By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
With graduation just days away, Keenan Innis probably could not be happier than he is this week, which is all the more wonderful given that his decision to play baseball at Georgia Tech came as something of a surprise.
With the Yellow Jackets recruiting him, most often with former assistant coach Bryan Prince showing up at summer tournaments in east Cobb County and around the entire southeast, “always wearing a camouflage GT safari hat; you could always tell it was Prince,” Innis also considered Clemson, Auburn and Virginia.
Then, in the summer before his junior year at Blessed Trinity High School in Roswell, the outfielder had an epiphany -- after a stinker of a tournament.
“I committed without telling my parents. It ended up being the best decision of my life,” Innis recalled. “I committed out of nowhere, at the airport in Ft. Myers (Fla.). I actually played terribly, so bad that I thought nobody wanted me.
“The biggest thing was trusting the coaches. Obviously, Georgia Tech is a very good school, far and away the best in Georgia, and it was important to be close to home. I had a very big connection with head coach Danny Hall and Coach Prince, and all the success the program had had over the past two decades was impressive.”
So, back in the summer of 2011, Innis called his high school coach, Andy Harlin, gave him the news, and then called Coach Hall at Tech and said, “I’m all in.”
Innis is reveling in the payoff for the best decision of his life.
After graduating Saturday with a degree in business administration and a concentration in finance, he’ll kick back for eight weeks or so and then start Feb. 12 as a surety bond underwriter with The Hartford, in Alpharetta, near his home in Cumming. In the short term, in fact, he’ll live there aside Lake Lanier.
“It’s the reputation that Georgia Tech has; Georgia Tech got me the job,” Innis reported. “It’s the talent that people who have graduated from Georgia Tech have displayed.”
Innis didn’t waste much time displaying his talent once he joined the Yellow Jackets in 2013. As a freshman, he played in 40 games for the Jackets, starting 23, and hit .248 with four assists from the outfield in the spring of 2014 even as he missed the final month of the season with a hip injury.
His sophomore year was his best. The 6-foot, 189-pounder batted .310 in 48 games, including 39 starts.
That probably didn’t come as a surprise.
Innis’ father, Jeff, played baseball at the University of Illinois and then spent time in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. Keenan’s uncle, Brian Innis, spent time with the New York Mets. Athletics run deep in his household, as his mother, Kelly, earned NCAA All-America honors in track and field at Illinois.
“He did coach me up until I was probably 10 years old,” Innis said of his father. “I always loved baseball, though. Once I stopped playing for him, he was just a fan. He never told me what to do or anything like that.”
Tech is something of a family affair now, as Innis’ younger sister, Shannon, is a sprinter and hurdler for the Yellow Jackets. She’s slated to graduate in May with a degree in business administration and a concentration in operations.
“I have never seen her compete because of our schedules,” Innis said. “She comes to every game she could. I have never had the chance, and I will now. I’m really excited about that.”
After wrenching a thumb near the end of his sophomore season, Innis was slowed over the summer and cut short his stint in the Cape Cod League to come home and rehabilitate. He never really caught back up.
He played in 32 games as a junior and 23 as a senior, yet has no regrets.
“I had a nerve injury and couldn’t grip the bat, but it didn’t really affect me junior year,” he said. “I got off to a slow start and that slow start ended up giving other guys playing time.”
Innis isn’t exactly thrilled that his baseball-playing days are coming to an end, but he’s not brooding. He treasures his time with the Jackets, reflecting with particular affection on a special moment.
“Winning the ACC championship my freshman year. I was injured for that . . . I had torn a bunch of muscle off my pelvis,” Innis said. “Coach Hall brought me along to bunt, but there never was an opportunity. Still, winning the ACC tournament my freshman season was great.
“We barely got into the tournament. We had a play-in game to get in, and that made winning it all the better. We beat Wake, then we had to beat Miami and Clemson and lost to Duke but we advanced. Then, we played Maryland, another underdog, and beat them pretty handily.”
Innis made the ACC academic honor roll as a freshman and again as a senior, yet he’ll tell you that nothing about getting out of Georgia Tech was easy.
“I never knew how hard it would be, how hard classes would be, how I would have to change my life,” he said. “I had a 3.7 in high school, and it did not even compare to the easiest classes at Tech.”
It’s all good now.
Wistful though he may be about closing this chapter, Innis wouldn’t his path.
“I’m going to miss the team. Going through everything with a team makes you appreciate the little things a lot more, like sleep, good meals. When you’re on the go all the time, going from workouts to class to practice, maybe a night class, then study, you kind of enjoy that work ethic, that routine,” he explained.
“I’m going to miss that, but I’m going to be able to carry that into my job. I’ll miss my teammates, my friends outside of baseball, my advisors -- I wouldn’t be able to graduate without them. We’ll always be friends, always be connected.
“I’m going to miss baseball. Something that you do for 18 years, and you have to stop, that’s hard. But I’ll probably sign up to play corporate softball.”