Life’s Strikes Have Not Ended Former Toros’ MLB Aspirationscsudhbulletin October 10, 2018 0 COMMENTS
By Victor Munoz
The odds are against Kevin Lenik. Like, way against him. In 2017, 735 baseball players who competed on NCAA schools were picked in the amateur draft. Of those 735, fewer than 10 percent, on average, will ever make a Major League Baseball roster. Even more daunting, of those 735, only 73 players came from a Division II school.
But that’s not stopping Lenik, who played for CSUDH’s baseball team in 2015, and is currently in the Kansas City Royals farm system, recently concluding the season in Triple A. The hardships and struggles he has endured and overcame make him confident that he will make the major leagues—and soon.
“After everything, I’ve been through I knew I belonged here,” said Lenik. [Signing to the Royals] was like a change in my life. After all that I truly believe I belong in the big leagues and that’s where I am going to be one day.”
Lenik grew up in Mission Hills, California. He knew he had talent at 13 when he was named a travel-ball All-American.
But after his first season of baseball at Bishop Alemany High School, Lenik decided to leave baseball behind due to family problems.
“My family issue was a little too deep,” Lenik said. “I would relate it to baseball because growing up, baseball was the family thing. So, I decided to step away and let the stress go and try to start a new beginning with football.”
Lenik competed in football and track and field for the rest of high school. In his senior year, he had offers from a couple of universities to play football but grades and his SAT scores made him ineligible for a scholarship at a four-year university.
He returned to the sport he loved after he ran into a friend who was playing baseball at LA Pierce College. The conversation with his friend helped him realize baseball was for him. Lenik’s baseball career re-flourished at College of the Canyons, in Santa Clarita, this time as an outfielder. He played two seasons and then transferred to a four-year university, Hawaii Pacific, in Honolulu. After a year in Hawaii, he returned home to Southern California to play his final season at CSUDH.
At CSUDH he started as an outfielder but in the last two months of the season, he discovered his pitching talent; more importantly, he said he had a breakthrough in maturity and realized his possibility in going pro.
“As I came to Dominguez Hills, I was all over the place,” Lenik said. “I was sleeping in my brother’s couch, with no car and finding ways to make a dollar. I became more mature and realized that if I stayed motivated, disciplined and [took] it seriously, I could actually go pro.”
After his senior year in 2015, he attended pre-draft workouts with the Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, LA Dodgers and Atlanta Braves. The teams wanted him as an outfielder since that was the position he mostly played in college. But based on how hard he was throwing, Lenik decided to enter the draft as a pitcher.
That backfired. Although he posted a 0.87 ERA for the Toros in 2015, he pitched only 10 innings, too small a sample size for any team to seriously consider drafting him.
“After my number didn’t get called I sat there and thought to myself that’s it, I failed,” Lenik said.
Lenik hung his cleats for about three months but then was introduced to pitching guru Tom House, former USC pitching coach who now volunteers as an assistant coach. House has also worked as a pitching coach for the Texas Rangers, Houston Astros and San Diego Padres.
“Tom really looked out for me and helped me grow,” Lenik said. “I feel like God put him in my life.”
House sent Lenik to California Winter League in Palm Springs, where he was invited to a try-out with Texas Rangers. Out of 150 athletes, Lenik was the only one signed.
But once again, he suffered a setback, as he was cut after one season.
Lenik accepted an offer from Windy City from the independent Frontier League, where he registered 17 strike-outs in 10 innings. On June 15, 2017, a Kansas City Royals scout saw his fastball sitting at 97 mph and signed him. With the Royals, he started in Rookie-level Burlington but quickly moved to Triple-A Omaha, the highest level in Minor League Baseball. In the 2018 season with the Omaha Storm Chasers, Lenik registered 51 strikeouts in 34 games and ended the season with a 4.93 earned run average.
“[I believe that] after the storm God shared his light on my path, so I’ve been following it ever since,” Lenik said.