Max Kepler attended John F. Kennedy High School and, despite showing great promise in tennis, chose baseball to channel his athletic ambitions. JFK and America’s Pastime travel well. Kepler was born and raised in Berlin, Germany.
The German native had done little distinguish himself in his brief big league career before today’s walk-off homerun versus Boston, but he was ranked as the 30th best prospect by Baseball America prior to this season and figures prominently in the Twins long term outfield plans. With the team hopelessly buried in the cellar, Kepler should get an extended look this summer.
The 23-year-old and I chatted in the Twins clubhouse last week.
DZ: You’ve been up and down a couple of times this year, between here and Triple A, what’s that experience been like for you?
KEPLER: It’s not my favorite thing. During a season, I like try to find (someplace) where I am comfortable, get in a zone, playing everyday and stuff. But, I understand, being a young player coming up to the big leagues, it takes time to really get established as an individual and find that comfort zone. Especially when you are up there trying to hack a lot. The older guys know that the younger players are going to swing at a lot of stuff, so they throw a lot of stuff in the dirt. For me, it’s just being patient and letting time tell.
DZ: Who, if anyone, has taken you under their wing…?
KEPLER: Everyone. Mauer, older guys like Park, even though he’s a rookie in this league…Suzuki is a great guy to be around, Plouffe is cool to be around. Everybody is awesome here and I love watching them all play and learning from them.
DZ: You got a little taste of things last September, getting a call-up. How much did that change your outlook going into the off season?
KEPLER: It showed me what my future has to hold. What I have to work towards. September was a great way to finish last year. This year, I hope we can get a lot more W’s up here and progress as a team and also individually. As a young player, soak everything up while being up here.
DZ: The big thing a lot of people talk about you is that you are German. Grew up in Germany. How big is baseball over there?
KEPLER: Probably like soccer over here. It’s on the come-up, it’s growing. I think we are still lacking financially. We need more support. Baseball, I would say, is an expensive sport…We have loads of people who are interested in the sport. A lot of youth who are starting to get into it. Then again, soccer is overshadowing it.
DZ: Do you get a lot of coverage back home? Are they paying attention to you?
KEPLER: Yeah. I deleted all my social media and now that you said that, I am a little worried that I am missing a lot of messages and contacts from people back over there. But yeah, they are always trying to get in touch with me just to see how stuff is over here.
DZ: I also read that you were a really good tennis player growing up and had a chance to go to the Steffi Graf Academy.
KEPLER: Yeah, I was young, so I can’t really determine how good I was, but I got a scholarship at Graf’s Tennis Academy. I was playing multiple sports at the time and unfortunately, I had to give that up.
DZ: Do you play tennis now at all?
KEPLER: No. I do whenever me and my family are on a vacation, we go out for fun. Not regularly, no.
DZ: When you did come over here, what was the hardest thing about adjusting to the United States?
KEPLER: When I first came over, I was having to adapt to the weather in Florida. Ft Myers is pretty unbearable in the summer. 110 (degrees) and really humid. Other than that, I was used to a lot of things because I was over in the States visiting my mom’s family a lot.
(At this point, Oswaldo Arcia came up and shoved an ear bud into Kepler’s ear trying to get a reaction to a song. Kepler played it pretty cool and said, “It’s good. Show him” and pointed to me. Arcia laughed, removed the ear bud and walked away.)
Berlin is very Amercanized and I’ve always been around a lot of English speaking people, so it wasn’t much of a difference to me.
DZ: Ok. I noticed you have no trace of an accent.
KEPLER: Here and there, I have a couple of words that it will come out, but I speak a lot of English in my household when I can.
DZ: Do you have family that stays over here?
KEPLER: No. It’s just me. I have family throughout the US, but I am on my own.