CINCINNATI — As the Kentucky Wildcats were winning their eighth NCAA basketball title Monday, Austin Kearns could barely contain himself.
A non-roster invitee to spring training with the Miami Marlins, he had just won the job as the team's fifth outfielder.
The Lafayette High School graduate wanted to watch his hometown basketball Wildcats battle Kansas, but he had a conflict.
"It was killing me, man," Kearns said after Thursday's 4-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. "We had an exhibition game in Miami, so I got to see the second half of the second half. I peeked in the clubhouse and they were up big at half. I tried to get out of there quick to see the second half.
"I got caught in traffic, I'm listening to the radio and they're saying, 'Kentucky's slowing it down, trying to run the clock.' And I'm saying, 'c'mon, man!' I was just trying to get home to watch it. It was awesome. It seemed like they had a great group of guys, just really unselfish."
Thursday was the start of a three-game series, which resumes Saturday, between the Marlins and Reds.
Cincinnati is where Kearns broke in to the majors. A first-round draft pick in 1998, he batted .315 over 107 games in his rookie season of 2002.
He spent 4½ years with the Reds, then moved on to Washington, Cleveland, New York (Yankees) and back to Cleveland before landing with Miami.
"The outfield here is set, so I knew I'd have to go in and have to have a good spring to be able to make the team," said Kearns, who went 17-for-45 (.378) over 16 spring training games to rank second on the club. He led the team with nine RBI and tied Hanley Ramirez for the lead in homers with three.
That was enough to beat out Aaron Rowand for the final roster spot.
"Now, once the season starts, whatever you can do to help out. That's how I look at it." Kearns said.
He appeared as a pinch-hitter Thursday, getting robbed of a hit when third baseman Scott Rolen gloved a hard grounder in the hole between third and shortstop.
Kearns, a right-handed batter, figures to get such opportunities coming off of Manager Ozzie Guillen's lefty-dominated bench.
"Guys need a day off here and there," Kearns said. "Be ready. Come off the bench. National League — obviously, chances to pinch-hit and double-switch and all that, so just be ready."