In the fall of 2004, then-freshman Kenny Fellows showed up to the open Michigan baseball tryouts hoping to take his career to the collegiate level. While Michigan coach Rich Maloney saw talent in the speedy young player, he didn’t have enough room on his roster and had to cut him.
For a year, Fellows worked out on his own and played catch with friends from his dorm to prepare. And in the fall of 2005, he showed up again to the varsity baseball tryouts, hoping to make the team and knowing that if he didn’t, he would be back the following year.
“I knew I had nothing to lose,” Fellows said. “I had been playing baseball my whole life, and I basically made the decision I was going to keep trying out my whole career.”
While Maloney didn’t offer him a spot on the team that fall, he did offer Fellows an extended tryout, where he could scrimmage with the team during their practices that fall. Fellows was given another chance to prove himself.
That spring, Fellows was added to the Wolverines’ roster but only saw action in four games, recording virtually no statistics.
“He had no arm whatsoever, that’s all everyone talked about,” senior second baseman Kevin Cislo said. “But his improvement throughout the past two or three years has been remarkable … And without him this year, our team would be very different.”
Now, as a fifth-year senior, the speedy Fellows has stepped out of the walk-on spot and become a team leader. He’s started all 32 games this season in the outfield, and he boasts the team’s second-highest batting average at .345.
Fellows, who bats in the second position, had a strong series this past weekend against Illinois, going 5-for-12 from the plate and scoring two runs. His most notable contributions came in the Wolverines’ losses, where he batted 4-for-7 and scored a run in each loss.
He and the three other batters in the top half of the Michigan lineup did as much as they could in the team’s two losses to Illinois. In both games, the quartet batted 7-for-15, while the bottom five hitters batted 3-for-20 in Saturday’s loss and 6-for-20 yesterday. The top-heavy performance paralleled to many of the Wolverines’ games this year.
“(Fellows) had to prove to Coach that he could play here,” Cislo said. “Then he proved to the entire team and now to this league and our opponents that he can play with us.”
Fellows quietly leads by example, hoping others will follow in his wake as he makes himself better every day in the Wolverines’ quest to be Big Ten Champions.
“You have to have that resiliency, that intestinal fortitude, because a lot of the other (scholarship) players will get opportunities before you,” Maloney said. “That’s just how it works. You have to keep working and believing in yourself, and I think Kenny has been a great testament of that.”
And in a season where the Wolverines are experiencing unexpected struggles, the strong resiliency of a quiet walk-on may prove to be more of an advantage than Michigan expected.