By Dave Krider
Some day, perhaps in the not-too-distant future, former NFL standout Howie Long is going to be walking down a street, or shopping at a mall and a passerby will whisper to a friend, “There goes Howie Long. He’s the father of Kyle Long, the baseball star.”
Kyle Long is a 6-foot-7, 275-pound senior pitcher-first baseman who already holds borderline legendary status at St. Anne’s-Belfield in Charlottesville, Va. He can run 40 yards in a swift 4.7 seconds and was good enough in football to attract scholarship offers from 50 major colleges before signing for baseball at Florida State University.
So far this spring, the left-handed slugger is batting a lofty .491 with three home runs, two triples and six doubles. He has driven in 17 runs and stolen 22 bases in 24 attempts. He has drawn 14 walks – 10 intentional. He also has pitched a no-hitter with 13 strikeouts. An error kept him from a perfect game, but thanks to a double play he faced the minimum 21 batters.
“My first impression of him (as a sophomore) was what a freak athlete he is,” baseball coach Eric McGrane told MaxPreps. “He runs like a deer. I was just blown away by what a great athlete he is. We worked with him on balance, opening up and keeping his shoulder in. That’s all we had to do. The rest was just repetition.”
Football coach John Blake calls him “the most dominant kid ever around here. He pummels people.” Blake added that college coaches who recruited him were extremely disappointed that he chose baseball.
The sensitive teenager showed his maturity when he “made sure to thank every single one of them (who were closely recruiting him for football). To each his own and I’m very happy with my decision.”
Long’s “first sports memory” was at age six when he hit a ball and after touching first base, he kept running straight ahead into right field. Maybe he didn’t know the rules that well, but he was sure that baseball was and still is his “first love. I just loved hitting the ball and winning games. You are blessed to be able to play every day. There’s not the wear and tear on your body like in football and basketball. It’s awesome.”
Always big for his age, Long played Little League from ages 9-12. As a 12-year-old all-star, he helped his team reach the state championship game. A two-run loss was tough to swallow, but it still was the best showing ever by a team from its district.
Kyle notes that his dad “used to throw the best batting practice that I’ve ever seen. Everybody who batted against him can say that they’ve taken Howie Long deep.”
Long began playing Pop Warner football as an eighth grader. “I wasn’t really serious about football and didn’t know what I was doing,” he admitted. He also had a black stripe on his helmet because he was over the weight limit (6-2, 210 pounds) and, therefore, was not allowed to touch the ball. That’s why when he once stole the ball from a running back and scored from about 40 yards, the touchdown didn’t count.
As a 6-3, 220-pound freshman, Long made the varsity baseball team at Western Abemarle in Crozet, Va. He rode the bench for about the first third of the season. He was sent up to pinch hit in the sixth inning against Louisa County with runners on second and third and his team trailing by a run.
“I only had one warm-up hack,” he noted. “I doubled off the wall and both runs scored. We ended up winning by a run and I started for the rest of the season.”
During his sophomore year, Long was co-MVP, hitting around .400 and pitching well enough to beat the No. 1 team in the district during the district semifinals.
However, he then decided to transfer to St. Anne’s-Belfield where older brother Chris (this year’s No. 2 NFL draft pick) had been starring in football. “I wanted to play football at St. Anne’s because of all the things he (coach Blake) did for Chris,” Kyle explained. “They are strong academically and they have probably the best facilities for football and baseball in the state.”
So he repeated 10th grade and “started to play football seriously. I got to enjoy it and win back-to-back state championships (as a junior and senior). It’s an experience I’ll never forget.” He started at left tackle on offense and at defensive end, making all-conference on defense.
His first baseball season with the Saints was memorable because he “finally started pitching (6-0 record) and hit my first non-Little League home run. I batted around .480 and really started understanding that I wanted to play baseball (after high school). In the state tourney I was 10-for-11 with a lot of intentional walks. I hit a bomb in the state championship game.”
How far did the “bomb” go? “That’s still under speculation,” Long deadpanned. Coach McGrane believes it soared a prodigious 550 feet. It cleared the 330-foot fence at Colonial Heights Park in Richmond, also cleared a water tower 50 feet behind the fence, soared over a house and landed in a backyard.
