By Jake Knabel, Director of Athletic Communications
As a senior and member of the Concordia baseball team during the 2009-10 school year, Spring, Texas, native Kevin Poppe could not have predicted that just a few years later he would be working with Major League Baseball players near his hometown. Not unlike many college seniors, Poppe rested unsure of what post-graduate life would bring.
Fast forward to 2014 and life is pretty good for Poppe, who never has to worry about wearing a suit and tie to work.
“Going into my senior year I didn’t know what I wanted to do yet,” Poppe said. “I was looking at internships at Northwestern Mutual. I never dreamed I would have a job where I could walk around in shorts and a T-shirt and work with guys who I’ve been a fan of. I’ve always tried not to worry about the future and put it in God’s hands. I couldn’t have asked for more.”
As Performance Specialist and Facility Director at Dynamic Sports Training (DST) in Houston, Poppe’s name has popped this summer in conjunction with the emergence of MLB all-star pitcher Scott Kazmir of the Oakland Athletics. Left for dead by most scouts who believed his former pitching prowess would never be recovered, the Houston native hit the comeback trail at DST with Poppe serving as his catcher for bullpen sessions that began in 2012.
Kazmir has spent offseasons working out with Poppe about four times a week. Poppe helped design regimens to push a fallen star who had not seen success at the big league level since 2008 when he starred for the Tampa Bay Rays.
“I’ve gotten to know him well. It turned into him versus the world,” Poppe said. “Everyone was giving up on him. I was a huge fan of his in Tampa Bay. I thought just playing catch with him was the coolest thing in the world. He’s never acted like he was big time. He was just there to get his work in.”
When the San Francisco Chronicle and ESPN.com detailed Kazmir’s remarkable return to form this season with the A’s, Kazmir made sure to pass along Poppe’s contact information for further details. The former Bulldog catcher and first baseman had no problem talking to media about the feel-good story.
He was honest about Kazmir’s difficulties in the beginning. Used to rushing his fastball up into the mid-90s with ease, the lefty hurler struggled to come anywhere near that velocity when he first started working with Poppe. At times Kazmir barely got the ball to the plate.
“When you see someone go through that you really want to see them succeed,” Poppe said. “There was a time he threw for 30 scouts and half of them left before he even finished throwing his bullpen. Scott continued to say that he had it in him. He just had to find it.
“Scouts would tell him there was no shame in calling it a career. His hometown Astros didn’t even come out to watch him.”
Kazmir caught on with the Cleveland Indians and enjoyed a solid season in 2013, this after repeated injuries seemed to bring his career to a halt in 2008. This year he’s having one of the best seasons of his career for an A’s team that is one of the favorites to win the World Series. All the time spent with Poppe has clearly paid off.
Owner of a degree in business administration with an emphasis in marketing from Concordia, Poppe has also worked as a trainer for other professional ballplayers at DST, which has earned recognition for its work with baseball athletes. Other DST visitors include Michael Bourn (Cleveland Indians), Carl Crawford (Los Angeles Dodgers) and Trevor Bauer (Cleveland Indians).
Through a connection with his high school baseball coach in Spring, Poppe got started at DST as an intern working for Lee Fiocchi, the founder and director of the training facility. Now a full-timer and fixture at DST, Poppe is taking on more responsibility at a second training facility.
While he’s gone down a path that veered from his degree, Poppe says he’s still using many lessons he learned during his time in Seward, which included one year as an assistant on then head coach Jeremy Geidel’s staff. Poppe looks back fondly on his half-decade at Concordia.
“I remember the winters,” Poppe said. “Coming from Texas I was not a fan of the snow. My fondest memories were hanging out with my baseball friends. I also really enjoyed the professors. Concordia has some super professors.
“Being a small town it seemed like the whole community pushed for everyone. It’s just a special place. I hated it my freshman year because it was so cold. It grows on you though. I told myself that if there was a town like Seward in Texas, that’s where I would want to live.”
It certainly appears Poppe has found his home back at home. He’s still a fan of the nearby Astros, but this October he will be rooting for Kazmir and the A’s. If Oakland is to capture its first World Series title since 1989, Poppe will have had a hand, however small, by way of helping one of the team’s top pitchers return to form.
Read more about Poppe's experiences at DST via his BLOG.