From on the field to off it, the Orioles’ young core of current and former top prospects are always competing. Heston Kjerstad knew that playful banter wouldn’t end with his first career home run Friday night.
In his second big league game and first start, Kjerstad clobbered a solo home run in his third career at-bat in Baltimore’s 7-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. He knew his friend and former No. 1 prospect Gunnar Henderson previously one-upped him, though.
“He did it his second [at-bat], not the third one, so he had me beat on that one,” Kjerstad said with a laugh.
The 24-year-old was promoted Thursday to reach his destination more than three years after the Orioles made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 draft. The path he traveled to hit his first major league homer was windier than most players who achieve the feat.
He missed the first two years of his career with heart and hamstring ailments and didn’t make his professional debut until June 10, 2022 — the two-year anniversary of being drafted. He didn’t play in 2021 because of the heart condition myocarditis, and he missed the first two months of 2022 with a severe hamstring strain. But he’s since zoomed through the Orioles’ farm system to reach the show in just over 15 months since his first minor league game.
“That was surreal, honestly,” Kjerstad said on his home run. “I just wanted to get the first hit out of the way. To have it be a homer and see it go out of the yard and everything, it’s really amazing and truly something you dream of. Really awesome to be able to experience that.”
His 418-foot long ball to right field off Rays starter Zach Eflin was the Orioles’ first hit of the game (and one of only two on the night), as the right-hander carried a no-hit bid into the sixth. Kjerstad said it meant even more doing it at Camden Yards in front of an announced attendance of 43,359.
“You wouldn’t want to do it anywhere else,” he said. “The stadium was sold out, packed out, the fans really showed some love today to the team.”
One of those fans caught Kjerstad’s home run ball and traded it with the young slugger in exchange for a signed bat and “a couple other things,” the designated hitter said.
“Definitely worth it to get the ball back, for sure,” Kjerstad said. “I appreciate the fan giving that back to me.”
Kjerstad was called up to the Orioles to provide a potential impact bat from the left side and depth off the bench as the team makes a push to win the division. He crushed minor league pitching at every stop on his way up the ladder, and perhaps Friday’s homer was just an appetizer for his future in Baltimore.
“You always think stuff up like this in your head,” Kjerstad said. “It’s definitely way better than you can even imagine. It’s been awesome.”