By STEVE KRAH
Like the buffalo that used to roam his family’s farm, Kenton Crews is drawn to the open expanses of the baseball field.
A center fielder since his days at Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln City, Ind., Crews uses the handle @superbuffaloman on Twitter and rambles in the middle of the outfield as a University of Evansville redshirt junior.
“I love playing center field,” says Crews, a 6-foot-1, 187-pounder. “It’s the most fun thing of everything about baseball.”
Crews, 23, tends to play shallow for the Purple Aces and chases balls over his head.
“I feel more comfortable running back and catching balls over my shoulder,” says Crews, who used to do a similar thing as Heritage Hills football wide receiver.
When Crews reached UE, his favorite number — 5 — was not available. It was the number worn by his father Michael, who was a center fielder and a football player at Ball State University.
Kenton decided to go with 15 in purple, orange and white because that’s the digit donned by fly-chasing center fielder Jim Edmonds with the St. Louis Cardinals. Kenton grew up rooting for the Redbirds and stars like Edmonds, Jasper, Ind., native Scott Rolen and slugger Albert Pujols.
Speed put Crews in the outfield and made him effective in the lead-off slot with the Aces at-bat.
“One thing that we really focus on is that when the lead-off hitter each inning gets on base your chances of scoring go up,” says Crews. “A lot of (lead-off hitters) will take pitches. But if you can get a hittable pitch you should swing at it — especially fastballs early in the count instead of swing at the pitcher’s pitch.
“I’m usually pretty aggressive when I’m hitting lead-off.”
Going into a Missouri Valley Conference series April 23-25 against Illinois State, Crews is hitting .393 (35-of-89) with three home runs, four triples, eight doubles, 22 runs batted in, 21 runs scored and 6-of-9 in stolen bases. He sports a 1.145 OPS (.471 on-baseball percentage and .674 slugging average) in 28 games (24 starts).
For his career — which includes a redshirt season due to injury in 2019 — Crews is hitting .295 (161-of-545) with 11 homers, eight triples, 32 doubles, 79 RBIs, 81 runs and 33-of-42 in stolen bases. His OPS is .793 (.349 on-baseball percentage and .444 slugging average) in 143 games.
The righty swinger has 10 multi-hit games in 2021. He hit for the cycle (homer, triple, double and single) March 21 against visiting Butler. His 4-for-5 day produced four RBIs and two runs scored.
During his cycle, Crews tripled to left center in the bottom of the first inning, doubled to center in the third, homered to left in the seventh and singled in the eighth.
“Teammates were talking about it at a whisper,” says Crews about the Evansville dugout. “People didn’t know how to act.
“I was nervous about it. I didn’t want to let everybody down.”
The first two cycles of Crews’ baseball life came as a grade schooler with a Dale (Ind.) Buffaloes.
Born in Evansville, Kenton lived with father Michael, mother Kathleen and sister Sienna in a house in Lincoln State Park.
Kenton grew up catching snakes, frogs and turtles for the nature center where his father was — and still is — an interpretive naturalist. He was a football coach at Heritage Hills Middle School was a long stretch.
When Kenton was 7, the family moved to a 100-acre farm, where the Crews raised big, wooly mammals and ran a restaurant — Buffalo Run Farm, Grill & Gifts — for two decades.
Michael coached Sienna’s T-ball team (she is a year older than her brother). After the Buffaloes, Kenton played travel ball with the Southern Indiana Spikes from 8-13. He was with the HHMS and was on a Pony team in Tell City, Ind.
As a high schooler, Crews was an all-stater and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series MVP as a senior in 2016 and also a all-state and all-conference baseball and football players.
Greg Gogel was then head baseball coach at Heritage Hills.
“I love Coach Gogel with all my heart,” says Crews of a longtime family friend and former teammate of cousin Cole Seifrig (who took a lateral from future pro quarterback Jay Cutler and threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Cutler in overtime to lead Heritage Hills to a 27-24 victory against Zionville in the 2000 IHSAA Class 3A state championship game). “He taught me more lessons in life than anyone other than my dad.”
Gogel’s wife, Jenna, is Kenton’s chiropractor.
After missing his 16U summer with a hamstring injury, Kenton decided to attend college where his sister Sienna ran cross country and track.
He also liked the sincerity displayed by Aces head coach Wes Carroll and his staff during the recruiting process.
“They came to me instead of me chasing after somebody else,” says Crews. “I appreciated that effort and that honesty.
“Coach Carroll knows what he’s talking about. He told me he can make me into a better baseball player. I hope we can be friends and have a relationship the rest of my life.”
Kenton is the fourth NCAA Division I competitor in the family.
“She’s the real athlete in our family,” says Kenton of his mother.
As Kathleen Beumel, she was a 10-time state champion in cross country and track at Apollo High School in Owensboro, Ky. After attending Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, she transferred to the University of Hawaii at Manoa where she was cheer captain. At 20, she experienced a crippling injury.
“She broke her neck and was paralyzed,” says Kenton. “She wasn’t supposed to walk again or have kids.
“It’s a miracle she was able to move again and she was able to run.”
Kathleen Crews is now a program assistant at Heritage Hills and involved in the community.
“We get to work at our own pace,” says Crews. “We’re now learning empathy and showing people better ways to do things.”
Crews spent the summers of 2017 and 2018 with the Northwoods League’s Mankato (Minn.) MoonDogs and after sitting out the summer of 2019 while recuperating he was with the NL’s Kalamazoo (Mich.) Mac Daddies, where former Mankato teammate and Indiana State player C.J. Huntley was on the coaching staff and Greg Weyrich was the manager.
“He was a super nice guy and knew a lot,” says Crews, who has another year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shortened the 2020 spring season. “I’m waiting to see about this summer.
“I’d like to play another season if (Carroll) would have me.”