SAN DIEGO – It sometimes happens that when a young man is in hot pursuit of his dreams he will miss the opportunity to witness a close friend realize dreams very much like his own. And that’s exactly what happened to Kenyon Yovan Sunday night.
After participating in the inaugural Area Code Underclass Games in Long Beach, Calif., the last three days, Yovan and his grandfather, Terry Conklin, were driving south to San Diego at the same time the 12th annual Perfect Game All-American Classic was being televised live on the MLB Network.
That meant that Yovan was not only unable to attend the game but was also unable to watch on TV while his good friend, mentor and Portland (Ore.) Westfield High School teammate Parker Kelly realized his dream of playing in the PG All-American Classic.
Yovan had obligations of his own Sunday night. He needed to get to San Diego pronto to take part in the two-day Perfect Game Underclass All-American Games, a showcase event that began early Monday morning at the University of San Diego. And by staying in Long Beach Sunday afternoon he was able to play in his fourth game at the Area Code Underclass.
“It was a great experience, a lot of fun with the good talent that was there,” Yovan said Monday morning before taking batting practice at USD’s Fowler Park. “I got to throw a little bit (Sunday) and seeing some of the best hitters my age was a good experience. It was really eye-opening seeing some of the talent that comes in from across the nation.”
Yovan is a primary third baseman but also does quite a bit of pitching; he’s shown a fastball that sits 86-89 miles-per-hour and topped out at 90 mph at the 17u Perfect Game World Series in Goodyear, Ariz., in late July. Yovan is ranked No. 131 in the national class of 2016 as a third baseman.
He is looking forward to playing third and possibly pitching at the Underclass A-A Games. He wanted to be here after Kelly, who was named to both the Top Prospect List and Top Prospect Team at the 2013 PG Underclass All-American Games, told him about the showcase.
“Parker was telling me how great this event was, and I couldn’t hold back,” Yovan said. “Perfect Game is a big deal and coming down here to play the best competition in the nation is going to be a great experience.”
Both of Yovan’s parents – father, Jake Yovan; mother, Kerry Conklin-Yovan – were multi-sport athletes while in high school, but neither was able to accompany Kenyon on this California trip. That responsibility fell to Grandpa Conklin, Kerry Conklin-Yovan’s father, which he gladly accepted; he was certainly enjoying himself Monday morning.
“Playing against the top-level players in the country is always a great experience,” Conklin said. “It sharpens your game and teaches you addition things you need to work on in order to gain a better advantage. I look forward to this and I take advantage of every opportunity that I can to watch him play.
“It’s a treat to watch these kids play, and at this level of ball it’s even better.”
The 2013 Perfect Game/EvoShield National Championship (Underclass) in Goodyear, Ariz., last September was the first PG event Yovan participated in, playing with the West Coast Mariners. He followed that up with appearances at the 17u Perfect Game World Series back in Goodyear and at the 16u PG World Series in Fort Myers, Fla. – both with the West Coast Mariners – and was named to the all-tournament team at both events.
“Perfect Game puts on great tournaments; they know how to run their (events) really well,” Yovan said. “The stuff that they have and the teams that they bring out make it a lot better experience. People are talking about ‘Have you committed anywhere?’ or ‘Have you been talking to schools?’ and it’s just great to see all these guys out here; it’s great to see people out here who want to grind like this.”
Yovan calls Beaverton, Ore., home, a robust and cutting edge city in the Portland suburbs that is best known as the headquarters of athletic apparel and equipment giant Nike.
The level of the baseball being played in Oregon, in general, and in Beaverton, Portland and at Westview High School, in particular, is very high, according to Yovan. Like his good friend Kelly, Yovan has committed to the University of Oregon in Eugene.
Right-hander Tristan Duncan (Lakeside, Calif.) and infielder Spencer Steer (Long Beach, Calif.) are other 2016 prospects at the PG Underclass A-A Games that have committed to the Ducks.
“The big part of it was the coaches but also the study center at Oregon,” Yovan said of picking the Ducks’ program. “It was a big deal for me to improve my studies and get a higher education, and growing up a Ducks fan had a little bit to do with it, but really not that much. It was a great experience visiting some other colleges but Oregon came out on top and that’s where I wanted to go.”
Yovan said he plays baseball almost the year-around but is thinking of going out for basketball this winter because he feels being known as a two-sport athlete might be beneficial down the line. But deep-down, he’s always been a baseball guy.
There is baseball in Yovan’s genes, going back to Terry Conklin; Jake Yovan, and Terry’s son, Tim Conklin, who was drafted twice by the San Francisco Giants in 1994 and 1995.
“He started playing baseball when he was 2 years old in my living room,” Terry Conklin said of Kenyon. “Each year is different and each year he gains more experience and develops the skills that need to be developed to take him to the next level.
“The biggest thing here is the level of competition,” he continued. “The guys are playing with the best from around their area (during the school year), but they can come here and develop new friendships and new camaraderie with guys.”
And that’s why Kenyon is at the Underclass Games. There are 93 prospects here from all over the country – 87 2016s and six 2017s – and 24 of them have already committed to NCAA Division I schools as wide-spread as Dallas Baptist, St. John’s, Vanderbilt and ,yes, Oregon.
“I have to come in here humble because these kids are the cream of the crop,” Yovan said. “They’re trying to take a job from me in the future and they’re always trying to play hard. I just have to come out here humble because I might not be the top guy – all of these guys have the same talent – and I just have to show something that I have myself that maybe other guys don’t have.”
Kenyon Yovan had to miss his buddy Parker Kelly’s turn in the national spotlight Sunday night – Kelly was hit by a pitch and scored a run in the West’s 7-0 victory over the East at the PG A-A Classic – but it’s certain Kelly will understand. Sometimes a guy has to do what he has to do in pursuit of his dreams and besides, he’ll never forget the people that helped get him this far.
“Parker has been a great inspiration,” Yovan said. “He always picks me up and he’s like a big brother to me. We go together and hit every day during the winter, and he pushes me to work harder. My dad pushes me, too, and my family, overall, has had a big influence in my baseball; they help me every way they can. All of my friends and family, everyone has had a big impact on me so that’s always great.”