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As we saw in the 2016 Summer Olympics, a gold medal often means the end of someone's long journey. In Jarred Kelenic’s case, this particular type of gold medal might just be the beginning. It certainly didn’t signify it was time to rest.

Just two weeks after the Waukesha West junior was named Team MVP for the U18 United States baseball team that won the Pan-American Games in Mexico, Kelenic was down in Jupiter, Florida, participating in the biggest fall-ball tournament of the year with his Chicago-based “scout team.” Hundreds of scouts for big-league clubs are in attendance.

“It’s difficult (balancing baseball with school work), but my teachers are really understanding, and so is all of the extended staff: the principal, the secretaries, everyone,” Kelenic said. “They do everything they can to help me out.”

Kelenic is already committed to play for the University of Louisville, but it should come as no surprise that he’s interested in playing for big-league evaluators, even if makes the schedule more hectic. Multiple websites consider him a top-five high-school prospect in the nation for the 2018 Major League Baseball Draft, and Baseball America took notice of him with a brief piece about his emergence over the summer. This week, he appeared in the “Faces in the Crowd” segment of the Oct. 24 Sports Illustrated magazine, a segment highlighting top youth and amateur performances.

Kenosha Indian Trail shortstop Gavin Lux became the first Wisconsin high-schooler taken in the first round of the MLB Draft since 1979 this past season when the Dodgers selected him No. 20 overall. Kelenic has the opportunity to be perhaps the highest Wisconsin high-school player ever chosen.

“We have our college scholarship, so now we’re just trying to get our stock up for the draft,” Kelenic said. “If we’re fortunate to get picked high enough to sign; that’s a bonus. But it’s college first, college is the A plan and pro ball is the Plan B.

“Right now, I’m just trying to get better in all phases of the game. I definitely think it’s quite an accomplishment for Gavin (Lux); he’s a great player, great person. If I’m fortunate enough to get picked as high or higher, whatever the case may be, it’s going to be a blessing. If I keep getting better, I guess we’ll just see what happens.”

International experience

No matter what happens before then, his experience in Mexico could go down as the crown jewel of his pre-college playing years. USA won its sixth straight international gold medal, capping it off with a 6-1 win over Cuba in which Kelenic hit a two-run home run in the seventh that helped his team build a 5-0 lead. It was all part of a productive week for Kelenic at the plate.

“I think I played exceptionally well down there,” he said. “Obviously, we all played really well as a team because we won the gold medal, regardless of how I played or how a guy behind me played. All that mattered was the gold medal.

“International competition was a little bit tougher than what I’ve been seeing,” he added, noting that only one team (Honduras) struggled to keep pace with the other squads in the competition. “Across the board, the teams were stacked throughout the lineup — great pitchers that could command two-plus pitches and throw for strikes. We had to deal with adversity down there because wearing U.S. on our chest, the umpires for sure didn’t like us. The zone’s bigger than it is for the guy on the other team. That’s something we knew going in, so it wasn’t a secret; you just had to adjust to it.”

Kelenic estimated each game was followed by a couple thousand spectators, but the team needed bodyguards traveling with it during the week.

“Whenever the team went out to eat, they were around us,” he said. “When we went to the field, they were always there. People would ask for autographs and pictures, and they were making sure they weren’t doing anything other than that.”

Hitting home

If the need for bodyguards or a U.S. bias were distractions, it wasn’t evident in the outcomes. Kelenic said the home run he hit in the gold-medal game will stick out in his mind forever.

“It was very emotional because we put up three early in the second or third inning,” he said. “Then, we didn’t score another run until the seventh, and we knew one swing can tie it up. As a team, we knew that we had to put up a couple more runs and the game would be ours.”

He was looking for a breaking ball and called time after seeing one and fouling it off.

“I stepped out and said to myself that I’m right on time, and if he leaves one up in the zone, I’m going to hit it out.”

The left-handed swinger did just that.

“This doesn’t compare to anything,” he said. “Just to play the game that you love so much for the country that you love so much and to have USA on your chest … literally, you can’t describe it. It’s something special to play on a field and hear the National Anthem when you have USA on your chest, it’s really something different. I can’t thank USA enough for everything it’s done for me, giving me the opportunity to go out and represent my country and my state.”

He also said he owes a debt of gratitude to his parents, who have put innumerable resources into his career. His father, Tom, was one of the driving forces behind the construction of the “Five Diamonds” complex in Waukesha, a multi-field facility that serves baseball and softball and has added an NX Level training facility on the grounds. Kelenic has also been part of the equation moving Stiks Baseball Academy from Oconomowoc into its new home in Waukesha.

“Just to see (the Infinity Fields complex on the “Five Diamonds” site) go from a corn field to one of the best complexes in southern Wisconsin was awesome,” Jarred said. “I know he’s really happy with it, and a lot of people seem really happy with it. My dad’s a very smart man, and he’s good at what he does.”

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