“It just seemed like slow motion,” McGrane described. “It went over the infield and then just accelerated. I looked in the stands and everybody was on his cell phone. Our assistant coach, Larry Mitchell, played for the Phillies and he said he never saw a home run go that far.”
Howie Long tracked down the ball and walked into the middle of a cook-out. Needless to say, the people were shocked to see such a big celebrity crash their party.
Oh, and by the way, the Saints (22-4) won that Division I Independent Schools state title game by a score of 6-0 over Fairfax Paul VI.
Though Long has amazing power, he still is a line-drive hitter much more than a home run hitter. McGrane points out, “The ones that go out are usually the ones that he misses (does not hit squarely).” Long adds emphasis when he points out, “I have one home run this year and it happened to be a popup.”
Once a Chicago Cubs scout asked McGrane why Long didn’t hit more home runs. “Because he hits line drives,” the coach replied. “He hit four lazers that day and after the game the scout said, ‘OK, I get it.’ ’’
At one point in his career Long was thinking about trying to play the outfield when a coach told him, “Stay at first base because you can’t run.” Long noted, “I believed him at the time. I used to not be able to run at all. Then summer workouts came and I started beating some running backs. I said, ‘I can do this.’ It didn’t just happen. Every day I go to the weight room. Every day I run sprints.”
McGrane points out that Long, who now plays first base and right field when not pitching, “was like a big puppy and just hadn’t grown into his body yet. If you tell him he can’t do something, just watch his next game.”
Long really came into his own as a football player during his junior year. He helped the Saints win the Division II Private Schools state title and was named All-State on offense and defense. A nice bonus was being able to play with his younger brother, Howie, who was the starting quarterback and has committed to the University of Virginia for lacrosse.
His junior year in baseball also was outstanding as he batted a superb .538 with five home runs, three triples, six doubles, 25 runs batted in and 22 stolen bases. He struck out only six times in 65 at bats. On the mound he posted a 1-0 record as a closer. In 32.3 innings, he struck out 62 and compiled a 1.86 earned run average.
However, few baseball scouts ever had heard of him and he never had been clocked on a radar gun. That all changed in June when he was invited to the Perfect Game Showcase in Cincinnati, Ohio, where they used wood – not metal – bats.
“There were great players there and they didn’t know who I was,” Long related. “All they knew was that I was Howie Long’s son, which kind of sucks. I threw the second day and I said I thought I could throw 88-89. My first pitch was 92 and it went straight up: 93-94-95 and then 96. My teammates wouldn’t talk to me. They were freaking out in the dugout. I would have been happy to throw 89. It must have been the wind,” he quipped. “Things kind of loosened up after that.”
Oh, and he also belted a 475-foot home run during batting practice.
“I got calls two seconds after he hit it,” McGrane claimed. “There were some pretty high-powered schools that called. I won’t say which ones they were because he already had committed to Florida State. Then he throws 96. We always knew he was special, but this was the first time he ever went to a showcase. It was almost like the whole world changed that day. He was invited to Aflac and Area Code and all the scouts were calling.”
However, he turned down the chance to play in any more showcase events out of loyalty to his football teammates so he could prepare for his senior year. The Saints had an outstanding junior, Bryan Stinnie (6-5, 250), who played Long’s positions, prompting Long to tell coach Blake that he “could play a skill position. He didn’t believe me.”
Don’t tell Kyle Long he can’t do something, because he’ll work his tail off until he proves you wrong. He wound up playing quarterback, tight end, running back and linebacker in addition to his normal positions of offensive tackle and defensive end. In one game he scored four touchdowns (two on catches and two on runs). He helped the Saints win another state title and made the MaxPreps All-American team.
Long carries a 2.9 GPA and lists English as his favorite class. He plans to major in elementary education and could become a coach some day. During his junior year he played a cowboy in “Oklahoma.”
Having idolized players such as Ken Griffey Jr. and Ryan Howard, Long, of course, dreams of being a Major League player. He pointed out, “I wear No. 24 now because Griffey used to wear it.”
Once Kyle no longer is Howie’s son, Chris’s younger brother or Howie’s older brother, he’s only going to have one more problem. Will he be an every-day player or pitcher at the college and professional level? Some problem, huh?
“People have never known,” says coach McGrane. “I never really labeled him.”
Long confesses, “I don’t think anybody knows. I’ll do whatever coaches ask. I just want to have some spikes on.”