Hall of Fame – Mr. Reliability: Kevin Meier was known for bringing his A-game

Kevin Meier wasn’t recruited out of high school, but he walked-on to the team at UConn for two years, transferred to Georgia Southern for two years, and played nine seasons in the minor leagues.

By KEVIN ROBERTS

STAFF WRITER

Kevin Meier stood out at six-foot-four on the Southington High School baseball mound, but it wasn’t just one thing that grabbed fans’ attention. Meier was imposing, but he didn’t have the fastball of a Rob Dibble, Carl Pavano or Sal Romano. He didn’t have the best curveball, best release, or sharpest break.

What stood out about Meier was his amazing durability. Few players were as consistent, as long, and for as many teams, as Southington’s “Mr. Reliability.”

“You won’t find that, like some of our pitchers, that he had a lot of strikeouts,” former SHS baseball coach John Fontana said. “But you didn’t see guys pounding the ball off of him. He would get his groundballs, and you almost knew in the first inning or two what kind of a game he was going to have.”

Meier got ahead of batters, pitched to contact, and led the Blue Knights with a 5-0 record in 1983, his senior season. The record wasn’t good enough to make him a blue chip recruit, but Meier walked on to the team at the University of Connecticut, played two years, and transferred to Georgia Southern.

Meier’s college numbers drew him the ultimate phone call when he was drafted in the 20th round by the San Francisco Giants. He wound up pitching for four different organizations in a minor league career that spanned from 1987 to 1995.

Meier has been selected as an inductee for the Southington Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2018. He got there by being durable, dependable, accountable and a team player at all levels.

“Southington obviously has a long line of really good athletes,” Meier said. “I’m honored to be a part of that group.”

Meier is still leading by example, and he’s still looking out for others long after his playing days ended. In 2013, Meier started Planet Prospect, a recruiting service that connects prospective student-athletes and college coaches. He’s always on the look-out for those players, like him, that might be better than their numbers, and he helps them get noticed by college recruiters.

Kevin Meier was a blue collar player for the Blue Knights, contributing in any way that he was needed.

“I wish I had started focusing and marketing my brand while I was in high school,” Meier wrote on the Planet Prospect website. “Now I want to help others to gain that competitive edge as they consider their future in college athletics.”

It all began with his youngest daughter, Hartlee, who was going into her freshman year at SHS. Meier wanted his daughter to be able to market herself, and Planet Prospect was born. (By the way, Hartlee Meier will begin her freshman year at Bentley University this fall, and she is there on a basketball scholarship.)

“I want to provide the opportunity for athletes to promote themselves to college coaches,” Kevin Meier said. “It’s not easy to get your name out there.”

Meier is well aware of how tough it is to get noticed. He played in the minor leagues, making it as high as Triple AAA with the San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, Colorado Rockies and Chicago Cubs organizations. He never got the call to the big leagues.

“I was probably closest with the Giants,” Meier said. “I went to a few spring training games with the Giants.”

Meier’s story is not one of failure, though. On the contrary, Meier worked hard to get to the point of a possible phone call to the big time.

It started in his neighborhood in Waterbury, where he lived until he was about eight years old. The family moved to Southington, and Meier got into organized baseball. “Once I moved to Southington, my dad [Darryl] started coaching,” Meier said.

Darryl was there to teach the game, and Kevin’s mom Joanne, who passed in 2012, was there to cheer him on. He said that he also had strong support from his brother, Todd, who passed away in 2016, his sister, Tracey, and his extended family. Meier said that it started with his parents, who made sure the kids stayed outside in the summer.

There was always something to play, be it home run derby, Wiffle ball, football or basketball.

“We would come in for dinner, then go back out until dark,” Meier said.

Meier’s penchant for hard work began in earnest at Southington High, where he played baseball and basketball during his sophomore, junior and senior seasons. During his junior baseball season in 1982, Meier played behind future major leaguer Rob Dibble in the Blue Knight rotation. He found other ways to contribute, however, including a double against Wolcott on May 3 that started the winning rally in a 6-4 extra-inning victory.

Meier could hit for power as well. He smacked a two-run homer in the season opener on April 27.

“I thought of myself as one of those guys that would contribute in any way possible,” Meier said.

As a senior on the 1982-83 basketball team, Meier manned the middle for head coach Ed Nardi. He was a co-captain and averaged 14.5 points per game.

