When Max Kepler came home to Germany to finish out 2019 with a Masterclass, everyone knew his name.
As a general rule EBSM does not cover events for children, even when “big names” or former MLB players will be present. We do this out of respect for the experiences of our little’s fans.
When we were given the chance to have an in-person one-on-one with one of the hottest bats in the MLB, who also happens to be a European, however we jumped at the opportunity. Though we are an MLB media outlet many teams require face-to-face interactions. Being located on a separate continent makes this a more challenging requirement of our job. When a willing player come to us, of course we are thrilled by the opportunity to get to know them on a more personal level.
For those unfamiliar with Kepler's career, let's catch you up on with an overview of his 2019 stats. In a season when he posted just a .252 batting average you might wonder, what's the big deal? His batting average for the season was, in fact, the league's overall average as well. So what makes this average batter exceptional at the plate?
We could start with his base numbers. Over 134 games Kepler had 132 hits, 68 for extra bases. We'll do the math for you. He was hitting at least once a game and hitting for extra bases more often than once every two games. Kepler recorded 32 doubles and 36 home runs on the season while driving in 90.
In fact, this season Kepler broke the homerun MLB single-season record set by a European-born player in 1951. On August 18th, after sending a first-pitch 33rd ball to the right field stands, he broke Scotland-born Bobby Thomson's record set while he helped the Brooklyn Dodgers clinch the NL penant.
Batting average is just one way to record a player's offensive contributions to the team though. When you look at Kepler's numbers the most astonishing thing you'll find is how exceptional his remaining numbers are, especially in light of his batting average.
The average on base percentage (OBP) in the MLB hovered at .323 in 2019. Kepler finished the season with a .336 percentage. The OBP measures how often a player reaches the base per plate appearance for any reason other than fielder's choice, error or dropped third strike.
Max's slugging percentage in 2019 was .519 while the league average was .435. A slugging percentage measures the total number of bases, except walks or hit-by-pitch, a player touches. If you've got a guy who's fast on his feet this could be made up in stolen bases but Kepler recorded just a single success over 6 attempts in 2019.
What's more impressive is Kepler's OBSP, which is a combination of the previous two numbers. This determines how well a player can hit for average and power. In 2019, the league average was .435. Kepler's number was .519.
On the field, Kepler's numbers were no less impressive. Sure he's a daisy picker but he's a picker that pays attention and has a heated gun when needed.
Maintaining a .992 fielding percentage over 5 seasons Kepler was already ranked in the top 40 for career fielding percentage in 2019. Max topped the leader board with a perfect fielding percentage, at both right and center, over 1,111 innings and 281 chances. Included were 2 double plays… from the outfield!
So yeah, count us impressed. This guy reminds us of the workhorses of yesteryear, fondly referred to as an all-around player in the 20th century. That is what made us want to catch up to him, especially as he toured Germany teaching the next generation.
Though players do these kinds of camps on a regular basis in the States it is a rare experience for the European market. Most often, when a member of the MLB arrives on the ground for camps or exhibitions in Europe, the one-time players are now on the developmental side of the game. These old timers are often so far removed from the field the kids they're instructing don't even recognize them as legends of the game. That's what made Max Kepler's Masterclass a unique opportunity for European players.
The event, held at The Regensburg Academy, where Kepler played before signing with the Twins, drew 600 people from around Europe. Each player had to apply for their spot in the class. Of the 250 applicants 80 were selected, by the MLB, to participate.
On-hand to help out for the day were Dodgers RHP prospect Sven Schuller as well as Niklas Rimmel, a Regensburg Academy hurler who is coming up behind Kepler in the Twins organization. Both men held roster spots on the 2019 German national team.
A camp like this is precisely what has been missing from Europe’s game. The opportunity to work with players, who are currently in training themselves throughout the MLB system, is the way for the game to grow in Europe.
Max was so generous with his time we’ve split his interview into two parts. The video addresses his time on the field while the written portion covers the more personal aspects of our discussion.
We began the discussion with some rapid-fire Minnesota (MN) questions...
Do you live in Minnesota in the wintertime?
No (he says with a serious head shake and a cheeky smile).
My sister’s actually there though. She moved there to study. She’s at the U (University of Minnesota Twin Cities). She’s going to experience the full-on winter. Last winter was brutal, so I hope she doesn’t get one of those, but I think she’ll be fine. Having experienced Germany’s weather in the winter it’s not that bad but no, I do not live there, by choice (he gives a little kid getting away with something grin).
