Newest Astro learned from MLB grandpa

June 7th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Brian McTaggart’s Astros Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

When Don Kessinger got the call a few days ago that his grandson, , was being called up to the Major Leagues for the first time, he said he was as excited -- or maybe more excited -- than he was when he got that same call nearly 59 years ago.

“We were out of town and coming back in town and just got a call from his dad, Kevin,” Don Kessinger said Tuesday. “He had just gotten the call from Grae. That’s how we got [the news], and it wasn’t long until Grae gave us a call.”

Grae Kessinger arrived in Toronto on Monday afternoon and was on the Astros’ active roster for the series opener against the Blue Jays, but he didn’t play Monday or Tuesday. He will make his Major League debut Wednesday against the Blue Jays and start at third base, said manager Dusty Baker. Don Kessinger, 80, will be watching from his home in Mississippi and is already bursting with pride for a grandson to live out his dream.

“I told him to play as hard as he can and have as much fun as he can and make the most of the moment, because it’s something he’s always wanted,” he said. “You got a dream and now enjoy it. Don’t worry. Just play. Play hard and have fun.”

Don Kessinger was a six-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove Award winner for the Cubs as well as an All-American shortstop (1964) and head coach (1991-96) at Ole Miss, the same school Grae attended. Don was also a player-manager with the White Sox and a huge influence on Grae’s career.

In his 16-year career with the Cubs (1964-75), Cardinals (1976-77) and White Sox (1977-79), Kessinger amassed 1,931 hits -- 254 doubles, 80 triples and 14 homers. He was known for his glove and played on the same infield as Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Ron Santo. He has fond memories of playing in the Astrodome, including the 1968 All-Star Game, which he started at shortstop for the National League.

“When I walked in that locker room and you’re looking at Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente and Bob Gibson, you look around and say, ‘What in the world am I doing here?’” he said. “All I shared with Grae was, you’ll be in awe a little bit, but you at least have been in Spring Training with them and they know who you are. So, just do what you do. Just have fun, relax, be a teammate, play as hard as you can play. When you have the opportunity, enjoy it to its fullest.”

Grae Kessinger is the third generation of the family to play in the big leagues. Grae’s uncle, Keith, played 11 games with the Reds in 1993. Don Kessinger set a high bar for his son and grandson by playing 16 seasons, but he’s glad to pass on his lessons to another generation of big leaguers.

“I think [Grae] will handle it just fine,” he said. “He’s grown up around baseball and had lots of conversations about things and to me, that’s one of the great things about Grae is he’s been under control. He kind of slows the game down. There could be bad days, but I do think he will be fine from that standpoint.”