MICHIGAN CITY — As IU baseball players came off the major league draft board in unprecedented numbers for the program last month, Logan Kaletha couldn’t help but wonder if his fortunes had turned out more favorably.
“Both of my roommates got picked,” Kaletha said of Matt Lloyd and Matt Gorski. “(Lloyd)’s one of my best friends. I was more excited for him than I would have been for myself. That part was tough. I filled out 15, 20 (MLB) questionnaires last year. I was ranked top 10 senior, top 10 (rounds) draft pick. It sucks knowing what could have been.”
The former Michigan City football and baseball star started all 59 games for the Hoosiers as a junior. The rangy center fielder hit .261 with eight home runs and 31 RBI, including a memorable extra-inning, walk-off home run against Purdue. He wasn’t taken in the 2018 draft and with a coaching change in Bloomington, Kaletha trained back home last summer with Eric Griffin in anticipation of a possible free agent contract. Ultimately, he returned to school, transitioning smoothly with new dugout boss Jeff Mercer.
“He’s a great guy,” Kaletha said.
IU was in Knoxville for its second series of the season, when Kaletha made a seemingly routine throw back into the infield that would actually change the trajectory of his baseball career.
“I felt something in my shoulder that I don’t usually feel,” he said.
About a week later, the Hoosiers were out east for a series at Coastal Carolina, when Kaletha woke up “feeling bad,” as he described it. He received two cortisone shots and soldiered on.
“I didn’t feel anything with the cortisone,” he said. “I would catch the ball and flip it to Matt Gorski to throw it in. I didn’t want to get an MRI. The trainer said not to do it. Teams have access to medical records, so they would’ve known. Scouts wanted to know why I was DH’g. (I start) 59 straight games last year, 15 this year, then I’m out. They knew something was wrong.”
After an 0-for-15 slump, likely hastened by the injury, Kaletha sat the next five games. After a week off, he returned March 19 and played a weekend series against Iowa when he made a hook slide into second base, catching his ankle. Two partial ligament tears would make the shoulder issue a moot point. IU (37-23) went on to win the Big Ten regular-season title and qualified for the NCAA tournament, but Kaletha was largely on the outside looking in.
“I really wanted it, my last year of college ball, and I was upset I couldn’t fulfill what I had planned,” he said. “I was excited for that and then boom. Just being with the guys, that was the hardest part. I was so close to all of them. I couldn’t travel to Big Ten games. My mom’s a flight attendant, so we flew to some of them, but I had to sit in the stands. I’d come home on weekends. It was really tough.”
Since the ankle injury happened early enough in the season, the NCAA granted Kaletha a medical redshirt to return in 2020. While the ankle fully healed, a recent MRI revealed a complete labrum tear in his right arm. Last week, he announced on social media that he was done with baseball.
“It was going to be six months of recovery, only to show in the spring how good I would be for opening day,” Kaletha said. “Mentally, I knew I was done for about six, seven months. I was ready. I gave it my all. I knew I was done physically, mentally, emotionally. I can’t thank the (IU) coaching staff, the university enough. The one thing I loved the most was the people I met, the best friends I made.”
While it’s only natural to have tinges of disappointment, Kaletha is taking what some would see as a lousy stroke of bad luck in a mature, positive vein.
“I’m not going to live by what ifs,” he said. “I’m not upset at all. I’m ready to start my life. My dad always said your career is going to end sometime, whether you’re 18, 20, 21. I happen to be 23. I’m happy. I can’t complain. I got to rep my home state, from Michigan City, Indiana. Not many do that. It’s allowed me to do things, instilled a work ethic in me. I’m so grateful for everything. If you would’ve told me my freshman year of high school I’d be the starting center fielder at IU, I’d tell you you’re nuts.”
A college-level wide receiver in high school, Kaletha also considered playing football in college, though his dad Scott persuaded him to stay with baseball. He was set to walk on at Ball State as a pitcher when an opportunity to go to John A. Logan College (Illinois) as an outfielder presented itself. Kaletha earned all-conference honors twice at the junior college, where he was noticed by IU.
“It’s crazy how it happened,” he said. “I tell kids to go to junior college. It will change you. It’s probably the hardest thing to do, but it will make you such a good person because it makes you work hard and you’re on your own. You go to (a four-year school), you can see which guys were pampered and which guys were hard-nosed.”
Kaletha has three classes left to take to complete his undergraduate degree work, which he’ll do online. He’s working to save up money for a move to San Diego with long-time girlfriend Sam Milich, who’s also an M.C. grad.
“I hate the cold,” he said. “We just decided we want to get out for a while. I was home three weeks and I was ready. I’ve got three or four buddies from the team who live there so I’m not going blind.”
Plans are to get an emergency medical technician certification in order to become a fireman, like his dad.
“My brother (Mason)’s going into it, too,” Kaletha said. “I just want to help people.”
While baseball may be done, it’s safe to say Kaletha will be showing up in the outfield on a slow-pitch softball diamond sooner or later.
“I’ll always love it,” he said.