Prep Baseball & Softball

Love of the game: Free baseball skills camp honors legacy of former Althoff player

Mike Kelley is a former area pitcher whose love of baseball has generated a free baseball skills camp to be held in his honor.
Mike Kelley is a former area pitcher whose love of baseball has generated a free baseball skills camp to be held in his honor.

Looking for a way to honor the memory of former Althoff High and Southwestern Illinois College baseball pitcher Mike Kelley, the family decided to focus on Kelley’s enduring love of baseball.

As a result, metro-east children in grades 3-8 will be able to participate in a free baseball skills camp June 6-9 at Whitey Herzog Field in Belleville. Among the instructors at the first Mike Kelley Foundation Camp are former major league pitchers Kirk Rueter (San Francisco Giants) and Randy Wells (Chicago Cubs) along with area high school coaches and many of Kelley’s former teammates and friends.

Kelley died May 14, 2015 after battling cancer. He was 28.

“My dad pretty much came up with the idea,” said Tom Kelley, Mike’s younger brother and former teammate. “We were brainstorming and trying to think of a way to carry on Mike’s legacy. It was kind of a natural fit because he loved baseball so much.”

To register for the camp, call the Belleville Parks and Recreation Department at 233-1416 or visit the parks office at 510 W. Main St., in Belleville to fill out an application.

Mike Kelley worked as a recreational therapist at Lincoln Prairie Behavioral Hospital in Springfield, directing recreational programs for children. He adopted a “Refuse To Lose” mindset that friends and family rallied behind during his illness.

He loved baseball and he wanted to spend the rest of his life working with kids, so why not do a baseball camp and make it free to anyone in the area. It was a natural fit for two of Mike’s biggest passions.

Tom Kelley

“He loved baseball and he wanted to spend the rest of his life working with kids, so why not do a baseball camp and make it free to anyone in the area,” Tom Kelley said. “It was a natural fit for two of Mike’s biggest passions. We’re trying to reach as many kids in the area as we can.”

Kelley’s father, Randy Kelley, played college baseball and is a St. Clair County association judge.

“One of our motivations is to perpetuate Mike’s legacy for as long as we can and let people remember what a great guy he always was,” Randy Kelley said. “A lot of that stemmed from the fact that he cared a lot about people and cared a lot about kids and loved baseball. This just seemed like a sure-fire way to accomplish all those things.”

Former Althoff High baseball coach Brett Isaacs, who coached Mike Kelley in high school, is serving as camp director.

“One of the things we’re luckiest about is we’ve got Brett Isaacs running the camp, who has 20 years of experience running baseball camps,” Randy Kelley said. “It gives us a chance to learn how to do that and after this first year grow it greater and greater. Mike had many teammates and friends and so many of them are rallying around and wanting to participate in this.”

If we can keep kids interested and keep baseball growing, that’s probably something that would make Mike as happy as anything.

Randy Kelley

Plans are in the mix to make the camp an annual event with the idea of involving as many of the area’s young players as possible.

“The first year is obviously going to be the hardest as far as building interest and getting the word out,” Tom Kelley said. “We’re hopeful that the kids that show up in year one can go back and tell all their friends how cool it was. The kids that come are going to get some high-level instruction for free that they wouldn’t get at a typical summer baseball camp.”

The Belleville Parks and Recreation and Curt Smith Sporting Goods in downtown Belleville are also involved with the event, creating and distributing camp fliers, printing camp t-shirts and providing equipment.

Randy Kelley recalled the many hours he spent playing catch with his sons in the backyard. That helped spark a love in the sport they both picked up on -and one Kelley hopes can be passed on to youngsters at the camp.

“If we can keep kids interested and keep baseball growing, that’s probably something that would make Mike as happy as anything,” Randy Kelley said.

In addition to the camp, a Trivia Night is set for 7 p.m. June 10 at Althoff High to help raise funds for the Mike Kelley Foundation and the camp.

Norm Sanders: 618-239-2454, @NormSanders

Mike Kelley Foundation Baseball Camp

  • June 6-9 at Whitey Herzog Field in Belleville
  • Free camp is for players in grades 3-4, 5-6 and 7-8
  • Instruction staff: includes former major league pitchers Kirk Rueter and Randy Wells, former Althoff High coach Brett Isaacs, local high school coaches and Kelley’s many friends, family and former teammates

TO REGISTER: Call the Belleville Parks and Recreation Department at 233-1416, or visit the office at 510 West Main St., in Belleville; registration deadline May 16

Mike Kelley Foundation Trivia Night

  • 7 p.m. June 10 at Althoff High School in Belleville
  • Tables of 10 are $250

TO REGISTER: email Mo Kelley at mokelley8@gmail.com

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