Last June, Ross Kivett and Shane Conlon were sitting in an Oregon hotel room, their eyes and ears locked glued to the Major League Baseball draft.
Kivett, last season’s Big 12 Player of the Year, was a lock to get drafted, and Conlon was thought to be a possibility in the later rounds.
Conlon remembers when he heard Kivett’s name get called, a 10th round pick by the Cleveland Indians.
“I’m rooming with him, we’re sitting, about to go to our pregame meal, and the Indians call and we see it come up on the draft board and I just go nuts,” Conlon said. “I’ve known the kid for four years, roomed with him every single year. I saw that, I was crazy excited for that. We gave each other high fives.”
Kivett, a Cleveland-native, didn’t let himself think too much about the draft selection. Was he excited? Sure. But Kansas State was playing in a Super Regional in Corvallis, Ore., and his dream of making it to the College World Series in Omaha was on the horizon.
But the Wildcats would fall one game short, and Kivett was left with a decision. Conlon, who was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 21st round, had his own decision to make.
They waited on each other to make the decision. As soon as Conlon decided to return, Kivett quickly followed suit.
“I think my teammates and this community and the family atmosphere was enough to come back,” Kivett said. “It’s your hometown team so obviously you think about it a little bit, but there’s other things in life like a degree and the fellowship I have with these guys. I’d be pretty sad sitting on a minor league bus seeing my guys go to Omaha.”
The Wildcats open their season Friday, playing a three-game series at Cal Poly, and they will have their drafted duo back.
K-State coach Brad Hill admits he was excited to have both coming back. But what both have done since coming back, Kivett especially, is what’s pleased him the most.
“The fact that they really handled it the right way, to come back and practice has been outstanding,” he said. “They’ve been very unselfish, and they’re hungry. They know it’s going to take more than just their performances for us to achieve at the level we want to achieve at.
“You take a Ross Kivett that has a perfect 4.0 (grade point average) in the fall. A guy that could’ve come back, focus on his baseball and try to improve his draft status, he’s trying to be the scholar-athlete of the Big 12. That’s a goal of his, that’s pretty special.”
Conlon said the fact that Kivett is returning after his draft stock was as high as it was, says a lot about his character.
“I think it just shows his passion for K-State,” he said. “He’s always preaching about family and I think that it was huge for our program to get him back. He’s the face of the program. He’s a guy that hits leadoff, the first guy that the opposing team sees and sets the tone for the game.
“I think it was a huge deal to get him back and we were all very excited about that.”
Senior pitcher Jared Moore said he wanted Kivett to come back. The two were roommates as a freshman and formed their dream of boosting the program into a position that could help it reach the College World Series for the first time.
When Kivett made the decision to come back, Moore said he started to believe that going to Omaha this year was a strong possibility.
Kivett hit .483 as the Wildcats’ leadoff hitter with 94 hits, 39 RBIs, 15 doubles, four triples and three home runs, with 94 runs scored and 26 stolen bases. As K-State’s second baseman, he finished with a .985 fielding percentage with 120 putouts and a team-leading 208 assists.
Sophomore pitched Levi MaVorhis said Kivett brings much more than his bat and glove.
“It’s a huge boost to our team,” he said. “His leadership, especially, has been huge this offseason. He’s an amazing guy to have around our locker room. Having the season that he did last year, he’s accepted the responsibility to make sure everybody’s doing their job and on task.”
The team has reacted to having its leader back, and a squad packed with experience, by putting in offseason and preseason work that has impressed the coaching staff. Hill credits much of that to Kivett’s leadership.
When the Wildcats held a media day at the beginning of February, Hill joked that he could’ve let Kivett field all the questions to him. He has that much faith in him as an ambassador for the program.
The Wildcats will open the season with a new set of starters in the outfield and seven freshmen pitchers looking to get their feet wet, but Kivett is confident with what he’s seen.
“I do like the chemistry here, I like how hard they work,” he said. “We come in every day and we know we’re going to get beat up, but we do it with a smile and we have a lot of fun doing it. I enjoy the staff and they way they prepare — I think it’s going to be ok.”
With Kivett back, along with Conlon and an entire All-Big 12 infield back, several Wildcat players are saying “Omaha or bust,” this season. But that’s not something Kivett is saying for the program.
“I would never put any pressure on my teammates or this staff or this community like that,” he said. “It’s my last year though, so it’s kind of a bust for me. As long as we play hard every pitch, and we do what we’re supposed to do, I think we have a pretty good chance, and I’ll take the 33 guys in my locker room over a lot of people.”