Favorite hot dish or bar recipe (Minnesotans know what we meant) that you’ve discovered since living in MN?
I’m not the biggest fan of walleye (yellow pike fresh water fish) even though I feel like that’s the main specialty there.
They have a large variety of Nordic cuisine which I like. There’s a restaurant
I really enjoy going to in Minneapolis, it’s called Bachelor’s Farmer. The food is very hardy.
No specific dishes jump out at me right now but they’ve definitely got a very nice restaurant scene there. Good food. Clean city. Good people. Can’t complain except for the winter.
Minnesota’s history is deeply rooted in German immigration (largest single immigrate group in the state’s history). Any holes in the wall that remind you of home?
Some people have referred me to some restaurants but I haven’t gotten to them yet. I’m pretty busy when I’m there in season. Maybe if I visit my sister, now that you mention it, I’ll look out for something there, try and find something that brings back some German.
What’s something you’ve experienced in the States that you miss when you’re in Europe?
If I would compare Europe to the US, being born in Europe I’ll be honest, it always wins my heart over, but the US is the land of opportunity. It’s given me so much of my life, and opened up different worlds for me and my family. I’m super thankful for the US, just to get to meet all the people that have helped me along the way.
I don’t get to play baseball to the level I have in the US so I miss that a lot. Without baseball I wouldn’t be here. Then again, I also get to enjoy the break I’m on.
I feel like I’m always torn between two worlds but my family’s kind of used to that, always being on the go. If I could name some specific things, I’m a big fan of the West Coast. The climate is beautiful out there.
What part of the West Coast?
San Diego, California in La Jolla. It’s paradise. We just moved there this off-season. We were in San Francisco three years before but yeah, it doesn’t get much better than La Jolla.
It’s a good contrast to always come back to good old Berlin in the winter where the sun barely comes out in a week and then you get the climate you do in San Diego.
Is there anything you miss about Berlin when you’re away?
Yeah. The culture, the people, the food, just getting to walk the streets. You can pretty much walk anywhere with no plan and you’ll run into something cool to see or do. There’s really no limit to Berlin, the way I know it.
I miss my friends. My family’s eventually going to move away from there, which is sad. Coming back now is special to me. I’m going to want to come back every off-season just to, I don’t know, it’s always going to be home for me so I try to stay connected with everyone there.
You often say that family is everything to you. What does that look like now, with your family spread to different places? I can see it causes some angst even as I bring it up. How are you continuing to be the close-knit group that you’ve always been with the distance?
We’re used to it. Nothing changes relationship-wise. We can go weeks without talking to each other, which doesn’t usually happen, and nothing will change.
It’s just from my parent’s nature. They left home at a very young age to pursue their dreams. They kind of pushed me into that direction and I embraced it.
We always come together at some point (he can’t help but smile). I wish we could spend more time together and now my family put out the idea that they would move to the US eventually, which will be nice. My sister’s there, in the same city as I am, so we’re all going to come together at some point. The being apart is not an issue to us. We’re used to it.
In previous interviews you’ve stated that America was something you and your sister dreamed about as kids. How has the America you’ve experienced compared to those dreams?
We only got a taste of the US when we visited family in the summers so it was always just fun. It was a vacation so we didn’t really get to experience the whole, realistic aspect to life in general.
Has it lived up to the expectation? Work-wise, yes. I just miss the culture in Europe a lot but the US has so much to offer. I’ve met so many great people along the way but I will always feel more European. I do feel a little Americanized with time now, having lived there for 10 years but, that’s a good question. I’ll have to think about that one.
Max completed his Masterclass series with additional camps in Berlin and Frankfurt.
Editor’s note to our littlest fans
Players do things like this with their free time to benefit the next generation. The media’s need for the story can kill their ability to do it, as well as taint the experience for the kids. That is the last thing EBSM would ever want.
You know how you feel when a patiently waiting kid is overrun by an adult after an autograph? The media can do the same in our own terrible way. We, the media, got what we needed but it came at the expense of the kids, and Max, and that is our mistake.
For our role in that happening to any child, any time we are at an event, we apologize. To the kids who attended Max’s event, and to Mr. Kepler, we want to openly and genuinely apologize.