Twenty years ago, Gene Kitchens was a rookie on the amateur baseball scene.
Fresh off his first season with Dakota Wesleyan University, a 21-year-old Kitchens set single-game state amateur records with seven hits and 13 RBIs while playing with now-defunct Mitchell CorTrust. He also parlayed that game into the state record for consecutive hits in two games with 18.
A lot has changed since 1999, though.
Kitchens is still playing, and although his current team Dimock/Emery was ousted in the first round by the Dell Rapids Mudcats on Sunday at Cadwell Park, he was able to get a front row seat to see his son, Drew, play in his first state tournament game -- as a teammate -- before he goes to college at the University of Sioux Falls.
“There were some old guys playing on our team and they were playing with their kid,” Gene said. “It’s just one of those things I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It was a good year.”
Gene has run the gamut in amateur baseball, starting with that 1999 season following his junior season at DWU, where he attended after growing up in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
He stayed in Mitchell, playing for the 2002 Mitchell University Physical Therapy team’s Class A state runner-up squad, before switching to Mount Vernon for the chance to play in the Class B state tournament and eventually landing with the Raptors four years ago.
There is a three-year gap in his playing career, as he took a hiatus to coach Drew, who went on to become a standout with Mitchell High School and Mitchell’s Post 18 Legion program. Drew surpassed the age limit to play American Legion baseball, thrusting him into amateur baseball before going to play for USF.
“It was probably one of the best summers I’ve ever had,” Drew said. “We give each grief here and there, but we push each other. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, just like he has, and I’ve just had a blast.”
Drew spent most of the season as the lead-off hitter for the Raptors, with Gene in the No. 2 spot in the order.
They often had friendly competitions, like who would have the higher batting average or more doubles at the end of the year -- Drew edged Gene, .351 to .254, but Gene had nine doubles to Drew’s eight.
Gene did admit that he drove in more runs, because Drew was ahead of him in the order and scored from first on his singles. Even though Drew put up better numbers this season, he still molds his game after his father.
“I’ve adopted some his style at the plate,” Drew said. “I would say it’s pretty similar.”
With Drew -- the second of Gene and wife Liz’s four children -- set to move off to college, life changes a bit. But as long as Gene can stay healthy, they plan to continue playing together during the summers.
“It’s going to suck, but it’s a new chapter in his life,” Gene said. “He’s staying close to home, so I can catch a lot of baseball games. I’m ready to see what he can do in college and see how he can handle it. He’s a good player, so he should be all right.”
As for Gene’s memories of that record-setting game 20 years ago?
“All I remember was my wife was there,” Gene said. “And my mother-in-law was there, watching me for the first time and I didn’t want to disappoint her. On my seventh hit, I got thrown out at third or I would have hit for the cycle. Steve Morgan was umpiring third and I was clearly safe.
“So, he kind of ruined that for me,” Gene joked.