Braxton Kelly has been playing baseball ever since he was big enough to pick up the ball. Never did he see himself setting records, though.
Kelly’s first experience with baseball was with his grandfather.
“Early on, growing up and stuff, my grandpa would squat down and let me pitch to him; being 65 or 70 years old he would bend down and let me pitch to him,” Kelly said. “My grandma would be behind the net that we had up in the yard and I would be pitching to him (his grandpa) and she would be the umpire.”
Baseball is in Kelly’s blood. His brother inspired him to pick up baseball while playing middle school ball when Kelly was very young.
“Obviously my dad had a big part in (inspiring me to play baseball) and both my cousins played college ball so it was kind of in the bloodline, if you will,” Kelly said.
Kelly wasn’t sure if he had the same love as the rest of his family, though. He contemplated stepping off the mound for good.
“I almost gave (baseball) up going into high school and I just wasn't feeling very above average I guess,“ Kelly said. "I kinda felt more drawn to other things. Then you know, stuff started happening and I started throwing a little harder and it worked out for me I guess because I'm standing here now.”
The moment that Kelly stepped foot on a varsity mound for the first time, he knew that baseball was for him. In his first ever varsity outing, the right hander threw four perfect innings.
From then on, he was hooked.
Once he got to Ohio, Kelly bounced around all pitching roles before eventually settling in as the team's permanent closer during the 2023 season.
When he first came to Athens, Kelly wanted to be a starting pitcher because that is what he knew from his high school career. He quickly realized, however, that the closing role was nearly more important than being a starter.
Kelly has always loved the role as closer, more than anything else he’s done at Ohio.
“The back end of the bullpen suits me because my attitude when I go out to the mound is to go right at people and be in their face and not let them breathe for as long as I'm in the game,” Kelly said. “I feel like that suits my personality and suits how I pitch best.”
Pitching for the Bobcats, Kelly has done a lot more than just rack up numbers worthy of being one of the greatest closers in school history.
Kelly had a great mentor for the role, too. Brett Manis, who graduated in 2022, had been the team’s primary closer. Kelly watched Manis and was inspired. He wanted to continue the tradition Manis had set.
Kelly has tallied six saves so far this season and with just three more, he would officially pass his former teammate and move into a tie for the third most saves in a single season in school history.
“I didn’t expect to be in that position, but whatever I can do to help my team is what I'm gonna try to do. After racking up a couple (saves) there in the beginning, I was like yeah this feels good, this feels right, this feels like the spot that I’m supposed to be in,” Kelly said. “It’s pretty cool that my name could possibly be mentioned in the record books.”
Kelly is never afraid of the big moment. Whether he needs one big pitch or three big outs, Kelly is always locked in and ready to come in and secure an Ohio victory.
“I’ve grown as a person and as a baseball player more than you could ever imagine,” Kelly said. “I’ve been forced to grow up to play this game at this university and it’s paid off for me so much in so many facets of life. I feel like baseball does that for you, it prepares you for life.”
Through it all, Kelly never forgot where he got his start in baseball. It doesn’t matter if he’s getting a start or coming in for the ninth.
“Even today, when (my grandpa) comes to a ballgame he comes into the ballpark and that guy is my hero. I think that if I can grow up to be half the man that he is, I think I'll be doing all right,” Kelly said.
Kelly’s grandpa is his role model and that has never changed throughout his whole life and his whole baseball career. The two have an intense bond that is partially fueled by baseball. Kelly’s grandpa was an athlete and he loves getting to see Kelly’s love for sports grow.
Kelly is reaching the end of his final year at Ohio and while the future for him is still unclear, the right handed closer will always remember the time he had in Athens and what the game of baseball has meant to him.
“I think that whatever I do, I’ll be successful because of what this game has prepared me for and what it has given me,” Kelly said. “Leaving this game behind, if I have to at the end of this season, I think that it’ll be the toughest thing that I’ve ever done.”
Had Kelly’s grandpa not played catch with him or had he given up the sport, he wouldn’t have played for Ohio. Kelly’s family helped him recognize the importance of baseball, and now he’s an important part of Ohio history.