Even after his days at Grinnell College, Gary Kahn ‘09 is continuing his successful run in baseball.
Kahn, a former All-Midwest Conference performer, was recently hired by a team in the Swiss Nationalliga A (Switzerland’s highest league) to be their head coach as well as pitch and play first base for them.
The team is located around the Basel area. He is the youngest player on the team and one of six foreign players, and in the team’s first two games went 4-for-6 at the plate with a homer, double and 7 RBI (see related video with clips of Gary Kahn here).
Kahn recently participated in a question-and-answer session with Grinnell College Sports Information Director Ted Schultz:
TS: Tell me about your baseball experience since your days of playing at Grinnell College?
GK: After graduating from Grinnell, I had a decent chance of either getting drafted or signing a free-agent contract due to my success on the mound at Grinnell and in the Valley League during the summers of 2007 and 2008.
I held the eighth-inning set-up role for the Woodstock River Bandits and the closer was Brandon Beachy, a pitcher now in the starting rotation for the Atlanta Braves. I was undrafted and was invited to a private tryout with the St. Paul Saints of the American Association--the best independent baseball league in the States where many current and former stars have played.
I threw a good bullpen for them and was told by their coaching staff that I was not what they were looking for, even though they thought I had the talent to do so. They said that I was only 22 years old and that most guys in the league were a lot older and more experienced than I was.
As soon as they said this, former Major Leaguer Kerry Ligtenberg greeted us as he was running by. Though disappointed, I felt somewhat honored to be held in the same regard as players like Ligtenberg and former Saints players like Jack Morris, J.D. Drew, Daryl Strawberry, and Kevin Millar. Following this workout, I had invites to other indy league tryouts as well as a couple MLB Workouts. However, I decided that I would much rather continue my international travels (which began in the fall of 2007 with my study abroad experience to Copenhagen, Denmark) and take my talents overseas.
I had offers from both Sweden and France and chose to take the contract with Karlskoga Bats of the Swedish Elitserien. Following one of our games up there, I was approached by Yinka Adewsui Freeman---an international baseball player from Nigeria who plays winter baseball down in South Africa. He inquired if I would be interested in playing winter ball down in Cape Town. He ended up sending my name down to the Western Province Major League, Africa’s top baseball league and home to many minor league players. The Durbanville Villains (located 15 minutes outside downtown Cape Town) sent a contract offer and I was on a plane to Africa only after being home in Miami for six days following Sweden.
It was this team’s first year up in the Major League from relegation and their goal was to stay up in the Major League with their squad of many inexperienced youngsters. I was also put in charge of all the Junior side’s training sessions. We ended up finishing seventh out of 10 teams, thus avoiding relegation. Additionally, two of the Juniors I worked with were selected to represent South Africa in the Little League World Series qualifier.
During my time in Cape Town, my success nabbed me offers from the German Bundesliga, Belgian League, and Czech Extraliga. I ended up taking the offer from SKSB Arrows Ostrava in the Czech Extraliga, one of Europe’s top five leagues. In addition to playing for the Extraliga side and coaching the Junior Extraliga team, I was also hired by the Czech Baseball Association as an instructor for their baseball academy in Ostrava. I ended with a 3.44 ERA and 73 strikeouts. Towards the end of the Czech season, I was offered a contract extension with the Durbanville Villains for the 2010-2011 season. I spent a week back home before travelling back to Cape Town for the 6-month season.
The goal for the Villains during this season was to finish in the top four. We ended up finishing fifth---only one game out of fourth place. However, it was a very successful season and the team was happy with my performance. The Junior sides enjoyed a number of successes as well---many of the teams finishing at the top of their age divisions and a number of the players being nominated to their respective age’s provincial team. I ended 5-4 with a 3.23 ERA and 66 strikeouts. Following my three-week vacation into Zimbabwe and Mozambique, I had some time to contemplate whether I would be going to Germany, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, or Switzerland for the 2011 European season.
