Kessinger, transfer Dillard show out on highest pedestal (continued)


Davis McCool

If any Charger critics had any doubt about the top contender for a preseason ranking of No. 1 in the country, they don’t now.

The annual Under Armour All-American Baseball game featured two Charger baseball players, seniors Grae Kessinger and Thomas Dillard.

The selection committee for the nationally-televised game – which features the top 40 baseball players in the country – selected the childhood friends from a tryout in Memphis, and the two showcased their talents for the nation to see.

“It’s rewarding to know that you can play with the best in the country, and the fact that we made it together is unbelievable,” Dillard said.

For the first time in history, the game featured a duo hailing from the same high school. Chargers coach Chris Baughman was overcome with emotions following the announcement.

“It’s just crazy,” Baughman said. “On any day, we have four players that can play with anybody in the country, but to have two All-Americans is such an honor. I was awestruck.”

For Dillard and Kessinger, who grew up as childhood friends, the feeling is mutually ecstatic.

“Having a pair of teammates there is unprecedented,” Dillard said.  “Having grown up together, we got to experience something we always dreamed about.”

The pair showed out at Wrigley Field and on the MLB Network, and Dillard even made a name for himself throughout the Twitter world.

While Dillard was catching, a ball was thrown behind the catcher. A dropped relay and a few more errors around the diamond resulted in three runs scored. The play was tweeted by more than 10 official baseball accounts, and seen by hundreds of thousands of Americans.

“I’m kinda infamous,” Dillard said.

Kessinger also had his moment in the spotlight. His grandfather, baseball legend Don Kessinger, is heralded as a Cubs hero and a Chicago icon.

Grae Kessinger was regarded as such with an emotional ovation from the crowd.

“It’s hard to put into words,” Kessinger said. “It was incredible for the whole family. Getting a picture with my grandad on Wrigley Field was something that can never be forgotten.”

The similarities between the two were blatant, and many see Kessinger as a younger version as his grandfather, one with inhuman defensive skills and a God-given knack for the sport.

“Running out to shortstop at Wrigley Field and looking up at my grandad was so special,” Kessinger said. “I was told many times of the resemblance between us.”

The two also tremendously increased their personal stock, but they are set on their team goals, as they have one more year to win a state championship.

“It’s kind of a reward that all of your hard work has paid off, but it’s not over yet,” Dillard said.

Baughman reiterated the fact that both ballplayers are crucial to the Chargers’ success, and he hopes that their talent continues for at least one more year.

“Obviously, they both bring an exceptional amount of talent to the team,” Baughman said. “They’re special ballplayers.”

He hopes that with the help of the two All-Americans, at least one more state championship is soon to come. However, another run doesn’t rest on their expertise alone.

“Talent alone didn’t win us 33 straight games last year,” Baughman said. “Their leadership will provide our team with the ability to make another run this year.”

The two seniors will have one last opportunity to solidify their place in the history books, and the first time that Dillard, who transferred to OHS from Briarcrest Christian School (Tennessee) over the summer, will have a solid chance to win it all.

“Before we worry about anything in our personal careers,” Kessinger said, “I believe another state championship is near in the future.”