After spending most of the winter improving the roster for 2000, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays invested in the future Wednesday by signing Miami quarterback Kenny Kelly to a four-year contract.
Kelly was a second-round draft pick of the AL team in 1997 and has split time between the minor leagues and college for three years.
He was Miami's starting quarterback in 1999, completing 141 of 259 passes for 1,913 yards and 15 touchdowns, missing the final three regular season games because of a sprained left knee.
Kelly returned to lead the Hurricanes to a victory over Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl, and shortly after the New Year's Day game approached the Devil Rays about the prospect of playing baseball fulltime.
"The love for the sport was always there, but I thought I was shortchanging myself by not giving it enough time to get better," Kelly said.
The deal with Tampa Bay is contingent on the outfielder passing a physical examination later this month. At that time, he would be added to the 40-man major league roster.
Kelly, 21, grew up in Plant City, just outside of Tampa where he threw for 7,949 yards and 75 touchdowns in high school both state career records.
In three baseball seasons, Kelly has appeared in 132 games and batted .268 with eight homers, 45 RBIs and 39 stolen bases.
Last summer, he hit .277 with 10 doubles, four triples, three homers, 21 RBIs and 14 stolen bases in 51 games for Class A St. Petersburg before returning to Miami for football practice in late July.
He was encouraged by his rapid development in baseball and said it was becoming increasingly more difficult to leave.
"I looked at it as what could I do if I played full-time," Kelly said, adding that he nevertheless cherished the time he spent in Miami's football program.
"Football is a sport I've loved all my life, and it was tough to walk away from it. In the back of my mind, I knew the day would come when I had to make a decision. I didn't it think it would be this soon."
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