The ball he laced into left-center for a leadoff eighth-inning double will eventually make its way back to Kelly as a keepsake. Until then, Kelly will cling to the emotional high of attaining a Major League dream in front of his parents, who had traveled to Pittsburgh for the series.
"It's only my second day in the big leagues, and getting this opportunity to go out and contribute, it's a great feeling," Kelly said. "Getting that first hit, it was a very special moment for me."
Ranked by MLB Pipeline as the organization's 11th-best prospect, Kelly played his way onto the Cardinals' September callup list with a standout season. After nabbing a Minor League Gold Glove award last season, Kelly, a converted catcher, matched his defensive ability with offensive production this year.
The 22-year-old thrived at Double-A Springfield, hitting .287/.338/.403 over 64 games before earning a promotion just after participating in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game. His production never tailed off in Triple-A Memphis, either. Kelly ended his Minor League season with a pair of multi-hit games before joining the Cardinals in Cincinnati on Sunday.
"The big thing is he's earned this," general manager John Mozeliak said. "You look at how he played this year, he certainly accomplished a lot of things on the field."
The Cardinals also viewed this last month as an invaluable teaching tool for Kelly, who will get exposure in a pennant race and have the opportunity to work at his craft alongside Yadier Molina and manager Mike Matheny.
Getting the chance to appear in a game so soon was mostly due to fortunate circumstance. The Cardinals had built a 10-4 lead by the time Kelly was summoned to replace Molina. Kelly then caught one inning from Jonathan Broxton and two from Miguel Socolovich.
In between, Kelly connected for a double that sparked the Cardinals' two-run eighth.
"I was afraid he was going to take off and try to steal third or advance on the ball to the wrong side of the field or something because you could tell he was pretty amped up, rightfully so," Matheny said. "Even when you get called up, you never know if you're going to get that opportunity to be in there. I'd say he made the most of it. He looked great."
After catching up with his family, Kelly planned to document the day's events in the journal he has kept throughout his professional career. That journal has become a resource through which Kelly has noted the tendencies of his pitchers and highlighted some of his greatest learning experiences.
Monday's entry will be a bit more involved.
"Probably a whole page," Kelly said. "If I write small."