USA TODAY has been recognizing the nation's top high school athletes for more than 30 years. As we prepare to unveil the 2014 American Family Insurance ALL-USA Baseball Team at the end of the season, we'll dig into the archives and check in with ALL-USA honorees from the past three decades. Today, we kick things off by catching up with TCU junior first baseman and designated hitter Kevin Cron, who was an ALL-USA player for Mountain Pointe High in Phoenix in 2011 and is considered a potential first-round choice in the June Amateur Draft.
Kevin Cron had an idyllic childhood, at least for a baseball player. While he was too young to see his father Chris play for the California Angels and Chicago White Sox, Kevin and his older brother C.J. spent their summers at the ballpark with their dad as he managed various minor league teams.
“My brother and I would stay with my dad the whole summer,” Cron said. “We would work out with the team and shag fly balls. Without really knowing the mentality of what playing baseball professionally was like, I kind of have a grasp of that from the get-go.”
Cron’s businesslike approach served him well as a power-hitting catcher in high school. He set the state record for most homers in a season with 27 his senior year at Mountain Pointe.
“He is the best player to come out of Arizona in the past 50 years,” said Mountain Pointe coach Brandon Buck. “He and his brother C.J. were both just freaks. C.J. was that hitter, where you can say, ‘Hit the ball the other way’ and he’ll just go out and do that. You ask him how he did that and he’ll say, ‘You told me to go the other way.’ With Kevin, you tell him to hit the other way and ask him how he did it and he’ll say, ‘I let the ball travel in, my hands were there’ and so on. He was more that type of hitter and I think C.J. (now a first baseman with the Class AAA Salt Lake City Bees) is becoming that now.”
Kevin was taken in the third round in the 2011 June draft by the Seattle Mariners, but chose instead to play for Texas Christian. His freshman year, despite a back injury that sidelined him for 17 games, he led TCU with a .338 batting average and was tied for second on the team in homers (six) and third in RBI (34). The Horned Frogs finished 40-22 and made it to the final of the Los Angeles Super Regional and Cron came up big in the postseason, homering in the first three games of the NCAA College Station Regional.
Then, last season, baseball ceased to be fun for the 6-5, 245-pound first baseman and designated hitter. The Frogs slipped to 29-28 in their first season in the Big 12 conference and Cron hit a career-low .208 with only two homers and 20 RBI.
“If your team is playing well, you’re doing something right,” Cron said. “If we have success, the middle of the order and the rest of the team is doing its part. Last year, the frustration of not doing that built up. I lost my ability to have fun while playing the game. I didn’t lose the passion, but you feel like you’re letting some people down. That’s something that I’ve learned to overcome.”
As he struggled with the first slump of his career, Cron turned to his brother and his father, who was managing the Class AA Erie (Pa.) Sea Wolves and is now a minor league hitting coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks. But for a hitter, sometimes too much analysis can lead to paralysis.
“That’s kind of been an Achilles’ heel,” Cron said. “I’ve always been someone who has always worked hard at my craft. Growing up, we always talked baseball. That was a major part of my life. That’s all we talked about. But, sometimes when things aren’t going right, I’m overthinking it.”
Cron’s turnaround began last summer when he played for Falmouth (Mass.) Commodores in the Cape Cod Baseball League. He was second in the league with a .350 batting average and was named the West Division’s MVP in the league All-Star Game.
“I went back to the basics, having fun and enjoying the game more,” Cron said. “We had a lot of good guys on my summer team. That was one of the most fun things. I made some lifelong friends. We definitely did some things that were out of the ordinary and I think that’s what made our team special. My team was full of a lot of different characters. They taught me how to have fun and a type of energy to the game that I had kind of lost last year. I had always been a player who plays at my best when I’m loose.”
Cron’s bat and glove stayed hot when he returned to TCU, which is 27-13 this season. He hasn’t had an error in 208 chances at first base, he’s hitting .269 with a team-leading .462 slugging percentage and four homers and is second on the team with 26 RBI.
“I’m more patient,” Cron said. “I have a better understanding for the type of things I do well. In college, you have to focus at the plate a little bit. You have to know what you do well and look for something you can handle. It’s more a matter of letting the game come to me, not trying to do too much and kind of trust my teammates to get it done.”
That doesn’t mean Cron has abandoned the sounding board of his brother and father.
“My brother and I will text back and forth after every game,” Cron said. “I’ll watch all his at-bats on line. We are each other’s biggest fans and we pretty much encourage each other. Baseball is a passion we both share and we try to have fun with it. My dad texts me after every game and he’ll just say, ‘How are the swings?’ There are days that my swing is great and I go 0-for-4 and other times that I go 2-for-3 and I was lucky. He understands that. That’s one of the good things about having a baseball family.”