“He was a quiet type of leader, he led by example and was always on time for practice,” Nardi said in the Aug. 11, 1983, article in The Observer aptly titled “Kevin Meier: the quiet leader.”

“He jumped very well and played the middle for us on defense,” Nardi added.

But it was on the baseball diamond that Meier shined the brightest. In 1983, Southington was trying to fill the hole in the rotation left by Dibble’s graduation, and Meier stepped up. Southington didn’t have a dominant pitcher or pitchers like past and future teams, but Meier led the rotation with a 5-0 record and a 3.15 ERA. His pitching style fit in well with the team aspect of the game.

“I was a control guy,” Meier said. “Probably my best pitch was my split-finger (fastball).”

Meier used the split-finger to get groundballs, and his defense backed him up. At the plate, Meier led the team with a .373 batting average and was also first in hits (31). He was second in doubles (6) and tied for second in RBI (16).

“I always wanted to be that guy that stepped up,” Meier said.

Meier wasn’t recruited out of high school, so he walked on at UConn, where he had successful seasons in 1984 and 1985. Meier was a letter winner for the Huskies and threw a no-hitter in 1985. He credits the success that he had at UConn—and later at Georgia Southern—to Fontana and the high school staff.

“It was really all because of the way Fontana prepared us to play in college,” Meier said.

All of the physical and mental work done at Southington had Meier ready to go. After a stint in a Virginia summer wood bat league in 1985, however, the UConn walk-on decided to go south. Meier impressed some college coaches in the wood bat league and offers came in. One offer was from Georgia Southern, and Meier couldn’t pass up a chance to play for the legendary Jack Stallings, who passed away on June 20.

Then, when he got a chance to escape Connecticut’s cold weather, he took it. Meier said that he still remembers a “miserable” state game against Yale where it was snowing.

At Georgia Southern, Stallings taught the fundamentals and expected his players to respect the game of baseball. He won over 1,200 games between Georgia Southern, Wake Forest and Florida State, and was an avid promoter of baseball at the international level, according to a June 20 story about his passing on the Georgia Southern athletics website.

“He prepared me better than I could have ever prepared, going from college to pro,” Meier said.

Kevin Meier went 5-0 in his senior season before walking on to UConn the following year.

After two seasons at Georgia Southern, Meier was drafted. He was in his Georgia Southern dorm room with teammate Kurt Soderholm, whose brother Eric played in the major leagues. Don Zimmer’s son Thomas, who worked for the San Francisco Giants, made the call to Meier.

“I was ready to go play at that point,” Meier said.

Playing in the minors was exciting at the start. Then again, Meier was young and didn’t know any better, he said with a chuckle. He said that the travel didn’t bother him, and the competition was really good. Even more important, Meier said that he loved the brotherhood of the baseball team, being with the same guys in the same parks and the same clubhouses. Travel was mostly via bus, though there were some plane flights in Triple-A.

“Those are the memories that you really don’t forget,” he said.

Meier still keeps in contact with guys he played with in the minor leagues. During his time in the minors, Meier saw plenty of players who would get the call to “The Show.” Only a select few were superstars, including Mike Piazza, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Alex Rodriguez. There were many others that were more like Meier.

“I played against a lot of guys that did get up there that I thought I was on the same level with,” Meier said.

Fontana said that he still believes Meier should have had his chance with a big league team.

“I think he was one of those guys that got cheated because he wasn’t flashy, they didn’t invest a lot of money in him,” Fontana said. “He kept his mouth shut, did his job, so they kept him there and he was durable. The guys they invested the money on were going to be making the move before he would.”

After playing with Double-A Orlando and Triple-A Iowa of the Cubs organization in 1995, Meier walked away from the game. He settled down with his wife, Christine, to start a family and had a job lined up at ESPN. But he continued to stay involved in local sports at the high school level through his website Planet Prospect, along with pitching lessons and coaching.

With his long career and continued work with athletes, it’s no surprise that members of the Southington Sports Hall of Fame selection committee have named Meier as a member of the Class of 2018. On Wednesday, Nov. 7, Meier will be honored in a ceremony at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville.

“He was so durable. His record doesn’t flash out at you, but overall, if you had him for 60 years, he would be the same every year for 60 years,” Fontana said. “He’d be a winner. He’d always be there, and if you told him you needed him, he’d pitch three days in a row. He was that kind of a guy.”

To reserve tickets, contact Jim Verderame at (860) 628-7335 or Val DePaolo at (860) 620-9460, ext. 104.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com.

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