Kyle Gehrs is living the dream.
The 2010 Truman High School grad, who won a national championship at Iowa Western Junior College and then went on to star at the University of Central Missouri, signed a free-agent contract with the Houston Astros and is pitching for the GCL Astros in the Gulf Coast League.
“Every now and then, I kind of stop and think, ‘I’m a professional baseball player,’” Gehrs said by phone Thursday afternoon from Kissimmee, Florida, where the GCL Astros call home. “I dreamed about this since I was a little kid watching my brothers play.
“Now, it’s real. And I’m going to take advantage of every opportunity I have.”
Gehrs was a first team All-MIAA selection for the conference champion Central Missouri Mules this past season, splitting time between the bullpen and the starting rotation after transferring following the 2013 season at Oklahoma State.
The left-hander went 7-3 with a 3.84 earned run average in 14 appearances, including 11 starts. He struck out a team-leading 71 batters in 63 1/3 innings pitched and held opponents to a .254 batting average. He struck out at least one batter in every appearance and fanned a career-high 11 in six innings in a win against Lincoln University.
With those kind of statistics, he was hoping to be drafted. But that phone call never came.
“I had talked with the Astros, and they told me there was a chance I might get drafted, and to be honest with you, when it didn't happen I was bummed,” Gehrs said.
“So I packed up my stuff and was driving to St. Louis to play with an Independent League team when I got a phone call from the Astros. I was about 45 minutes outside of St. Louis and they said they wanted to sign me to a free-agent contract.
“It was amazing. I turned my car around and before you know it, I’m in Kissimmee in the rookie league playing pro ball.”
A typical day for Gehrs starts at 6 a.m.
“We’re living in a hotel, so I get up at 6, get to the park and practice begins at about 8:15 a.m.,” he explained. “We work out and practice and then play a game at noon.
“We do this six days a week. We’re off Sunday, and it’s all pretty amazing. This is an instructional league, so the games are important, but so are all the practices. It’s kind of a grind, but I’m loving every minute of it.”
So is his former Truman coach, John Eglich.
“I’m so proud of Kyle,” Eglich said. “He’s living a dream. To think that a kid who played four years at Truman is now a professional baseball player is pretty special.
“He’s the first kid from Truman to play pro ball since Bob Van Iten was drafted by the (Philadelphia) Phillies in the 16th round back in 1996. Something like this doesn’t happen too often, and when it does, you have to enjoy it.”
He has already appeared in five games in relief with a 5.68 earned run average and five strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings. He gave up at least one run in hist first three outings but has thrown 3 1/3 scoreless innings in his last two appearances.
When asked if he’d signed his first pro autograph, Gehrs chuckled.
“No, not yet,” he said. “I signed a few in college, but this is really all about learning. We don’t have a lot of fans at the games; it’s real low key.
“And I’m going to make the most of it. It’s still hard to think that my job is playing professional baseball. I’m going to make the most of it, and we’ll see what happens.”