He did not hit a walkoff grand slam in a varsity playoff game. Somebody else, the team’s star, did, no surprise. Except for a handful of baseball games in his only varsity season, his senior season, he watched his Lake Forest High School teammates pitch and hit and run and field from his spot in a dugout.
Adam Kwiatt accepted his role. Never complained. Never punched the inside of his glove and demanded, “Put me in, Coach!” Putting on a varsity uniform was a privilege to him.
The Adam Kwiatt Baseball Story is an unconventional one for a media outlet. It is also one worth telling. Baseball-loving kid beats odds more than once, experiences joy, endures heartbreak. Resiliency and commitment and perseverance join hands to lift him during the heartbreak. Baseball-loving kid generates resolve and experiences joy again.
“One of the best teammates I’ve ever had,” Cal Coughlin, an infielder/pitcher and a 2016 LFHS graduate, says of Kwiatt, also a ’16 LFHS graduate.
He hit a walkoff grand slam in a playoff game in ’16.
The Adam Kwiatt Baseball Story started a little more than three years ago, in a gymnasium at LFHS. He and the rest of the baseball players hoping to make one of the program’s two freshman teams entered it on the first day of tryouts, in the spring of 2013. Kwiatt, his eyes bigger than baseballs, looked around and looked up, surveying his competition.
He made an observation.
He kept the observation to himself.
“I was the smallest guy in the gym, by far,” Kwiatt recalls. “I had just reached 5 feet.”
The middle infielder fielded ground balls, unusually fast ones, because a gymnasium’s hardwood doesn’t tame a baseball like infield grass does. Kwiatt’s quick feet and quick hands and baseball instincts allowed his glove to trap ground ball after ground ball after ground ball.
“The coaches eventually had a game going, seeing who could hit a ball past me,” Kwiatt says.
None of the coaches won the game. Kwiatt, winner, gobbled up every bouncing — no, every scooting — bullet.
Kwiatt and the other hopefuls showed up for four more days of tryouts. Kwiatt made it, as a ‘B’ teamer for most the season, as an ‘A’ teamer when an ill starter had to sit out for a stretch of games. Three batted balls found Kwiatt at shortstop in one inning in his first ‘A’ game. He fielded all of them cleanly. He made the sophomore baseball team in ’14, after playing summer league ball for the Scouts.
Kwiatt sought to become a varsity baseball player one year later, after another summer league season. Day One of the tryouts arrived. Kwiatt looked around again and surveyed the competition again.
“I was still the smallest,” he says.
No matter. He’d show them, show them all, he was still worth a look, still a viable candidate for a roster spot. The smallest guy in the varsity crop stood 5-foot-6 and weighed 140 pounds. It is hard to weigh enthusiasm, but Kwiatt had at least a ton of it. Optimism? He owned plenty of that, too, his body language expressing it clearly whenever he swung a bat or squeezed a grounder. On the last day of tryouts, Scouts varsity coach Ray Del Fava and Scouts assistant coach Bill San Hamel had some news and a proposal for Kwiatt.
The news wasn’t good.
“It came down to my size and my arm,” Kwiatt says, “My arm strength, it just wasn’t strong enough, and the varsity had high expectations that year, with a lot of returning guys, with a lot of very good players. We had Cal [Coughlin, a transfer from Carmel Catholic and a Division I prospect]. I’d always been able to work around my limitations in baseball, overcome them. They didn’t have room for me. They cut me.”
The news stung him. Baseball had been Kwiatt’s spring thing, his fun escape. He’d wake up, look forward to hitting the diamond, attend school, hit the diamond, go home, hang out with his dogs (Heidi and Shasta) and do it all over again the next day. There was comfort in his routine. Baseball would no longer be a part of his routine.
Kwiatt absorbed the tough news in front of the coaches. Del Fava and San Hamel then delivered their proposal to the junior. Their pitch, no mound necessary: Would you be interested in being the varsity’s student manager?
A Del Fava varsity team at LFHS had never included a student manager. Kwiatt considered the offer and accepted it.
“I still wanted to be around baseball,” says Kwiatt, a T-ball and travel baseball player before his freshman year. “I love the sport, always will, and I knew I’d be happy as along as I was anywhere near it.”
A little more than a week after he was cut, Kwiatt threw his first batting practice as the team manager. Scouts took their cuts. Scouts liked Kwiatt’s pitch speed and ability to locate the ball. Texas Christian University-bound Coughlin loved taking BP from Kwiatt. Nobody else could pitch BP to Coughlin — Coughlin’s order. Coughlin sometimes wanted to go another round, and Kwiatt obliged each time.
Among Kwiatt’s other duties: hitting grounders to infielders and pop-ups to outfielders; making sure the other team’s lineup got posted in the Scouts’ dugout; keeping the scorebook. He reached beyond-meticulous status as a scorekeeper. If he didn’t like the way he had filled in (using a pencil) a little diamond in the scorebook, he’d erase it and fill it in again. It had to be military-made-bed neat.
“Adam,” Del Fava says, “kept a great book. He could teach a class on keeping a scorebook in baseball. I’m old-school, and when I get home from a game at night, I like to look at the book and recall what happened in the game, inning by inning. Adam made that process easier for me.”
The Scouts’ 2015 season ended. Summer rolled around, and Kwiatt played a third season of summer league ball. He picked up a bat again on Game Days, not a pencil. He hadn’t faced live pitching in what seemed forever. Back in a batter’s box, back into the swing of things. His coat of rust fell off him. Kwiatt was home. On a diamond.
Kwiatt had one eye on getting his timing back in the summer and the other on making the 2016 varsity baseball team in he spring. He appeared for the first day of winter workouts for LFHS baseball players in early ’16.
“Seeing Adam that day, on that first day, showed me, showed all of us, how determined he was,” classmate and pitcher Matthew Peterson, a Villanova recruit, says. “He was motivated to do what he had to do to be ready [for tryouts]. He was a blood-sweat-and-tears kid when it came to baseball at Lake Forest High School, on and off the field. Loving kid, caring kid. Worked hard, studied hard. You could not have asked for a better teammate than Adam.”
Kwiatt made the varsity team in the spring. That meant on Game Days he’d get to put his left sock on first, then his right sock, followed by his left cleat, then his right cleat. His quaint ritual. Del Fava and San Hamel lost a student manager, sort of. [Kwiatt still kept the book for most of the season.] The future University of Illinois animal science major made 12 plate appearances in five games, singling three times in nine at-bats and scoring three runs. He got hit by a pitch twice, walked once, stole a base, drove in a run and finished with an on-base-percentage of .455. Can you see Del Fava at home, scorebook in his hands, recalling what Kwiatt did at the plate in games? Can you see Del Fava nodding? Smiling?
“Adam,” Del Fava says, “could have taken the easy way and not come out for baseball in his senior year. Instead, he continued to work and stay positive, and he earned that varsity uniform. He was quiet at first, being a first-year varsity player, but his personality emerged, and he ended up fitting in so well with his teammates. He was selfless, cared about the team. Great to have around.
“Adam,” the coach adds, “epitomized the type of person we want to represent our program.”