Prep Softball

Cedar Rapids Kennedy's Kaylin Kinney: Grade-A superstar with Type-1 diabetes

Despite medical 'inconvenience,' Kennedy junior is a force as a pitcher, and as a batter

Cedar Rapids Kennedy's Kaylin Kinney pitches against Cedar Rapids Xavier on June 18. Despite Type-1 diabetes, Kinney is one of the top softball players in the state. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids Kennedy's Kaylin Kinney pitches against Cedar Rapids Xavier on June 18. Despite Type-1 diabetes, Kinney is one of the top softball players in the state. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Kaylin Kinney was 10 years old and terrified.

Her weight had dropped, more than 10 pounds in less than two weeks. She was up at night, in the bathroom, repeatedly.

“I was drinking water all the time, urinating all the time,” she said. “Honestly, I thought I was dying. And I thought that even if I lived, I wouldn’t be able to play sports any more.”

Kinney was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes. It’s a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin, the hormone needed to allow sugar (glucose) to enter cells to produce energy.

“My blood-sugar level was 600 (milligrams per deciliter), and normal is 120,” Kinney said.

Despite active research, type-1 diabetes has no cure. Kinney is stuck with it, for life.

Still, she managed to develop into one of the top high school softball players in the state.

“She’s probably the best I’ve seen,” said Maddison LeClere, Kinney’s coach at Cedar Rapids Kennedy. “There are a lot of good players in our conference alone, and she competes with the best of the them.”

The reigning Gatorade state player of the year, Kinney leads the Class 5A third-ranked Cougars (37-2) to the state tournament this week at the Rogers Sports Complex in Fort Dodge. They’ll face No. 6 Iowa City High (34-7) in a 5A quarterfinal at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

A junior who has long since committed to the University of Nebraska, Kinney is a lockdown pitcher and a prolific hitter, against those who bother to give her a chance to swing the bat. Many don’t.

Kinney has drawn 51 walks, most of the intentional variety, this season.

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“It gets frustrating, especially when I want to help contribute to the team,” Kinney said. “But it’s a free base, and I don’t look at stats a whole lot anyway. Somebody else can drive me in.”

All of those walks have helped boost Kinney’s on-base percentage to .697 this season. When she does get something to hit, she is batting .506 with 14 home runs, seven doubles and 33 RBIs. Her slugging percentage is 1.152.

Kinney’s power has become stuff of legend in the Kennedy clubhouse. Once, taking batting practice, she rocketed one to right-center field that bounced off the concession stand and onto the baseball field beyond it.

“She hits front toss like nobody I’ve ever seen,” LeClere said. “When she comes up to bat, most of the rest of the shaggers run outside the fence.

“But she’s so humble, she just shakes her head and blushes.”

Despite all those annoying walks (129 through four seasons), she has 44 career homers.

Kinney is no less dominant in the pitching circle. She is 55-6 in her career, 20-0 this season. In 126 innings this summer, she has allowed 11 runs (seven earned). That translates to a 0.39 ERA with 154 strikeouts and just eight walks.

She has pitched seven no-hitters this season.

Add sophomore Jayme Scheck (15-2, 0.73 ERA, 166 strikeouts) into the mix, and Kennedy owns the best pitching staff in the state. The Cougars have blanked 21 opponents. Fourteen teams have scored one run, four have scored two.

None have scored more.

Kinney is known as the fireballer, Scheck as the spin artist. But there’s more to Kinney than just velocity, LeClere said.

“She has so many tools. She has six pitches that are really good,” said LeClere, a former pitcher herself. “People can sit on speed, but her change and placement make her really tough.”

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Kinney said, “Strikeouts are great, but I think I’m more of a ground-ball pitcher than a strikeout pitcher.”

During the regular season, most of Kennedy’s competition is the form of doubleheaders. Kinney usually pitches the opener, then moves to first base as Scheck takes Game 2.

Between games, most of the Cougars hit the concession stand.

“Everybody else will go get a walking taco, and I’ll have a cheeseburger with no bun,” Kinney said. “I just can’t have the carbs between games.”

Kinney’s lifelong companion is an insulin pump (she named the current one Patty the Pump), about the size of a cellphone. A tube, which Kinney replaces every third day, connects a reservoir of insulin to a catheter that’s inserted under the skin of her abdomen.

“I guess the worst thing is that, as a teenager, it should be kind of a carefree time,” said Kaylin’s mother, Laura Kinney. “She has to monitor things and make sure her numbers are in range. From the time she was diagnosed, she had to grow up. She couldn’t be worry-free.”

Kinney’s blood-sugar level can be tracked on an app or on her watch. When the Cougars play, assistant coach Tianna Drahn wears Kinney’s watch and monitors her level — “Tianna has diabetes duty,” LeClere said.

Laura Kinney and her husband, Mike, have the app on their phones, too.

“It’s crazy how adrenaline can affect her numbers,” LeClere said. “The last inning or two (of Kennedy’s 6-0 regional final win over Cedar Rapids Prairie), I was constantly asking Tianna what her numbers were at.”

They were fine.

Despite her success and her honors, Kinney is grounded and owns a sunny personality.

“She’s so much fun to be around,” Kennedy catcher Abby Spore said. “If there’s an error behind her, she doesn’t get upset, she brings everybody together and that keeps us rolling.”

The pump and the insulin regulate Kinney’s blood-sugar level, but not every day is good.

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“Some days, I feel awful,” she said. “It’s an inconvenience, and I have to accept it.

“This is my life, and that’s how it’s going to be. I can use it how I decide to use it, and I decide to use it in a positive way. I love softball, and it helps me be a positive role model. I know that little girls are looking up to me.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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