing happens in football and basketball, as well as acting and music. But nothing wrong with young people chasing their dreams.