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Former Statesboro High player J.D. Kaiser: From walk-on to stand-out on GS baseball team
GS Baseball
Georgia Southern's J.D. Kaiser (9) celebrates one of his eight home runs on the 2024 season with plenty of appreciative teammates at J.I. Clements Stadium. - photo by Georgia Southern AMR

J.D. Kaiser went from thinking his baseball playing days were over after high school to leading Georgia Southern in home runs and RBIs in addition to being named Sun Belt player of the week.

The former Statesboro High baseball star had two doubles, eight RBIs and hit his team-leading eighth home run while batting .579 in helping the Eagles to a 4-1 record the past week.

Not bad for a guy who thought SHS would be the end of his baseball road.

“I didn’t have any offers after high school and I thought I would just come to Georgia Southern and be a student,” Kaiser said.

At the urging of his former high school coach Chris Bishop, Kaiser attended a camp at Georgia Southern in front of Eagle coach Rodney Hennon.

“A few days later I was at the beach and I got a call from coach Hennon saying he had a spot for me as a walk-on if I wanted it, and that was very exciting.” Kaiser said.

Hennon told Kaiser he probably wouldn’t play and would be redshirted, which was fine with Kaiser, who was just excited about getting a chance to be a part of the team he grew up watching.

“From day one, J.D. came in and put his head down and worked hard,” Hennon said. “He has earned everything that has come his way. It’s been so cool to see him develop into one of our best players and a great leader. Being a coach’s son, I think he understands what it takes to be successful and he has shown it on and off the field.”

Hennon says one of the things he has appreciated about Kaiser is his willingness to do anything asked of him.

“I think his relationship with fellow catcher Sean White says a lot about J.D.,” Hennon said. “They are both competing at the catching position but those guys are like brothers. They live together and I think the competition has made both of those guys better. When we talk about team and being unselfish, J.D. is certainly a great example of that.”

Kaiser is currently hitting .325 with eight home runs and 39 RBIs as well as a team leading .587 slugging percentage. He attributes much of his success this year to his determination to get better which included transforming his body in the weight room.

“Last year offensively I wasn’t happy with my performance,” Kaiser said. “I came in this year knowing I had to make some changes. I hit the weight room and feel like I got bigger and stronger. I also have worked on just going gap to gap and back-spinning the baseball instead of just trying to hit it hard all the time. It has really paid off this season.”

His determination to improve and positive attitude go back to his freshman year. Despite limited playing time, Kaiser was happy to be a part of what he called a special team.

“I learned a lot from those guys on and off the field and I was determined to get on the field.” Kaiser said.

Kaiser made the most of his two at bats at Georgia Southern during that season, both of  which came at the end of the regular season. In his first at-bat at J.I. Clements Stadium, Kaiser hit a home run. It meant even more to him as his mom and dad were in the stands, something he didn’t expect.

“My parents were at home watching the game on television,” Kaiser said. “We were playing U.T. Arlington and were beating them up pretty good so my dad told my mom we should run to the game in case J.D. gets in. I remember when I was walking into the on-deck circle, I saw them come in the gate. I put a pretty good swing on the ball and hit it out. When I was rounding the bases, I almost blacked out. When I got into the dugout it all hit me and I just broke down and cried.”

Having his family and friends in the stands means a lot to Kaiser, but he draws even more inspiration from having his mother Kristi there, who recently battled through health issues.

“She is a warrior and instilled that in me,” Kaiser said. “I think of her every time I take the field. I always think that my worst day on the baseball field is a whole lot better than some people’s worst day.”