Kime goes from small town to big time in pros
The city of Defiance, Ohio is a bit of cliché.
Overgrown maple trees line the two-lane roads. Fountains spray throughout the city’s 11 public parks while little leaguers practice fly-balls in the background. With a population just under 17,000 and the typical graduating class just over 100 students, Defiance is small-town, U.S.A. in its purest form.
The high school baseball coach, probably a science or math teacher, hits ground balls to the infielders and works with the outfielders on hitting their cut-off men. The kids stand there, hands on hips, staring blankly at their coach. The guy probably played a little high school ball himself, maybe even Division III in college.
The team’s ace is assumingly a good kid and a decent student, popular amongst his peers. He might have a fastball that sits in the upper 70s, and curveball he can throw for a strike about half of the time, but not much else. He probably has a jewelry box stuffed with a few scholarship offers inside from regional colleges, but will most likely just stay local to be close to his buddies.
Just another high school baseball program in rural Ohio. A cliché of beauty and baseball.
But as you keep watching this practice unfold, you get the feeling that something is different about this place. The coach, Tom Held, actually looks like he knows what he doing. He doesn’t look like just a science or math teacher. The guy looks like he could play college baseball right now. He’s not simply hitting ground balls to kill time, he’s meticulously working on back-hands, front-hands, and double-play transfers. His coaching resume reads more like a professional coach’s rather than a high school coach’s.
Held, who not only holds a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, also played baseball at the collegiate and professional level. There aren’t too many high school baseball coaches in northwest Ohio with that kind of resume.
But it doesn’t stop there. Held has also made three state championship appearances as a head coach, including one win. Since becoming the manager at Defiance High School in 1999, the team has gone 275-50, good for an 85% winning percentage, and had six players get drafted, including current major-leaguers Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Niese.
The most recent of those drafted is Dace Kime, who was picked up in the third round of this year's draft by the Indians.
Growing up in Defiance, Kime was sure to face quite a bit of pressure heading into high school. After all, it was well known that Kime had the potential to be the next big thing to come out of the small town. But the righty didn’t feel any pressure from the community.
“It didn’t really affect me," Kime said. "If anything, it just pushed me to work harder because I wanted to be better than those guys (Billingsley and Niese.) I know a lot of people were watching me, but I just wanted to be the best.”
Kime grew up as one of five children in small-town Defiance. Playing under Tom Held at Defiance High School, Kime thrived from day one and became dominant by his sophomore season. In that campaign, Kime sported a 10-1 record to go along with a 0.66 ERA.
That performance got him noticed, but the accolades really started piling up during his junior season. With invites to Perfect Game's National Showcase, the East Coast Showcase, and the Area Codes showcase, Kime had arrived. Being a First Team All-State selection and earning the 2009 Western Buckeye League Co-Player of the Year award didn’t hurt either.
Kime entered his senior year with the added pressure of being named a Preseason Louisville Slugger All-American. He responded with a 7-1 record and a 1.31 ERA. Following his high school graduation, the Pittsburgh Pirates made Kime an eighth round selection in the MLB Draft, but Kime stayed true to his commitment to the University of Louisville. He left for Louisville two months later.
During his stay at Louisville, Kime bounced between starting and relief work, but did his best work as a starter this past spring. That magical Louisville run this season season saw the team win a school-record 51 games, as well as make their second College World Series in school history. For his career, Kime compiled an 8-3 record with a 3.73 ERA.
The Indians assigned Kime to short season Single-A Mahoning Valley to begin his professional career. The team’s goal it seems is to stretch out Kime as a starting pitcher by slowly adding innings to his appearances, which they have done all season.
Kime, who stands 6-feet-5, uses his long frame to produce good downhill action on his arsenal of pitches, which include a fastball, curveball, changeup, and a cutter. His fastball sits anywhere from 89-92 MPH while occasionally hitting 94 MPH. His curveball has progressed greatly throughout 2013 and now shows the potential to be a plus-pitch.
All of this downhill action has given Kime the ability to regularly induce groundball outs, but his calling card is still the swing-and-miss. Through 21 innings with Mahoning Valley, Kime has struck out 23 batters, good for a 9.86 K/9 rate. Though it’s a small sample size, the potential to be an elite strikeout artist is there. During his three-year college career, playing in one of the toughest conferences in the country, Kime improved his K/9 each season, starting with a 9.0 K/9, improving to an 11.44 his sophomore year, all the way up to an 11.78 his junior year.
For being a town with just under 17,000 residents, Defiance, Ohio has put together a high school baseball program that any community in the country would yearn for. With six former players drafted and a few more with major potential, Tom Held has turned more young men into professional ballplayers than some college programs.
When asked if he thought there was something special in the water in Defiance, Kime chuckled.
“Maybe there is," he said. "It’s the only explanation I can think of.”
More likely, though, it’s the countless hours that Kime has put in to become the best. And being the best in Defiance, Ohio takes a bit more work than in most small towns.