Lovegrove gives back to South African roots in a big way

Kieran Lovegrove receives news that his foundation will be helped at the Area Code Baseball Games. Scott Kurtz/ESPNHS

Ever since Kieran Lovegrove from Mission Viejo (Mission Viejo, Calif.) has been a tyke, he's had a bat in his hand.

Today, the up-and-coming senior has become a pitcher who will appear in this week's Area Code Games. But the pitches Lovegrove makes are often more important when he's making them for a non-profit organization he co-founded that delivers baseball equipment to children in need throughout the world.

The odd twist to this story is that prior to moving to Southern California with his family when he was five, the only bat Lovegrove handled was a cricket bat, since that's the game of choice in his native South Africa.

His father, Keith Lovegrove, played cricket and rugby back home and even managed the South African under-23 indoor cricket team.

Soon after moving to the states, Kieran fell in love with baseball, as did Keith, who coached his son in Little League.

Now, as a 6-foot-4, 175-pound right-hander who tops out with a 94 mph fastball, the 3.3 GPA student-athlete has gotten a scholarship to Arizona State. He also is going to unleash his "slurve" pitch as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers Area Code team this week in Long Beach, Calif.

"Some people call it a curve and some call it a slider. I decided to take the middle because of the way it moves," Lovegrove told ESPNHS.

Not only does his favorite pitch move, but Kieran brings the "slurve" at 80 mph as he does his changeup.

No wonder the scouts jumped on him despite a less than stellar season coming out of the Mission Viejo bullpen.

"We had two seniors that were set in the rotation, so I had to go into a relief role. I didn't take it well and it took awhile to get used to not starting," Kieran said.

The "lanky" Lovegrove, as he says people describe him, had a 1-4 record and a 5.49 ERA with 30 strikeouts, but gave up 33 hits and 11 walks in 29.1 innings pitched for a 23-12 Diablos team that won the CIF Southern Section Division II title with a victory at Dodger Stadium.

At one time or another, Kieran has played four sports -- cricket, baseball, football and soccer. He and his father still occasionally hit the cricket ball indoors, but after his freshman sesaon, when he started getting taller and better at baseball, he gave up being a soccer goalkeeper and a football wide receiver.

In many of those sports, Kieran played with his best friends -- Mission Viejo teammate Kyle Candalla and Adam Salcido, who attends nearby Laguna Hills (Laguna Hills, Calif.) -- and three years ago an idea blossomed from watching a video.

"My dad sent me a link to a video about these kids in a township in South Africa that had nothing," Kieran explained. "They were playing in a drainage ditch with sticks and rolled up socks as bats and balls like it used to be in the Dominican Republic."

"We all watched the video and then at dinner we talked about it. We felt guilty about how much we have and how much extra gear we had in our garages," Kieran continued. "Being from South Africa, it really hit home with me."

What the boys discussed was how they could collect baseball gear and send it to the kids.

Keith agreed to help the boys by setting up a web site, and GoingToBat.org was born.

The boys got busy right away, first collecting their own spare gear and then adding equipment collected from the web site.

With the help of the parents of the three co-founders, the non-profit had officers.

Keith became the president, Adam's mother Christina Salcido is treasurer, and Kyle's mother Shannon Candalla is the secretary.

In addition, another dad, Raymond Salcido, does the public relations, Kelly Lovegrove, Kieran's Southern California-raised mother, does the marketing, and dad Ernand Candalla is in charge of operations.

"We have pictures of the kids in South Africa using the gear," Kieran said proudly. "We just sent a shipment to a town 200 miles from Juneau (Alaska) named Wrangell, so now we've sent everything we have."

Lovegrove and his buddies would seem to be well on their way to helping more kids who want to play baseball but lack equipment.

This week, we'll get to see if Kieran has the equipment to impress the assembled pro scouts he'll need to if he wants to jump start the game plan to achieve his ultimate dream.

Note: Those interesting in helping Kieran Lovegrove and the GoingToBat.org cause, please visit the Web site and make a donation. The group plans to collect gear in October and wants to send equipment domestically and within California.