Kingery’s path from Lamade to Lehigh Valley has him on doorstep of the major leagues
ALLENTOWN — Long before Tom Kingery ever stepped foot in South Williamsport, he bought a picture frame which held multiple photos. He filled them with photos of he, his oldest son Matt, and his twin sons Sam and Scott.
In the bottom right corner of this picture frame, there was a glass window left blank. One day, in front of Sam and Scott, he told them he was saving that spot for when they went to the Little League World Series.
“That was a couple years before we ever got there,” Scott Kingery said recently. “It was really cool to be able to put that picture there.”
Scott Kingery is known better these days for being on of the top prospects in the Philadelphia Phillies’ minor league system. A 2015 second-round pick out of the University of Arizona, Kingery was rated as the No. 3 prospect in the Phillies system by Baseball America and MLB Pipeline. Baseball America called him the No. 52 overall prospect in all of baseball.
But long before he was ever that kind of professional player, he was manning shortstop for Ahwatukee Little League as it made a run to South Williamsport for the 2006 Little League World Series. He was cemented in the No. 2 spot in the lineup and at shortstop. His twin brother Sam was a middle-of-the-order hitter for the West Regional champions.
Ahwatukee had always put together a quality Little League program, on which could compete on the state level in Arizona. But this group was just a little bit different.
It had won the state tournament in age groups prior to their 12-year-old season, and they did so again in 2006. And it was when they got to the Western Regional tournament they realized they had a legitimate chance to get to South Williamsport.
Hawaii was in the midst of one of its best runs, having won the 2005 World Series as the Northwest Regional representative. Hawaii won the World Series again in 2008, this time from the West Region after a realignment.
Kingery and his teammates knew that was the team they were going to have to go through if they wanted to get to South Williamsport. And wouldn’t you know it, that’s the team Ahwatukee drew in the first round. They won, 1-0.
In fact, the Arizona representative went 3-1 in pool play at regionals, losing only to the Northern California team, 3-1. But Kingery’s team made it to the semifinals, where it beat Hawaii again, 8-3. And it avenged they loss their loss to Northern California in the regional final with an 11-3 win to earn their trip to South Williamsport.
Kingery was 5 for 17 in the regional.
“You go in there knowing so many teams that come out of California are so good,” Kingery said. “Going into that region we said we had to take care of California, but we also had to take care of Hawaii, too.”
When Kingery and his teammates got to South Williamsport, he couldn’t believe what his eyes were seeing. He called Lamade Stadium the nicest field he had ever played on to that point in his life. He took in the two massive hills behind the outfield wall at Lamade Stadium and just marveled at how he was looking at what he had seen on television for years.
Some 11 years later, it’s easy for Kingery to admit now that baseball was secondary to everything else he and his teammates experienced playing three games in the Little League World Series. When they were on the field, it was all about baseball.
But when they weren’t on the field, life was all about mingling with the other teams in the Grove. They used the pool, played ping pong. The World Series, even at 12-years-old, was as much about the experience as it was about playing baseball.
“It was about having fun,” Kingery said. “Obviously, I think every team wants to win when you’re there. But there’s so many other things going on that sometimes you forget you’re there to play baseball. It was just so much fun.”
What was most fun for Kingery was sharing the experience with his dad, Tom, who was the manager, and Sam. Tom was always his coach growing up, all the way until he got to high school. He laughs when he thinks about the times his dad had to make an example out of him during a practice, including a time after that Little League World Series run where his dad actually kicked him out practice one day because he wasn’t paying attention during a drill.
But that week or so in South Williamsport was blissful. Ahwatukee went 2-1 in the series, losing only to eventual World champion Columbus, Georgia in the first round. Arizona failed to advance to the American semifinal as three of the teams in its pool finished with a 2-1 record. Great Lakes representative Lemont, Illinois, earned the berth into the semifinals despite having lost, 1-0, to Arizona in pool play.
About the only part of the tournament Kingery laments is that he didn’t record a hit in the series. He went 0 for 10 in Ahwatukee’s three games, something which still eats at him whenever his participation in the Series is brought up.
“I look back on it and it probably ate at me when I was there. I was probably (ticked) off at myself,” Kingery said with a laugh. “But it was just fun to play there and it was a great experience. But sometimes I wish I could have gotten a hit so I didn’t always have to say that I didn’t.”
Kingery has gotten more than enough hits as a professional to make up for that lackluster week in South Williamsport. He’s on the doorstep of reaching the big leagues and is the Phillies’ second baseman of the future.
In stints this year at both AA Reading and AAA Lehigh Valley, Kingery has posted an OPS (on-base plus slugging) over .900. His 24 home runs have helped answer the question about whether or not he’ll hit for power. And oh yeah, he’s a Gold Glove caliber defender who has made highlight-reel catches look routine.
Everything has come together this season for Kingery, who was graded as a first-round draft pick who slipped to the second round two years ago. He’s forcing the Phillies to make a decision about what to do with current second baseman Cesar Hernandez, who also once played in Williamsport, albeit as a member of the Crosscutters. Kingery started his pro career in Lakewood, bypassing Williamsport.
None of this seemed feasible when Kingery was 12. All he knew was he was playing baseball because it was fun and it took him to South Williamsport. He never knew any of this was possible.
“When I sit back and think about it, it’s kind of crazy,” Kingery said. “My whole route from college to now, the success I’ve had this year and last year which led to a big league spring training invite, then a start in Double-A and a hot start there which led to a bump here, it’s been a crazy dream.”