CENTRE – The name Covington is associated with athleticism in Cherokee County, particularly baseball.
Kevin Covington has certainly lived up to the family name.
A 1996 graduate of Cherokee County High School, the outfielder was selected that same year by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 45th round of the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft.
Instead of playing for the Blue Jays, Covington signed a free agent contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He played four seasons in their organization, including stops in Great Falls, Montana and Yakima, Washington.
Covington said former Major League All-Star Mike Piazza was in the minors at the same he was. Covington roomed with current Boston Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino for two years. Former Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda witnessed Covington’s first home run in the minors.
“It was a great experience,” Covington said. “I never got a chance to make it to the Major Leagues, but that level there was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Being in the same organization as Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, who took their first steps there in their professional careers, that was awesome. I loved it.”
Covington, now 36, still plays the sport he loves, but his role has changed. He’s now a mentor for the next generation on the semi-pro Centre Blue Sox.
“A lot of people ask me ‘You wish you were still in the pros?’ Yeah, everybody wishes they were, but playing at this level here is unreal,” Covington said. “To be able to show the younger guys is the main thing. The things I did wrong, I can show them not to do that at an early age. That way, they won’t make the same mistakes if they get the opportunity. I’m trying to teach them the professionalism they need to have to go on to that level.”
But don’t think Covington can’t still swing the bat that attracted Major League teams to him to begin with.
Covington earned the Birmingham Industrial League’s batting title in 2013 with an average of .575, including eight home runs, a pair of doubles, six walks and 12 RBIs.
He’s picked up right where he left off from last year. At the midway point of the 2014 season, Covington – primarily a designated hitter – led the league with a .625 average, including three homers and a .717 on-base percentage.
“When he comes up to bat, it’s not a question of him getting a hit. The question is if he’s going to hit a home run,” longtime friend and Blue Sox manager JoJo Bynum said. “When he’s up there, everybody’s looking at him. Other teams have respect for him. The first game we had this season, they intentionally walked him at two or three times. They know he can hit.
“He exaggerates his lean a lot. He’ll start forward, and when the pitcher rears back, he slowly goes to his back leg and supports his weight, then he swings. It’s a pleasure to watch him bat.”
Covington credits his father, Gerald, for his advice when he was younger. Gerald Covington is the team’s hitting coach and has been with the Blue Sox organization since the 1950s.
“My dad always told me the older you get you become a better hitter,” Kevin Covington said. “That didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me at the time, but I finally understand what he meant by that. If I could go back in time with the hitter I am now when I was in pro ball, I think it would make a bigger difference.”
Kevin and Gerald Covington aren’t the only Covingtons on the team. Wally and Quazzi Covington are assistant coaches. Justice joins Kevin on the Blue Sox roster.
“Ever since I can remember, playing sports has always run deep in our family,” Kevin Covington said. “My dad was an awesome baseball player in his prime. He could have easily gone pro. My cousin, Shawn Covington, actually played for the Texas Rangers for four or five years. I have a nephew, Justice Covington, who’s an awesome ball player and has pro potential. He’s still learning and working out the kinks. He’s getting better every game.”
Bynum said “the Covington name is baseball.”
“Growing up, they knew me, and they knew how much I loved the game and played. They adopted me into the family, saying ‘Come on, let’s go play in this tournament’ or ‘Let’s go play in that tournament.’ I was one of them. I grew up playing with Kevin. I was at Cedar Bluff and he was at Centre, but we played on our summer league teams together.
“I was the only boy in my family, but to me, they were all my brothers. They grew up in baseball and I was right there with them. They took me under their wing.”
Taking players under his wing is what Kevin Covington is trying to do with the younger Blue Sox players now. He says the most important thing for them to remember is their attitudes.
“Your attitude plays the biggest part in whatever sport or whatever it is you’re doing in life,” he said. “Just because you strike out or make an error, you still have to concentrate on the next play. You can’t just let one bad thing that happens to you affect your whole game. That’s my role.
“I used to be that kid who wanted to do so well. When I didn’t, I let it bother me so much. You’re going to make an error, but you have to be able to mentally get that out of the way and focus on the next play. That’s what I messed up with as a younger kid. I put so much pressure on myself. I’m trying to get these guys out of that frame of mind and have fun.”
The Blue Sox’s next home game is June 28 against the Birmingham Cardinals. Game time is set for 3:30 p.m. at J.W. Hampton Field.