A.J. Kirby-Jones named as Tech's 2009 Outstanding Male Athlete
Jun 28, 2009
By Thomas Corhern - Cookeville Herald-Citizen
COOKEVILLE — It’s not uncommon for a player in any
sport to be able to play two different positions.
That happens quite a bit.
No, the toughest thing for a player who plays two different
positions is to play both of them well.
For the Tennessee Tech baseball team, the Golden Eagles has had a
certifiable double threat for the past two seasons in sophomore
first baseman/pitcher A.J. Kirby-Jones.
Through the 2009 season, it was well known that opposing pitchers
were afraid to see him come up to the plate, but the batters
didn’t want to see him on the hill either.
That two-position dexterity is one of the biggest reasons
Kirby-Jones has been named the University’s 2009 Outstanding
Male Athlete of the Year.
“It’s a great honor,” Kirby-Jones said.
“It takes a lot of time and hard work. But it’s just an
honor because of all the great athletes that I was up against. They
all deserved this award as well.”
Kirby-Jones joins past baseball winners Mark Maberry in 1997 and
Casey Benjamin in 2003.
The baseball standout beat out teammates Lee Henry and Chad
Oberacker for the award as well as freshman Tim Benford (football),
junior Frank Davis (basketball), senior Daniel Northern
(basketball), sophomore Dean O’Brien (tennis), senior Greyson
Painter (golf), sophomore Henry Sailes (football) and senior
Maurice Smith (football).
“I seem to say the same thing about A.J. every time someone
asks,” said Golden Eagles baseball coach Matt Bragga,
“but A.J. is just a class act as a person. He is just a great
young man that has been a pleasure to have on this team. From that
standpoint and from the baseball standpoint, A.J. is one of the
most special players I have ever coached in 13 years of coaching.
The committee couldn’t have named anyone better for this
award. The best way to put it is that he’s a great baseball
player, but an even better person.”
And it’s Kirby-Jones’ blue-collar approach to the game
that impresses Bragga the most.
“The great thing about A.J. is he just comes to the park and
does what he does — and that’s play great
baseball,” Bragga said. “He does it daily because
he’s able to keep a very level head. He’s one of those
young men that when things are going well, you can’t tell.
When things are going bad, you can’t tell. He just keeps that
same demeanor all the time.
“Now, don’t get me wrong — that doesn’t
mean he’s not one of the best competitors that I’ve
ever coached. He wants to win. He wants to be the best that he can
possibly be. He wants our team to win championships, but it’s
the mentality that you look for — that level-headedness that
At the plate, Kirby-Jones proved to be one of the Golden
Eagles’ most natural hitters, leading the team in home runs
(20) and runs batted in (60) with a .325 batting average.
“He’s probably got the most power that I’ve ever
coached,” Bragga said.
From his post at first base, Kirby-Jones had 206 putouts, 12
assists and four errors for a .982 fielding percentage. And on the
mound, Kirby-Jones recorded a 3-3 record with a 5.51 earned run
average, striking out 52 batters in 49 innings of work while
opponents hit .247 against him.
To be able to play from both of those positions, it requires a lot
of skill on Kirby-Jones’ part.
“Absolutely,” Bragga said. “That is not easy.
With A.J., you see the skill level of having the power bat then a
power arm off the mound. Taking it a step further, you look at the
competitive side of A.J. and that’s what makes him special at
Kirby-Jones added, “It’s tough to do both. My team
gives me a job and I try to go out there and do the best for them.
Honestly I couldn’t be where I am today without them. They
helped me this year get me to where I needed to be. They were on
base for the RBIs. They gave me the opportunity to win this
As the season started, the Golden Eagles struggled a little bit
opening conference play, hindered as injuries started to ravage the
But the team was able to rally and work their way to the Ohio
Valley Conference Tournament, then winning the postseason event in
“We started a little shaky in the conference,”
Kirby-Jones said. “With all of the injuries and everything,
I’d say we got down a little bit. But we had to overcome
losing our top two pitchers. We had to overcome some adversity and
it just shows the character of this team. It was just great to see
us come together and do what we did.”
At the OVC Tournament, the Golden Eagles proved they rightfully
were one of the top teams in the league.
“We came together and played Tennessee Tech baseball,”
Kirby-Jones said. “Everybody knew what we needed to do and
came through when they had to. We all played our role and got the
big hits. It just showed how tough our team really was.”
The trip to Clemson for the NCAA Regionals was awe-inspiring for
the Knoxville-Webb product.
“That was amazing,” Kirby-Jones said. “Five
thousand fans at each game, it was just a great atmosphere. It
showed that not only can we hang in the OVC, we can battle with the
Even at the NCAA Regionals at Clemson, as Kirby-Jones was fighting
off a shoulder injury of his own with bicep tendonitis, he
continued to fight through it and battle at the plate. His numbers
at the tournament may not have been indicative of his season, but
his competitive nature helped to drive the Golden Eagles to their
success in the regional tournament, including eliminating No. 14
“Those were probably the toughest losses I’ve ever had
in my sports career,” Kirby-Jones said of Tech’s two
losses to regional host Clemson. “It was tough knowing that I
wasn’t going to be able to go out on the mound and give them
Bragga added, “He really tried to do everything he could for
this team that weekend. That may have been the first time all
season that I saw him hit his helmet with his hand as he was
putting his helmet up. A.J. wanted to win those games as bad as
anyone we’ve got. He wasn’t able to do what he normally
did for us, but it wasn’t because the effort wasn’t
there. It was. A.J’s A.J. He’s a great guy, a great
baseball player and a player I can’t wait to see back on the
field next year.”
Having finished his sophomore season with the Golden Eagles,
Kirby-Jones has set up the groundwork for two more great seasons
ahead of him with TTU baseball.
“I’ve still got a lot of work to do,”
Kirby-Jones said. “We’ve still got more championships
to try to win.”
Bragga added, “That’s exciting just knowing he’s
going to be back with us. Somebody asked me the other day,
‘What year is he? Junior? Senior?’ I said, ‘No,
he’s a sophomore.’ It’s funny because I’ve
coached against young men at Tennessee Tech, at
Birmingham-Southern, even at my junior college at Bevill State, and
it feels like he’s been here for five years already and
he’s only a sophomore. I think he really is that kind of
special player. I’m sure the other coaches are like,
‘When is that guy going to get out of there?’ because
he really is that good.”