Most people who sell their business to enjoy retirement can be found on the golf course or traveling the world. Bob Kellett is not most people.
The former owner of Hometown Sports in Martinez starts each day with a drive from his house in North Augusta to Aiken to have breakfast with his mother.
Even on the day we met to talk about his love of baseball, and despite a trip to Statesboro, Ga., Kellett first had breakfast with his mom. Kellett has a few passions in his life: his family, working with young people and baseball.
The last two have come together for the better part of a decade. That is when Kellett was urged to start coaching baseball in the Martinez-Evans Little League program. It was a natural fit for a man who had spent his life around the sport.
Growing up in Ridgeway, N.J., Kellett was a talented utility player and pitcher. By the time his senior year came around, Kellett was pursuing a college scholarship. He even made a trip to Columbia to showcase his skills to former New York Yankees infielder Bobby Richardson, who was the head coach for the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Richardson was putting together a highly touted recruiting class, but he was impressed by Kellett and suggested that he look into playing at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. He would go on to become a solid player for the Paladins, starting at third base for two seasons. He also pitched and even beat Richardson and the Gamecocks in a regional playoff game in 1976.
After his playing career was over, Kellett remained at Furman as an assistant coach. He then went into the sporting goods industry and eventually became the operations manager for Sam Wyche Sports. Kellett helped run the former NFL coach's 15 South Carolina store locations.
Kellet's former teammate at Furman, Evans High School assistant coach Russell Lee, settled in Columbia County and raved about the area. Lee advised Kellet to move to the area, which he would later do.
Kellett came to North Augusta to help start SMS Sports World, managing the store from 1992-95 before deciding he needed another challenge.
That challenge was opening his own store in Columbia County. Hometown Sports opened in 1995.
It was successful thanks in large part to Kellett's relationship with the Little League baseball programs in the county.
When some of the folks with Martinez-Evans Little League urged him to coach a team, Kellett agreed. He did have one stipulation: He wanted to work with older kids.
In his first year his team won the championship and he was asked to coach the all-star team. Kellett was hooked. He would now spend most of his free time working to help improve young players in baseball.
In 2003, Kellett decided to sell his store and retire. By this time he had already started a new summer baseball program, so he still found plenty of time to be at the ballpark.
Kellett had started the Augusta Barons baseball program in 2000. And why not: he had coached the Martinez-Evans All-Stars in 1999 and 2000, even traveling to a regional event in Oklahoma where his team won 12 of 15 games. With the Barons, his goal was to give kids a chance to play in front of college recruiters and earn scholarships.
Over the past decade, Kellett has taken teams to Clemson, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, East Carolina and just about every other school in the South. To date, 70 percent of Barons' players have gone on to play at the college level. This year's team features 10 players who are wrapping up their prep careers, and eight of them have locked up a place to play in college.
Kellett will be the first to say that he's not the only person who played a hand in earning his players' college offers, but there is no doubt he played a huge role. Some players, such as former Evans and Mercer University standout Mike Armstrong, did not need much help.
However, in most cases Kellett has not had the big-time area stars. Rich Poythress played a handful of games for the Barons before he headed off to the University of Georgia, and former USC-Aiken star Ken Raborn is the Barons' all-time home run leader. But for the most part, Kellett has worked with lesser-known talent.
That includes Alex Sickman, who got few college looks during his playing days at Evans, but parlayed solid play at catcher for the Barons into a spot on the Augusta State baseball roster. There are many stories like Sickman's, and those are the stories Kellett loves to tell.
Kellett has a different approach than many coaches. Each player and their parents know exactly how much playing time they will get. He rotates his 12 to 13 players so they play an equal amount of time, no matter what the score or situation. His main goal is to put his team in front of college scouts.
He also does more than just play ball. Kellett's teams have spent time at Citi Field in New York, Fenway Park in Boston, Camden Yards in Baltimore and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Kellett planned the trips to allow his players to share the experiences. He seems to enjoy the camaraderie as much as the kids do. That is perhaps why he enjoys his arcade-room battles with some of his players, or sharing stories of seeing some of baseball's all-time greats play when he was a kid.
"They just keep asking questions about what it was like," said Kellett.
Players are not the only people who have benefited from Kellett's tutelage. Pete Alewine Jr. serves as an assistant coach for the Barons. Alewine played for Kellett during his days as a pitcher, and he has come back to help with the team.
"He has been with me every year since he quit playing and he really does a great job," Kellett said of Alewine.
The Barons program has come a long way in 10 years. Kellett still usually fields only one team each year and they play about a dozen tournaments. However, they also have a banquet and golf tournament at the end of the season, and Kellett has even started a scholarship program. Since 2005, the Barons Scholarship has given out $8,500 to 18 kids.
Kellett doesn't recruit players. His players and their parents seem to do all the recruiting the Barons need.
"The guys and their parents know what positions we need to fill and they will talk to other players," Kellett said. "I may ask the guys if they have any friends that play a certain position, but that is about the extent of the recruiting."
In addition to his work with the Barons, Kellett has served as a volunteer assistant coach for Augusta State's baseball team for two seasons, and plans to return in 2010. So, for a guy who retired six years ago, Kellett stays pretty busy.
Every town seems to have guys like Kellett. Heck, every town needs guys like Kellett.
Kids in Columbia County and the surrounding area are just fortunate that Kellett listened to a former college buddy and made the area his home 14 years ago.
It would be impossible to calculate his effect. I just know that there are plenty of kids who have the chance to play college ball thanks in large part to their experiences with coach Kellett.
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