- Berlin-native Max Kepler an outfielder for MLB side Minnesota Twins
- Played for Hertha BSC’s youth academy, with John Brooks as a team-mate
- 24-year-old discusses baseball and the beautiful game
Europe to the majors is a path less trodden by baseball players plying their trade in the USA – even more so when you add a German Bundesliga club into the equation. But multi-talented Max Kepler, an outfielder for Major League Baseball (MLB) side Minnesota Twins, was not your average student athlete growing up in Berlin.
A rising baseball star who also received a scholarship to the Steffi Graf Tennis Foundation, Kepler was on the books of Hertha BSC as a teenager, where he counted current USA defender John Brooks as a team-mate in the youth academy.
“I was six-years-old when I started playing soccer, the same age I was when I first got into baseball,” said Kepler, in conversation with FIFA.com. “Every kid gets into soccer when you’re from Berlin and I started playing it growing up. You’re exposed to it from a young age.”
A former goalkeeper, Kepler attended the John F. Kennedy School in Berlin along with ex-Hertha star Brooks, who made the move to fellow Bundesliga side Wolfsburg in May. It was at the German-American institution that Kepler was given the chance to flourish at baseball as well as the beautiful game, where he was drawn to the goalkeeping position on the football pitch when not honing his skills on the baseball field.
“Playing as a goalkeeper, it correlated with other sports I was playing at the time – tennis, baseball,” said Kepler, who after eight years in the USA is bereft of a Berlin accent. “I was always very hands-on with sports. I played attack too, but I was thrown in the goal.”
While a talented prospect with Hertha, Kepler was something of a trailblazer in Berlin by opting for baseball over football, focusing solely on the sport at age 15 with hopes of turning professional. A move to a baseball academy in Regensburg, a city situated on the river Danube in Bavaria, meant the gifted athlete had to relinquish his place in the Hertha youth set-up to chase his baseball dream – but it was a move that would pay dividends.
After the 6’4 (1.92m) Kepler caught the eye of international baseball scouts with his raw ability, he signed with current side Minnesota Twins for a European-record bonus. Being well-placed to gauge the differing demands of football and baseball, Kepler said: “In soccer you have to run a lot, you have to really keep your stamina up to date and in baseball, you don’t really need it as much unless you’re a starting pitcher. Baseball is about short explosive work and it requires more agility, while soccer is more about stamina, duration-type running.”
USA move, following football StatesideThe son of a Polish father and American mother who both moved to Germany to pursue their aspirations of professional ballet, Kepler naturally had the support of his parents when he chose to move across the Atlantic to realise his dream. Moving to Florida at the tender age of 16 to cut his teeth at one of the Twins’ minor outfits, graft, talent and determination saw the left-handed outfielder graduate to the senior set-up where he is now among the starters of the MLB side.
Like his former Hertha team-mate Brooks, Kepler is well-versed in plying his trade in front of tens of thousands of supporters nationwide and sees similarities between German football supporters and baseball fans in USA on gameday.
“I don’t think there’s too much difference between soccer fans in Europe and baseball fans in the US – both fanbases are crazy about their sport,” the 24-year-old said. “I wish they were as crazy for baseball as they are for soccer in Germany, and the other way around here but I think, with time, that will expand. But it’s exhilarating to go to a soccer game in Europe as it is in the US to see baseball.”
Amongst his rigorous baseball schedule, is Kepler able to talk football with his team-mates at the Twins?
“Everyone’s into the World Cup when it comes around but apart from that, we don’t have any big soccer fans [at the Twins],” he said. “I still keep track of how Hertha Berlin are doing, particularly as John Brooks was there. The [Bundesliga] games are usually on when I’m at practice but I watch the highlights all the time.”