Kerry Carpenter can't believe his big league life

April 10th, 2024
Design by Tom Forget

may now find himself regularly penciled into the heart of the Tigers lineup, but that was far from a guarantee when he was coming out of college. Back then, Carpenter was a 19th round selection by Detroit in the 2019 Draft -- a round that rarely leads to significant big league action. (Only one other player from that year's 19th round -- the Rays' Kevin Kelly, who was originally taken by Cleveland -- has reached the Majors.)

At that time, Carpenter was simply thrilled to be playing baseball every day in the summer instead of working as a sales associate at Publix Super Market or helping out friends as a math tutor. Like most people who don't list "professional ballplayer" on their tax forms, Carpenter made a LinkedIn page that still lives on today, giving us a peek into the slugger's mindset.

"I have been with the Tigers since June of 2019," Carpenter wrote on the page. "Currently, I am finishing my degree online at Florida International University while I live my dream of professional baseball."

Live that dream he has -- something he never fully thought could happen.

"I don't know if that's 21-year-old me would believe it, to be honest," Carpenter said while visiting the MLB Studios recently. "Even at that time, I don't know if I was ever like, 'Oh, I'm going to play in the big leagues for sure. It was more of a, 'Let's keep going and see what happens.' I don't know If you would have told me what my life is like now, if I'd have believed it. It's incredible. It's such a blessing."

Coming off his first 20-home run season, Carpenter doesn't seem any less grateful for the opportunity to play in the big leagues. Blessed with a smile almost permanently attached to his face, the right fielder has found himself living out his dream alongside his wife, former Texas Longhorns softball star Lauren Burke. (The duo were a part of a trend this winter: They're one of nine Tigers couples who got hitched or engaged this offseason.)

The two make a perfect athletic pair, too, even going on batting practice dates together. Not just that, but they have the comedic patter of an old vaudeville duo, too.

When asked who is the better hitter, Burke is quick to point to her husband.

"I’m not sure I’ve seen your scouting report," Carpenter says, "so I can't say."

"You know my stats, actually," Burke replies.

".311 with 10 homers in her college career, but who’s counting?"

"Not you," Burke shoots back.

Of course, Burke also knows one of the reasons why Carpenter might be a bit better in the cage during their evenings together:

"I throw my BP right at your barrel."

While the two are happy to joke, there is also some serious work being done on these dates together.

"When I need to practice hitting curveballs, I’ll say, ‘Can we go hit?’" Carpenter said.

"He uses me for my wicked curveballs," Burke joked.

There is something important for the duo in supporting each other on the field, but off it as well. The two know both the game and the stresses that come along with a life filled with travel and thousands of eyes watching every move each night.

"I'm the one who benefits from how amazing she is in her experience, but also how selfless she is and how giving she is to me," Carpenter said. "Everything she's gone through -- I try to even take advice from her on the way that she played the game."

"I think for me, it's understanding his lifestyle, his schedule, the game in general," Burke said. "It's a lot and it's something that I think is good that I understand it in a sense. Also, after a game, how he handles that -- he's very consistent. Like, he doesn't get too high or too low."

While Carpenter is looking ahead to the rest of the season after the Tigers' quick start, he pauses to remember two moments that stand out in his memory -- the moments that let him know, "Hey, you're in the big leagues now."

The first came in Boston last year when he got to play in Fenway Park for the first time.

"It was special because David Ortiz was my favorite player growing up -- [him] and Dustin Pedroia," Carpenter said. "I was a Rays fan, so I don't know why I love them, but David Ortiz was my favorite player. So, I hit a home run on Friday night in Fenway and I was just rounding the bases. I couldn't believe that I just hit a homer in Fenway where my favorite player did it so many times."

(Naturally, Carpenter hit two more home runs the next day.)

The other came the next month in Los Angeles. Carpenter smashed a double and found himself standing on second base right next to superstar Mookie Betts.

"I had a double and Mookie gave me a little, like, 'Nice swing,'" Carpenter said, a wide smile across his face. "I was like, 'Oh my gosh, that's so cool.'"