The Interview Vault: K.C. Herren

herren interview vault.jpgBack in the fall of 2007, when James Jones was still a left-handed pitcher at Long Island University, Nick Franklin was just beginning his sophomore year at Lake Brantley High and Tom Wilhelmsen was still bartending around Tucson, there was a LumberKings’ playoff hero of decidedly less stature, outfielder Karl Christopher Herren.

Better known as “K.C.”, Herren was a 2004 second-round pick with plenty to prove heading into his second season in Clinton in ’07.  By year’s end, he’d emerge as the most consistent piece of the LumberKings’ offense and would deliver the team’s biggest hit of the postseason.

Herren’s pro career started in the late summer of 2004 after he graduated from Auburn High School (WA) and passed on a chance to walk on as either a receiver or defensive back for the nearby University of Washington.  At 18, his future looked bright as he hit .297 (55-for-185) in 46 games with the AZL Rangers, earning a post-season All-Star award.

The next season saw a promotion to the Northwest League, where he hit .264 with 14 doubles, four homers and 27 RBI in 57 games with the Spokane Indians.  He’d get his first taste of the playoffs with the eventual NWL champs, hitting .316 in five games.

Like everyone else on the ’06 Clinton club not named John Mayberry, Herren struggled in his first season in the black and green.  Still only 19 and already in his third season with the Rangers, K.C. struggled to hit a mere .221 with 15 extra-bas hits (10 doubles, two homers) and 21 RBI in 87 games…roughly the same production, albeit with far worse average, as his output in 46 games in ’04.  Herren wouldn’t make it to the finish line with the LumberKings that year as he returned to Spokane for the final 31 games (.268, 3 doubles, 3 triples, 3 HR, 13 RBI).

The 2007 season was the make-or-break year for Herren, and surrounded by guys like John Whittleman, Omar Poveda and Zach Phillips who also had much to prove, the outfielder thrived.  Call it sophomore maturity or the guidance of manager Mike Micucci, but Herren took off like a rocket, batting Whittleman for the Midwest League’s top batting average all the way through May.  On the strength of the league’s fifth-best average (.329) in the first half, Herren helped lead the Kings to the first-half West Division Wild Card.  He’d also join seven teammates in the MWL All-Star Game at Kane County, but would go hitless in the game.

The second half proved unkind to the LumberKings as promotion and reduced production took their toll.  While Whittleman and Poveda earned their tickets west to Bakersfield, Herren fell into the latter category, hitting just .225 (52-for-231) the rest of the way.  Still, he finished the year with his most productive statline ever…a team-best .274 average, 48 extra-base hits including 30 doubles, 12 triples (second-most in the MWL) and six homers and a career-high 49 RBI.

Herren was the veteran voice of the club heading into a first-round playoff series against second half West champion Cedar Rapids, and so he was my natural choice for the series preview interview.  We talked about Micucci’s philosophy on winning series carrying over into the playoffs, he and the rest of the offense getting hot down the stretch of the second half, the ’07 success meaning more to he and that night’s starter Phillips and more.

K.C. Herren (2007 Playoffs).mp3 

Herren’s bat would be silent that night as he went 0-for-4 in Clinton’s 4-1 loss to the Kernels.  That would be the only game the CR arms would keep him in check.  In game two, he went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI, including a single that scored Marcus Lemon to ignite a four-run fifth inning in Clinton’s 8-2 win.  The next night, he put the team on his back.

The Kings trailed game three at home, 3-0 heading into the bottom of the third.  Herren was again the catalyst as he delivered an RBI single scoring Renny Osuna for the second run of a three-run frame.  After lining out to strand Manny Pina in the fourth, he got another chance in the sixth with the score tied, 4-4.

He extended his hands on Barrett Browning’s pitch, sending an opposite-field grounder between Kernels’ third-baseman Abel Nieves and shortstop Wil Ortiz. Lemon, who had tripled to start the inning, raced home for a 5-4 Clinton lead.  A lead that would stand up over the final three innings thanks to the relief work of Jeremiah Haar and Josh Lueke, sending the Kings to the West Division Championship Series.

Listen to the hit: 
Herren game winning single vs. Cedar Rapids 9-7-07.mp3

Herren’s hit will always be my lasting memory of the 2007 season.  Unfortunately, it proved to be a closing chapter on his career.  The Rangers sent him to the Hawaii Winter League, a place for valued A-ball prospects following his career year in Clinton, but he’d last just one more season on the Texas farm.  A .188 average and .295 on-base percentage in 89 games with Bakersfield in 2008 was the last action he saw.  The Rangers released him in 2009, ending the once-promising career for the two-time LumberKing.


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