Hug-worthy Kemp makes Astros’ Opening Day roster

Former Centennial High and Vanderbilt star Tony Kemp had not made a big-league roster to start the season before this week. (photo by Mike Morrow)

For the first time in his career, former Vanderbilt player Tony Kemp will break spring training camp as a member of the Houston Astros’ Opening Day roster.

Kemp had been a little touch-and-go. He is out of minor league options. The Astros finalized their roster Sunday as they broke camp. Kemp and pitchers Josh James and Framber Valdez all made the team to start the season for the first time in their careers.

In the club’s final team meeting of the spring in West Palm Beach, Fla., the three players were given a round of applause.

Brian McTaggart of mlb.com quoted Jeff Luhnow, Astros director of baseball operations and general manager, as saying, “Kemp’s been around this camp almost as long as I’ve been an Astro and it’s hard to believe he hadn’t made an Opening Day team until this year.”

Manager A.J. Hinch, according to the Houston Chronicle, said, “There’s some guys who have been on Opening Day rosters for more than a decade, others that are early in their career. That Opening Day feeling, the nerves, the energy, the adrenaline, the goose bumps are still there whether you’re in the league for one year or 20 years.”

Kemp, who played at Centennial High School in Franklin, may have wanted to hug somebody. He’s all about hugs.

Kemp, who stands 5-6, took to hugging Houston teammate Evan Gattis, a monster of a man at 6-4, 270 pounds, after Gattis would hit a home run. It made for quite a scene. Now, “Hugs for Homers” has become a thing in Astros baseball.

The hugging thing began in Class AAA Fresno, where Kemp took to jumping to hug a couple of teammates, Drew Ferguson and Garrett Stubbs, when each would homer. Kemp took the habit on to the big-league club in Houston, making it memorable when Gattis would finish circling the bases. Then it became a source of charitable contributions. “Hugs for Homers” T-shirts were sold to benefit the Astros Youth Academy.

Gattis is no longer with the Astros. He is on the free agent market. But the Astros aren’t letting the opportunity go by to hang on to a hug. The club is giving away bobbleheads on May 6 that depict Kemp hugging Jose Altuve, who also stands 5-6.

Kemp talked to the hometown Franklin Home Page last year about the origin of the hug habit.

“When you’re in Triple-A, no one wants to be there, you want to be in the (majors),” Kemp told the Home Page. “You’ve got to find a way to keep it light. Once I got called up, Gattis hit a home run and I jumped in his arms. The next day he hit another and we did it again – it kind of became our handshake.”

Kemp appeared at his old high school during this off-season for the Centennial Winter Baseball Camp. In January, he and his wife, Michelle, hosted a Kemp’s Kids Camp in Houston where kids of all ages from the Boys and Girls Club in the Houston area could participate.

Former Nashville Sound Alcides Escobar was released by Baltimore but signed by the Chicago White Sox (photo by Mike Morrow)

“We wanted to help kids that might not be able to afford the equipment,” Kemp told KTRK. “We just wanted to put something together for the kids that can help them and benefit.”

Kemp’s versatility has served him well with the Astros. He came up as a second baseman, but Altuve’s presence created a road block. Kemp has made the most of contributing to the club as an outfielder. Since he joined the club in 2016, he has played all three outfield positions, second base and served as a designated hitter.

Kemp was drafted by the Astros in the fifth round in 2013. …

… Former Smyrna High and Vanderbilt pitcher Sonny Gray is scheduled to make his regular season debut as a Cincinnati Red on Saturday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Reds’ Opening Day pitcher on Thursday will be Luis Castillo, who was 10-12 last season. …

… Another former Vanderbilt pitcher, Tyler Beede, was sent to Class AAA Sacramento by the San Francisco Giants. Beede had been pitching well this spring, but manager Bruce Bochy said there would be difficult decisions to make. Beede was the Giants’ first-round draft pick in 2014. …

… Former Vandy outfielder Bryan Reynolds was assigned to minor league camp by the Pittsburgh Pirates. …

… Former Vandy pitcher Carson Fulmer, who was the No. 5 starter to begin last season with the Chicago White Sox, has been sent to AAA Charlotte, where he is expected to be in the bullpen. The Colorado Rockies sent former Vandy pitcher Ben Bowden to the minors…

… Former Lipscomb catcher Caleb Joseph was optioned to AAA Reno of the Pacific Coast League by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Joseph, who previously played for Baltimore, signed a one-year contract with the Diamondbacks in February. …

… The Orioles released shortstop Alcides Escobar, a former Nashville Sound, but the White Sox quickly signed Escobar to a minor league contract. Escobar was part of the Kansas City Royals club that won the World Series in 2015. He played 109 games for Nashville in 2009 as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

Categories: Home-grown

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