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Hochman: Yadier's heir, Carson Kelly, gets first hit

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Carson Kelly with Yadier Molina

St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina talks with Carson Kelly during a spring training workout in February. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

PITTSBURGH • As soon as he hit the double he was thinking triple.

Carson Kelly admitted as much from his PNC Park locker, where inside was a cell phone with “60-70 texts” less than a half-hour after the game ended. The locker he tweeted a photo of before Monday's game, with his KELLY 71 jersey and the words: “Dreams do come true.” The locker where, snugged back on the upper shelf, was the black book that he documented the whole dang journey.

On Monday night, Carson Kelly doubled in his first major league at-bat – on his first major-league swing, actually – and floated out of the batter's box, his scurrying feet somehow staying on the ground.

“It's still a dream,” said the catcher Kelly, 22, called up this weekend. “But this is the real deal, you're in the big leagues, you're on the St. Louis Cardinals.”

He's Yadier's heir. That's the plan anyway.

Kelly comes off almost too good-to-be-true, this boyish, humble young man. He's likable. He is uber-talented. He has the honor of wearing Sam Freeman's No. 71.

I'd yet to meet Carson Kelly, so when I sat down with him prior to Monday's game, I wanted to know about what he's learned from Yadi. Not just the simple: “A ton.” But, like, a moment that sticks with him.

“There's one thing I learned my first year of big league camp,” Kelly began, explaining a session for blocking bouncing pitches. “I was 18 at the time. And he goes, 'I want to be the best.' When he said that – 'I'm in here training to be the best, I want to be the best' – and this is 5:30 or 6 o'clock in the morning at spring training. When you hear from the best that he wants to be the best, that inner-drive, that's something I've learned. That's something that he always brings, every single day. ''Keep going guys, I want to be the best. That's why we're out here in the morning.' It was special, something I wrote down in my little book.”

He reached into the locker and pulled out a black book. There it was, the book the Post-Dispatch's Derrick Goold had written about before. The journal that Kelly has jotted notes in since he was 17.

“I wrote it down, that's something that inspires me,” he said. “It goes with me everywhere.”

From Johnson City to Pittsburgh.

“I think the big thing is he's earned this,” Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said Monday. “You look at how he played this year, he certainly accomplished a lot, and from a defensive standpoint, all the reports have been solid. … Being able to work under Yadi, as well as Mike Matheny, any catcher can grow from that, so it's a unique opportunity to have that tutelage. And knowing Carson like I do, he'll suck it right up – he's an intellectual guy who likes to learn. So this should be an ideal environment for him to grow.”

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