Kouzmanoff uses blue-collar attitude on field
Third baseman works for everything, as taught by dad
OAKLAND -- Kevin Kouzmanoff is rather shy. Always has been.
His father, Marc, not so much. He's a salesman. Always has been.
One hits baseballs for a living. The other hits up tax professionals as a sales rep for a software company.
Yet both go about their jobs, and life in general, singing the same tune -- one that emits sounds of patience, dedication, and persistence.
"He works for a company that has a quota every month, and he has to make that quota," Kevin said. "Once you make the quota, you have another quota to make the next month. It's kind of like out here. You hit a home run to win the game, and that's great. But you have to come to the park the next day, and no one cares what you did yesterday."
Yesterdays, particularly bumpy yesterdays, don't mean much to Kevin. This A's third baseman, acquired by Oakland via an offseason trade, very much lives in the present, where -- thanks to dad -- he's got it pretty good.
"If I have a rough day out here, I call him and say, 'Dad, it was a bad day today,'" Kevin says. "And he says, 'I can send you one of my tax guides if you want to read one of my books, and you can do what I do.' And I think, no, that's alright.
"It makes me take a step back and realize a rough day here is still a pretty good day."
"Here" is the ballpark, a place Marc never quite pictured his son working. "Here" is where Kevin pursued his profession, after high school stints with wrestling (in the 103-pound club), golf, and football. "Here" is where Kevin once struggled as a prep athlete at Colorado's Evergreen High School.
"He didn't make all-conference in what was probably the weakest conference in all of Colorado," Marc recalled. "He didn't receive any scholarships."
That's because Kevin was still implementing a swing, created by way of a three-year process -- one that had him, his father, and a carpenter studying baseball swings three hours a day, every day. The carpenter was Troy Slinkard, who made a hobby of learning swings en route to becoming Kevin's unofficial hitting coach -- the same one who still works with the infielder in a warehouse every offseason.
Meanwhile, Kevin's defensive game blossomed, not on the field, but outside of his cul-de-sac home, where brothers Brant and Ky would join him for a nightly round of 100 groundballs hit by their father. In 2009, Kevin set a National League record with a .990 fielding percentage, committing just three errors for the Padres -- much to the astonishment of Marc, who admittedly never imagined his son playing in the big leagues.
"I'm very surprised," he said. "Making it in Major League Baseball is so extremely difficult. I try to figure it out, and think what makes these guys successful. With football, you can toss a guy a football and know within two minutes if he can play football -- same with basketball and hockey. But not with baseball. You have to watch them and watch them.
"I never thought he'd be a Major League Baseball player. Our goal was never to play Major League Baseball. And I always tell kids, never make that your goal because it probably won't happen. Your goal should be one thing: to get the chance to do it, to get drafted. Kevin's goal was to get drafted, not to make it to the Majors. We never discussed that. Although when we talked, I knew it was on his mind."
So what happens after then, after the Draft? After the Indians select you, as they did Kevin, in the sixth round in 2003, following stints at three colleges? What's the goal?
"Move to the next level," Marc said. "You take it one step at a time."
Each level, no matter the rank, has seen Kevin go through his same routine:
Take ground balls -- lots of them. Take batting practice. Play the game. Hit the weight room. Rest. Sleep. Repeat.
"I devote my time and effort into what's important now, and then I relax," Kevin said. "I think I get it from both sets of parents. My dad was always up early on the computer making phone calls, finishing work at 11 at night. I saw his work ethic and thought that, in order to be successful, you have to work hard at it."
Marc and his wife, Kim, weren't necessarily tough on their three boys, all two years apart, and now ranging in age from 26-30 -- Kevin the middle child at 28 years old. Rather, they "just let us know what our priorities were," Kevin said.
Those priorities were met with the knowledge that nothing ever comes easy, at least in the Kouzmanoff household.
"Some kids are born with talent," Kevin said. "My family wasn't like that. We had to work at it. We were born with what God gave us, but we had to work for what we have, and improve upon that."
"When Kevin takes reps and practices, there's never a time when he moves a muscle without intent," Marc said. "So he doesn't just go out and hack the ball. When he goes out and takes batting practice, he's working on something -- things you've never heard of in any of the books. Everything Kevin does, even when he throws a baseball and plays catch, it's with intent."
The relaxing part, then, comes in the form of nature. Kevin's just as much an outdoorsman as he is a baseball player. He camps. He fishes. Much of his offseason is surrounded by trees and wilderness, elements that ultimately influenced his family to make the move to Colorado from San Diego, where Kevin lived until he was 12.
The same people who guided 12-year-old Kevin along are still very much a part of this 28-year-old baseball player's life. That much was evident a couple of years ago in Chicago, where Kouzmanoff -- still with the Indians -- stood on a chair, peeking out over the dugout, following the game, looking for one person.
"We went back there, where my mother lives," Marc remembers, "and a bunch of us were there waiting for him. He looks out at my mother, a little old lady at 80 years old, and says, 'Hey gran, how are you?' He made her feel so good because he recognized her.
"He's a good guy. Kevin is one of the finest. He's so genuine."
He's also unconventional in the way he goes about the game, and the route he took to make it to the largest stage. But that's OK, insists Marc.
"Kevin has never been a standout baseball player," his father said. "All these years, even though he was trying to be, and was trained to be, he never was. Kevin trains more than the entire team he's on combined. Kevin gives anyone hope that wants to make it."
Making it is something Marc never achieved for himself. Following his years in Montana, he played with the Chicago Bears during training camp, but didn't pass the final cut. Now, he -- along with Kevin, Brant, and Ky -- are sure to say that his role as a father has turned out to be all the more rewarding.
And baseball, not football, has made it a pretty fun ride.
"Baseball is the greatest sport in the world, because it's the only sport that is family oriented," Marc said. "You can play catch with your mom, your dad, your sister, your grandfather, your cousin. It's the only sport you can do that."
"He's been very supportive, along with my mom and my brothers," Kevin said. "I talk to him a couple times a week. I have a good support network. They sacrificed a lot. When we were younger, there were a lot of vacations we didn't go on because we had baseball tournaments."
Those trips brought the Kouzmanoff family to places such as Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, and eventually, Arlington, where Kevin made his Major League debut when Travis Hafner went down with an injury.
"When he got called up," Marc said, "my reaction was concern and performance. I wanted him to do well, no matter what level. I didn't think, 'Oh, you made it. Great, let's celebrate.' I just thought, 'All right, Kevin, here we go. Now we gotta go to work.'"
Marc is still preaching those words to son Kevin. And Kevin is still taking them to heart.
"His mental foundation is absolutely perfect," Marc says. "I don't know how he got that."
Anyone acquainted with the Kouzmanoff family, however, knows exactly where it came from.
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.