CINCINNATI — He is a second-time All-Star now, hitting .323 as the second baseman for the Cleveland Indians, and in the American League clubhouse on Tuesday there was Jason Kipnis just across the river from the state where he started his collegiate baseball career.
A visitor wondered what Kipnis remembered about his two seasons at the University of Kentucky.
“I remember me and the coach didn’t like each other,” said the 28-year-old Kipnis. “That’s why I left.”
The coach was John Cohen, the former Mississippi State star who as a fiery young coach lead the UK baseball program to a Southeastern Conference title. Kipnis was a fiery competitor from Northbrook, Ill., and the two never quite meshed leading to Kipnis transferring to Arizona State where he excelled for two years before being drafted by the Indians in the second round of the 2009 draft.
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“To be honest, I’d like to go back to Lexington because what happened with the coach kind of left a bad taste in my mouth,” Kipnis said. “Actually, I really liked Lexington.”
Maybe not at first.
“It was a culture shock for me, coming from Chicago,” Kipnis admitted. “I didn’t know anything about horse racing or girls wearing big hats or any of that stuff. I didn’t know anything about Lexington when I came there. But I still have a lot of friends from my time there.”
He mentioned former UK teammates Sawyer Carroll, Collin Cowgill, Sean Coughlin and Ryan Strieby as friends Kipnis keeps in touch with on a regular basis.
In the end, however, leaving Lexington for Tempe, Ariz., was a good career move.
“It worked out well for me,” Kipnis said.
A second baseman at UK, Kipnis was moved to the outfield at ASU where he hit .371 with 14 homers and 73 RBI in 2008 for the Sun Devils. That prompted the San Diego Padres to draft him in the fourth round. He remained at ASU, however, and hit .384 with 16 homers and 71 RBI in 2009.
After signing with the Indians, Kipnis was moved back to second base and made his way to the big leagues for 36 games in 2011. He became a regular in 2012, then made the AL All-Star team in 2013, a season in which he ended up hitting .284.
Kipnis slipped to .240 last year but altered his swing and has bounced back in a big way. Through 87 games, Kipnis leads the American League and is tied for the major league lead in doubles with 27. He’s now considered the leader of the Indians.
“This All-Star Game is a little smaller than my first one, which was in New York (Citi Field),” Kipnis said. “I just know more of what to expect this time. We’ve got a lot of first-time guys and they're asking me about things and I try to help them but I’m like, ‘Don’t take my word for it. This is just my second.'”
The All-Star Game is still a goal and an honor, he said. He’s had his brothers Blair and Todd with him on the field during workouts at Great American Ball Park and they all took in the Home Run Derby on Monday night, which was won by the Reds’ Todd Frazier.
“That was cool,” Kipnis said. “I thought the format worked really well. I thought everyone did well. To have my brothers here really balances it out for me. Last night, I just got to sit back and watch. I was nothing more than a baseball fan. It was great.”
And if his time at UK was not the greatest, it worked out for Jason Kipnis in the end.
“I got a second chance,” he said of the move to Arizona State. “And I knew I had to make the most of it.”