Keudell Leads Oregon Baseball into New Era
By Haley Hirai
On days that Alex Keudell pitches, he always eats the same food no matter what. In the morning, he'll get an iced coffee with milk, followed by a bagel with cream cheese or peanut butter, and a turkey sandwich three hours before the game.
A man of routine and tradition, the Oregon senior has seen a lot of changes in his four years with the Ducks. Keudell, along with teammate Joey Housey, is one of the last two remaining members of the original 2009 squad, the first team Oregon fielded after 26 years without a baseball program.
The days of practicing on high school fields because PK Park was still under construction are long gone. Keudell, who began his freshman year as a walk-on, now silences batters for the No. 6-ranked Ducks in front of thousands of fans every Friday night.
"I didn't really have many expectations coming in my freshman year," he said. "I was just trying to make the team. After that, I felt like I belonged and just kept building on myself."
He built himself into Oregon's Friday night starter, taking the place of Tyler Anderson, the Colorado Rockies' first-round draft pick last year. Keudell has won his last seven starts, which include three complete games, an ERA of 0.95 and two straight Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week Awards. He joins the ranks of Tim Lincecum, Mike Leake and Trevor Bauer as the select few who have won the honor two weeks in a row.
"Early in his career, Alex was fighting for any inning that would come his way," head coach George Horton said. "His junior year, he raised the bar to play a more prominent role in the weekend rotation, and then again his senior year when he became the Friday night starter. He did that with his work habits and his bullpens. He earned it the old-fashioned way."
Keudell, who as a high school freshman had an afro so big that his cap moved after every pitch, seemed an unlikely candidate to one day grace giant posters and billboards around Eugene that bear the phrase, "You Belong at PK Park."
The slogan is especially meaningful for the Portland, Ore. native, who could have left after he was selected in the 38th round of the 2011 MLB Draft by the Minnesota Twins. Out of the eight Ducks who were drafted last season, Keudell is the only one who decided to stay at school instead of turning pro.
"I know for sure we wouldn't be having as much success top to bottom in the pitching staff if Alex had signed and moved on," Horton said. "The two guys that deserve the most credit for the success of our pitching staff is Coach Dean Stiles, number one, and Alex Keudell a close second."
As one of the oldest Ducks, Keudell, 22, is affectionately known around the clubhouse as Gramps, Dad, AK-47 or Al for short. According to teammates, he is the teacher, mentor and even proctor of the team.
"Sometimes we like to do silly chants, like 'Baseball rocks! Baseball rocks!' And then Al will just come over, he's the grandpa, and just be like, 'Stop it,'" said junior relief pitcher David Wylie. "All the pitchers want to be like Al. All of us watch him."
Keudell has guided Oregon's young talent and set examples for them to follow in discipline, work ethic and training.
"He's a very quiet, unassuming and competitive guy. He chooses to say, 'Hey, look at me,' with his actions rather than his words. He's not a real boisterous guy, but inside he embraces competiveness and challenges in his life," Horton said.
Keudell carries that same competitive spirit with him off the field to the ping-pong table in the PK Park players' lounge, where he and his teammates get caught up in fierce matches.
"When the two giants get on the table, it's always a good game," said Housey, who is Keudell's favorite teammate to square off against.
Although his collegiate career at Oregon is coming to a close, Keudell will enter the draft again in June and continue his pregame routine for a long time to come.