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At the time, the words stung. More than a decade later, they might be the most important ones Kyle DeLong heard during his baseball career.
“You're not good enough.”
DeLong still remembers the words, even though his playing career ended over a year ago.
“I really don't remember who told me that but I was wanting to pitch and he told me I wasn't good enough,” DeLong smiles. “When that happened was when I started working my tail off. I realized it was on me if I wanted to pitch.”
The fairy tale ending would have DeLong, a left-hander who graduated from Centre College last month, turning those words into a career so mesmerizing that he would have been selected in the major league draft, then head to the rookie leagues.
Instead, the randomness of baseball and life itself saw DeLong's career end during his junior year at Centre. Problems with his left shoulder were the culprit.
“I tore some ligaments in my shoulder,” says DeLong, who opted not to have surgery. “It is a little better, but it still hurts some.”
Just like at Anderson County, where he was a member of two regional championship teams, DeLong rode an unshakable work ethic to success. Overcoming the first-year jitters, DeLong had become a starter in conference games by the end of his freshman year and was one of the Colonels most dependable hurlers in his sophomore campaign of 2012.
The shoulder woes limited him to just a few innings in 2013 before DeLong gave up the pitching mound for slow-pitch softball, which he now plays in Lexington.
Before the injury, there was little doubt that DeLong was “good enough.”
And there can be little doubt that Kyle DeLong sees the four years he spent at Centre as more than good enough. He finished the rigorous curriculum in four years, tough enough even without the demands of college baseball. “I became very good at time management my freshman year,” he chuckles. “That was my toughest year. There were four or five hours of homework every night.”
Then there was the off-season conditioning at a school that does not offer any kind of athletic financial aid.
“Transitioning between high school and college was very tough,” he says. “I learned it was on you to be ready for the season.”
And, those years at Centre were certainly eventful.
During the fall of 2012, Vice-President Joe Biden and his opponent in the election, Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, debated at Centre.
“Our campus turned like a prison,” DeLong remembers. “There were concrete barriers up on campus. We had to wear lanyards with our student Ids on them. Cars weren't allowed on campus so we had to park at the Boyle County Fairgrounds. The school had a shuttle service.
“If you left something in your car, you had to take that shuttle to the fairgrounds.”
Then last year, the school got a scare when there was a triple-murder near campus, forcing the school to lock down until the suspect was apprehended.
“The library workers came around and said, 'You can't leave.' Main Street was shut down.”
But the experience did not deter DeLong, who has returned to Lawrenceburg and is living with his parents while working as a summer intern with the Kentucky Teachers Retirement Systems.
“I absolutely loved Danville,” he says. “It's a small town and was named one of the top 25 places in America to retire.”
Not that DeLong is looking to retire anytime soon. He likes what he's doing now with his degree in economics, but if full-time employment does not work out with the Teachers Retirement Systems, he will look at any other available options.
And he'd like to help kids with a dream.
“I have thought about that and I would like to coach,” DeLong says. “I love helping kids through their struggles. I am still young and I can relate to them.
“I would love to coach at the high school level even as a volunteer.”
And Kyle DeLong believes he has a message for those young guys who might think they can't achieve their dreams.
Back in Little League, he was not selected for the Anderson County All-Stars one year, though he was on the team as a 12-year-old. By the time he was a high school sophomore, DeLong was pitching for a regional championship team and got on the mound against Pleasure Ridge Park in the old semi-state series.
Two years later, he was an all-region performer and was on his way to Centre.
“I think I am a good example for kids, even if they are told they aren't good enough to pitch.”
And DeLong has one strong, heartfelt message.
“I want to thank who told me I wasn't good enough. That vaulted me to work harder and I realized it was on me to get better.”