Baseball: Kevin Fee grew on mound for New Albany

DAVE PURPURA
dpurpura@thisweeknews.com
Senior pitcher Kevin Fee, a Purdue Fort Wayne recruit who set a program record with a 0.247 ERA in 28 1/3 innings as a junior, was looking forward to his final season with the Eagles baseball team before spring sports were canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Kevin Fee never thought of himself as being in the shadows of classmates Jack and Mike Sokol on the New Albany baseball team’s pitching staff, even though the twins will play in the Big Ten and were the top arms on two Division I district championship teams.

After all, Fee, a senior and Purdue Fort Wayne recruit, has plenty to show for his own efforts as a four-year starter, including the program record for ERA he set as a junior with a microscopic mark of 0.247.

“I think they’re the two best pitchers in Ohio and playing with them helped me grow,” Fee said of Jack and Mike Sokol, who have signed with Auburn and Ohio State, respectively. “We all talk to each other. A lot of what I have learned is from them. We still throw together all the time.”

While proud of his fastball, Fee was the first to acknowledge that his power and statistics are effective but not overwhelming. He went 3-1 as a junior with 19 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings as New Albany finished 27-2 overall and 14-1 in the OCC-Capital Division and was ranked as high as fourth in the state before losing to Upper Arlington 5-2 in a regional semifinal.

Fee and the Eagles were primed to have another strong season before all spring sports were canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

“When I played varsity my freshman year, I didn’t have the velocity I do now and I was learning how to pinpoint my pitches,” said Fee, who estimated he threw “maybe 80” mph as a freshman but was clocked at 87 during a game last season. “I didn’t throw a lot of offspeed pitches. I threw a lot of fastballs and learned how to locate. Once my pitches got better, the location was already there and that helped me from freshman year, where I was predominantly getting groundouts, to getting more strikeouts as the years went on and I got better.

“When I was a freshman, I was throwing entirely with my arm. Through the years, I got my legs more into it. Just growing up helps, but certainly (so do) mechanics and getting in the weight room.”

Fee grew four inches and gained 40 pounds of muscle during high school. He now stands at 6-foot-4, 212 pounds.

“He had command of his offspeed pitches, too, which made his fastball even better,” Eagles coach Dave Starling said. “What I loved about Kevin was that he grew and matured mentally. That helps so much in this game. It’s what he’ll do at the next level. Throwing Division I (college) baseball, you’d better be mentally strong.

“I don’t think any attention he did or didn’t get bothered him. He got his opportunities and performed well.”

New Albany went 19-9 and made a district semifinal Fee’s freshman year, improved to 20-9 and won its first district title since 2010 the next year and then was especially dominant last season. Six pitchers had ERAs of 2.56 or better, and the starting staff led by Fee, Mike Sokol (0.55) and Jack Sokol (1.04) was backed up by Ian Hoff’s seven saves.

Mike Sokol underwent Tommy John surgery last fall and would not have played this season.

Fee got attention from Division II schools the past few years but was introduced to Purdue Fort Wayne on the spur of the moment last fall while visiting his grandmother in Fort Wayne.

The Mastodons are coached by Doug Schrieber, who won 485 games at Purdue from 1999-2016.

“He blew me away with his knowledge of baseball,” said Fee, who hopes to bulk up to about 220 pounds and further improve his mechanics before his freshman season.

Fee was quick to say his college future wouldn’t have been possible without the past three years, singling out the coaching from Starling and assistants Hunter Haswell and Jason Leslein.

“It was a great experience,” Fee said. “I had such good players around me that it was easy to grow. They pushed me to get better every day. It was a fun time to play baseball. I loved every minute.”

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave