Shawn Kelley’s Road Trip to Spring Training

Several Mariners players have already arrived in Peoria in preparation for the first Pitchers and Catchers workout on Sunday. Several players will arrive in Arizona on flights, and either rent cars for the spring, or have their cars shipped from their home. There are even a few Mariners that call Arizona home during the off-season. And then there are a few road warriors, who will hit America’s highways and make the journey the old-fashioned way. Relief pitchers Shawn Kelley and Stephen Pryor started their journey from Chattanooga, TN yesterday morning at 8am, along with Shawn’s puggles, Miller & Izzie. They hope to finish the 1,800-mile trek Friday afternoon when they pull into the Mariners Spring Training Complex in Peoria.

We caught up with Shawn as he started his journey and asked him a few questions about the drive, what music they have been listening to, how many stops they have made, and how he ended up with Stephen in his passenger seat…

Shawn Kelley's ride from Chattanooga, TN to Peoria, AZ

When and where did you start the journey?
We started driving from Chattanooga on Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. I am driving my Tahoe, and pulling my jeep. Both cars are filled with all of our family stuff for the upcoming season.

How did it come about for you to drive with Stephen to Arizona?
My wife (Kelsey) ran into him at the Chattanooga mall kids play area and set it up! She doesn’t like me driving by myself across country, so this was perfect. Stephen and I are both from Tennessee (Stephen is from the small town of Ooltewah, TN, 20 miles outside of Chattanooga) and we have very similar baseball backgrounds. We’ve gotten to know each other a little bit with our families, and we have a lot in common.

Have you always driven to spring training rather than fly?
I have serious flight anxiety and love to be in control!! It’s more Tennessean of me to drive!

It is just you and a fellow pitcher, what’s most of the conversation about?
Sesame street and Mickey mouse! Occasionally we talk baseball and politics! Steven always falls asleep on me though ( I guess I’m boring)

When will Kelsey and Parker join you in Arizona?
They fly out on valentines day!

You are driving your Tahoe it looks like…is that also your jeep?
Yep! The Tahoe is pulling the jeep! I’ll be top down all spring training while blowing my train horn that I had installed! Cover your ears when you see me.

What have your stops been on the trip?
Lots of stops because my two small dogs need to go to the bathroom a lot. So far we’ve stopped in Memphis, Little Rock and stayed last night in Fort Smith, Arkansas near the Oklahoma-Arkansas border. We are driving right now (as of 11 a.m. Thursday PT) and getting close to Elk City, Oklahoma. We drove about 11 hours yesterday, hope to get to Albuquerque, New Mexico tonight, and then a short 7-hour drive to Peoria Friday.

Have you done anything on the trip that people would shake their head at?
We played long-toss in the parking lot of a Chili’s this morning. You have to get your throwing in!

Best roadside attraction you’ve seen so far?
We saw 6 deer grazing by a undercover police car.

Most interesting car or license plate you’ve seen on the road so far?
Mine! My Tahoe with a Tennessee plate pulling a red-neck jeep with Washington plates. Seems kind of backwards, doesn’t it!

The jeep being pulled on the way to Arizona. Stephen Pryor with the photo assist!

What playlist did you go with for the journey?
Anything country or 80’s!! No Madonna after the Super Bowl show, unless its Like a Prayer.

What has been the best meal so far on the trip? Or worst for that matter?
Subway’s $5 foot-long has been the best, and we’ve gone more than once! The donuts we picked up at a Shell Station were not a good idea. I hope our nutritionist is not reading this.

What will be your first stop in AZ?
Panda Express, and again, I hope our nutritionist is not reading this.

Destination Peoria, AZ. Shawn Kelley driving across America.

And now some baseball questions…

You had quite a ride last season, coming back from a second Tommy John surgery (partial) and ended the season without giving up a run in 10 appearances with the Mariners (12.2 innings). Was that motivation heading into the off-season?
Yeah for sure! I want to keep that mentality coming into 2012 and build off that momentum heading into spring.

What have you been doing in recent weeks to ramp up to the start of spring training?
Watching movies with my son, working on his football catching, and I’ve started throwing bullpens.

What are some of your goals heading into spring camp?
To be at my best and help some of our younger new pitchers develop.

Have you given any pitching advice to Stephen along the way. Seems like you guys have similar baseball backgrounds and moving up the Mariners system fast.
Yeah, we have scarily similar backgrounds both coming from small schools in Tennessee (Shawn from Austin Peay University, Stephen from Tennessee Tech). I’ve told him to just be himself, have fun and don’t put to much pressure on himself! Worry about what he can control and the rest will fall I to place. I think Mariners fans are going to enjoy seeing Stephen pitch and getting to know his name. [blog note about Stephen: He is rated as the Mariners No. 15 prospect by Baseball America. He is 3-3 with 15 saves and a 3.60 ERA in 62 relief appearances during his minor league career. The Mariners selected him in the 5th round of the 2010 draft out of Tennessee Tech University.]

Shawn Kelley had made 73 appearances for the Mariners over the last three seasons. (Getty Images)

You can follow Shawn and his journey to Peoria on Twitter at @shawnkelley23.

- JE

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