Editor’s note: University of Alabama senior pitcher Kyle Cameron has made the decision to not return to UA’s baseball team in 2021, passing on an extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA. This is his goodbye letter to baseball, as told to The Tuscaloosa News.
Baseball started off as the game I played before I got ice cream with my family. In the 20 years since, baseball has been the vehicle through which I achieved lifelong goals. It has introduced me to people that will be friends for decades to come, it has brought unforgettable successes and life challenges that make the success all the more sweet.
Two decades of baseball made the game hard to give up, but that’s what I’m doing. I will not play for Alabama in 2021, focusing on the post-baseball chapter of my life. A global pandemic cut short my final season as a player before it reached the halfway point, and yet, my journey feels complete.
Simply wearing the crimson and white was a dream come true for me. My parents (Jeff and Diana) being Alabama fans made me like UA as a kid and my childhood memories made me love it as a young adult. Before I played at Sewell-Thomas Stadium, I ran around it like every other kid, trying to catch a foul ball or beg an outfielder to throw me one between innings.
Andy Phillips is the one who transitioned me from fan to player. Phillips was an assistant coach under Mitch Gaspard when he saw me pitch in a summer travel ball game; as soon as I got back to Tuscaloosa, the staff took me on a tour of campus and offered me.
I committed that day.
I came into the program as part of a 14-man freshman class. Many of them — Davis Vainer, Cobie Vance, Sam Finnerty, Chandler Taylor and Brock Love among them — had great UA careers. We all benefitted from a great group of veteran leadership, including Georgie Salem and my personal model for pitching excellence, Thomas Burrows. He still holds the school record for career saves (30), and watching how he operated taught me a lot about how success is obtained in this game.
I learned a lot in that first season, and at the end of it I was all the way in on the college athlete lifestyle: my sport was my life. Baseball was my life — until it wasn’t.
For an entire season, baseball was the last thing on my mind. In the spring of 2017, when I was fighting what I thought was Hodgkin’s lymphoma for two months, I gained a new perspective on life. Before that spring, baseball was my life and my life’s work. After, it was a joy in life. Just being able to pitch again was a victory.
That may be the reason why I had the best season of my career in 2018; it also helped that the new coaching staff — Brad Bohannon, Jason Jackson, and Jerry Zulli — fully supported my comeback efforts, even when I first met Bohannon when I was much as 35 pounds overweight due to inactivity from the recovery process.
Continuing my return to baseball brought another joy: mentoring. In my final two seasons, I felt it was my job to help Bohannon and the coaches change the culture of the program back to a winning culture. It’s difficult to maintain that kind of culture through three coaching staffs in three years, which happened in my first three years, and it was important to me to enforce that culture. I hope the players taking my place will say I did a good job of that.
It turns out I have more time to accomplish that task. My five years of playing college baseball were the best five years of my life, and I’m not quite giving it up yet. I may not be playing anymore, but I will be a student assistant on Coach Bohannon’s staff while I work toward my master’s degree. It was difficult to give up playing, but in this role I can still accomplish the things I want to accomplish and still be a part of Alabama baseball in a different way.
Baseball, you have changed the course of my life. I spent 3 1/2 years on a secondary education math track, en route to being a high school math teacher. The setbacks from the spring of 2017 didn’t help things, but it ultimately came down to a secondary education degree or baseball. I chose baseball (the obvious decision) and ended up finishing my undergraduate in mathematics. Now I’m on the way to a master’s degree in higher education administration. Maybe I’ll be involved in collegiate athletics beyond this student assistant coaching job.
I wouldn’t be here without the support of so many people, including each member of my family along with my girlfriend Tori. They were there for every step of my recovery from lymphoma, as were trainer Joe Hoffer and members of the baseball support staff like Jenny Sanders, Joe Suiter, Jessie Gardner and Lisa Hart. David Kindred, someone who suffered an experience similar but much worse to my own during his playing career at Alabama, was particularly important to me and was always there for advice when I needed it. Dr. Jeff Laubenthal was also a phone call away whenever I needed anything throughout my struggles. Assistant Director of Communications for baseball, Alex Thompson, has been someone I could talk to through all of the turmoil of three coaching changes.
Every teammate I’ve ever had, I consider a friend, and every coach I’ve ever had has my gratitude. Special thanks to Phillips, Gaspard and Dax Norris, the staff that brought me in, but also to Bohannon, Jackson and Zulli for giving me a chance to rebound from a life-changing experience and their determination to get me back. The same can be said for director of operations Jack Hoehl, strength coach Brett Price, and trainer Sean Stryker.
With their help, and the teachings of 20 years of playing baseball, I’m ready to start my life as a former player.