My decision was to go with the Sissach Frogs of the Swiss Nationalliga. Prior to my arrival in the Basel area, I was honored to be hired as the Assistant Coach/Head Pitching Coach for the Swiss National Team.
TS) Talk about your latest hiring in terms of coaching, etc.?
GK: The Sissach Frogs are located in the tiny village of Sissach, located on the Swiss border of Germany and France and approximately 20 minutes outside of Basel. It is quite funny that in addition to being the youngest player on the team, I am also the head coach. The team is a mix of Swiss and Dominican players, along with another American who now lives in Basel with his wife. Thus, it is quite time -consuming when I must speak to the team both in English and in Spanish.
As fun as it has been so far, it is also quite a challenge balancing my playing and coaching responsibilities. Usually I am on the field solely thinking of how I am going to make myself a better player that day, or how I am going to give my team a good chance to win. Now, I have to be thinking about how I am going to prepare my team for battle each weekend and how I will be able to maintain my own level of play during my coaching efforts.
Fortunately I have been successful thus far, winning our first two games this past Saturday. I also hit my first professional home run---as a pitcher, I never thought I would see the day. I have also attended one National Team practice in Zurich. My duties are to serve as both an assistant coach and the pitching coach for the team. The team has two competitions this summer---a major invitational tournament held in Austria during the middle of June and the European Championship qualifier in Barcelona at the end of July.
TS) What has been the biggest adjustment to being abroad, and how did Grinnell College prepare you for this?
GK:My experience at Grinnell College has played a pivotal role in my success thus far---both off and on the field. Looking at it from a social angle, living in Grinnell for four years with limited physical contact from my family forced me to quickly mature from a teenager to a young adult.
It also taught me how to adapt to a new social and demographical environment---thus became a good foundation for my study abroad program in Copenhagen, Denmark. Those four months abroad were something of a dream! I truly believe it was this experience that encouraged me to pursue international baseball opportunities. My current girlfriend is a Danish girl whom I met in Copenhagen just after I finished the Swedish season. I was over there to visit some friends that I made during my time studying abroad.
Ironically enough, this was immediately following maybe the craziest weekend of my life with John Grotberg ‘09 in Amsterdam. If I had not taken the opportunity to study abroad in Copenhagen a couple years prior, I probably would never have met her. There can’t be any gainsaying the fact that a Grinnell College education has been so pivotal in my international experience thus far. The College’s emphasis on proper communication (both verbal and written) has allowed me to capture the attention of audiences worldwide. Mister-Baseball.com, the largest international baseball website, asked me to become a guest analyst for them during my second year in South Africa. One article I wrote dealt with the scarcity of bullpens found in the Western Cape and how I felt it crucial for international baseball clubs to have these in the hopes of developing pitchers worthy of international play.
Six months later, while watching a game up here in Switzerland, I was approached by a head coach for one of the Swiss teams. He told me that after he read this article some months back, he forced his club to install bullpen mounds at its premises. If it wasn’t for my Grinnell education, I do not feel that I would be able to convey my arguments in such a precise, calculated manner. Baseball wise, I can’t say enough for what Coach (Tim) Hollibaugh did for me during my time at Grinnell. That man took my game to another level---from both the physical and mental aspects. It is quite funny that at times when I am coaching and/or addressing a particular team, I feel like I am repeating the same words he was saying to me during my days under his guidance.
TS) What are your plans after this?
GK: My future plans are to obtain a J.D./MBA from an accredited law school and enter the field of Entertainment and Sports Management/Representation. My LSAT scores are available for another three years, so I hope that within this time period, I can become involved with MLB International. This would enable me to become an envoy coach/scout and travel the world in the name of baseball development.
Other than that, it looks like a good chance that my contract will be renewed in Cape Town for a third season and I would love to take this team to the South African Major League title. Additionally, I have recently learned that I have a South African uncle. I am currently researching the possibility of applying for a South African passport with the hopes of getting onto their national team for the upcoming World Baseball Classic.