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Older and wiser, Jarred Kelenic discusses what he’s learned post-injury

It’s been a rough start to Jarred Kelenic’s career, but he’s taking the hard lessons to heart

Seattle Mariners v New York Yankees Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

A month and a half ago, Jarred Kelenic, red-eyed and dressed in tattered sweats, faced the media to explain what happened when he let his emotions get the better of him after a crucial strikeout and kicked a water cooler, breaking his foot in the process and sidelining one of the Mariners’ more consistent offensive threats during a playoff run. The Mariners gave Kelenic the option of just making a statement rather than sitting in front of the cameras, tears pouring down his face, but Kelenic refused, saying he felt it was important for him to publicly take ownership of his mistake.

Prior to Monday’s game, a clear-eyed Kelenic, dressed in his uniform pants and a warmup shirt, again sat in front of the media to close up a painful—literally and figuratively—chapter in his young career, and discuss what he learned from the incident. Again, Kelenic was direct in addressing his mistake and the consequences, not just for himself, but for his team.

“I basically was put on a timeout for the last month, month and a half, because of something that I did, and it made me realize that something that I did affected not only just me, but affected my teammates, affected the fans, the organization, and that’s something that I’ll never do again because of how much it hurt inside.”

Kelenic used that phrase—“on timeout”—at least twice during his press conference, suggesting a degree of self-awareness about the immaturity of his actions. With typical bluntness, he also used the word “stupid” more times than would be efficient to count.

“You never want to do something like that where you get sidelined because of a stupid decision. Unfortunately that was what happened and I had to pay the consequences for it.”

Kelenic is known for his intensely competitive streak, but it’s been something that’s gotten in his way at times. The fiery outfielder has been playing like this since his early career—MiLB Mariners has quite a compilation of him breaking bats—but in the big leagues, those frustrations have caught up with him at times, ultimately resulting in an injury that cost him time away from the team during an important playoff run.

“To not be here physically, not even like in the dugout, that was something that sucked. Because when you’re not here and you’re watching the games on TV, as a player, it sucks. I’d rather be out here watching with the guys and feeling the energy. You see the fans’ reaction when all this stuff goes on and you’re like, I wish I was there to hear it.”

But in his lowest point, Kelenic says he was encouraged both by the fan support he received, including fans surprising him with “welcome back” signs during his rehab appearances in Tacoma—something he called “pretty sick”—and by his teammates’ support, which he called “absolutely incredible.”

“My teammates were extremely supportive throughout the entire process, especially when I found out the news that I was going to be out, which is definitely encouraging, because those are your brothers, those are the guys that you’re out there going to war with every single night. So when they have your back in a situation like that—something stupid that I did where I caused it—it makes me want to come back faster and be out here with these guys because when I was at my lowest, they had my back.”

Kelenic credits the Mariners training staff for helping him get back to the field quickly, saying they helped him balance rest and rehabilitation with a speedy ramp up to return to action. However, he doesn’t deny it was hard to learn to be patient and let his body heal itself.

“It’s just on its own program, which sucks. You don’t have any control over it. So there’s a lot of rest.”

Learning to give up control in his rehab and let his body dictate his progress was a challenge for Kelenic, who likes to be the one calling the shots, pushing his body to its physical limits. Conversely, “rest” has been a four-letter word for the hyper-intense Kelenic, who is often found on the field for early batting practice regardless of whether he’s going good or slumping. However, this unplanned, extensive downtime forced him to adopt a new mindset.

“I feel like if I’m sitting still, I’m wasting time. I had to accept the fact that me laying on my couch all afternoon with my foot up in the air to get the inflammation out, that that was me working out, that was the equivalent, and it was a different mindset. But honestly, it was probably a good thing because I’ve never been forced to think that way. I’ve never been forced to take my foot off the gas a little bit. And this allowed me to do that, knowing that I was getting better by not doing a whole lot.

And it sounds kind of counter-intuitive, but I think that’s one of my weak points, that I don’t know how to take my foot off the gas a little bit. So I try to look at it as a positive and go forward from there.”

Learning how to ease up on that gas pedal wasn’t the only lesson Kelenic took away from his time away from the game, however. Being sidelined made him realize how much he had come to take certain parts of the game for granted.

“It makes me realize how lucky I am to be out here and play every single day. Ever since I was a little kid I wanted to be out here playing in the big leagues and here I am, and you do something stupid like that and kick a cooler and get put on a time out, it makes you realize, like, what are you doing? It makes you think a little bit.”

“For me, personally, it could arguably be one of the best things that ever happened to me on a baseball field, but obviously it wasn’t the best thing to happen for the team or the organization or the city.”

For someone for whom the game has always come to easily, the start to Kelenic’s career has been anything but; sometimes it seems like Kelenic, for all his talent and commitment to the sport, is allergic to doing anything the easy way, for good and bad. While he’s owned up to his mistake publicly on multiple occasions and taken accountability for his actions, Kelenic is eager to close this chapter in his career, grateful for the lessons he’s learned but more than ready to move forward and start contributing to the team again.

“I’m just looking forward to being a part of this. Whatever it is, whether it’s a World Series championship—and that’s the goal—or it’s another playoff run, who knows how far, I’m looking forward to being a part of it. Whether that’s playing every night, or coming in to pinch hit, I’m just looking forward to being a part of this.”