USM alum J.C. Keys working his way through Cincinnati Reds farm system

At Southern Miss baseball games, it’s not uncommon to run into former players in the Right Field Roost, which is where J.C. Keys was spotted on Opening Day.

Since then, the Oak Grove alum has been playing more games than watching games as a right-handed pitcher for the Chattanooga Lookouts, who just wrapped up a five-game series against the Biloxi Shuckers.

J.C. Keys has fond memories at MGM Park, having been a part of two Conference USA Tournament Championship dogpiles in Biloxi, most recently in 2019.

Overall, Keys was 14-5 throughout his college career at MGM Park, now back for the first time since as a member of the Chattanooga Lookouts more than three years later. “It means a lot. I haven’t been able to play in front of all my family in a couple years and just to see them, to be able to come down and watch me and see how much I’ve grown in baseball, it means a lot.”

On Sunday, Keys took the mound for the Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, who drafted him in the 23rd round in 2019.

The former Golden Eagle struck out three across two innings of relief. “It’s been a grind. Every day putting in the work to be able to perfect your craft, and just be the same person out there day in and day out. It’s been tough, but with the family and friends that I have, it’s been easy.”

One of those friends, at this point more like family, is teammate twice-over Chuckie Robinson, who was just called up to the show last week, more than six years after being picked in the 21st round by the Houston Astros out of USM.

Robinson proceeded to collect his first-ever MLB hit in his first-ever MLB game. “It’s amazing. He was actually my roommate whenever I got called up to Chatt, so just to see him make it to the Big Leagues and get his first career hit in the Big Leagues, I’m proud of him. I always thought of Chuckie as a brother.”

Another Southern Miss alum making his Major League debut this season, another teammate of Keys’ twice over at Oak Grove and then USM, Kirk McCarthy, who earlier this month in a Triple-A game gave up a home run to the home run king, yet another former teammate, Matt Wallner. “Fantasy group chat with a couple other Southern Miss players, and as soon as it happened, one of our friends Keller, Keller sent it in the group chat and was just talking noise to Kirk about Wallner’s his daddy and all that kind of stuff, so it was pretty funny.”

Truth be told, Keys have given up five long balls this year himself, contributing to a plus 5 ERA, albeit somewhat misleading, with Keys working in a brand-new cutter in addition to a fastball that sits 95-97, a slider, and his patented 12-6 curve, all while punching 43 tickets in 39 innings of work. “It’s the repetition of it. So being comfortable with it during catch play, and then having to blend that on the mound, and then blending it on the mound with a hitter in there, it takes time.”

One of the highlights of the summer for Keys was watching his alma mater host a Super Regional for the first time in program history.

Pretty safe to say he’ll be back for Opening Day once again next year as he continues his journey as one of just 11 former Golden Eagles currently living out the professional dream. “Keep grinding, waiting on my turn to where they feel like I’m ready to get up there. Shoutout to my boys at Southern Miss and shoutout to Hattiesburg – thank you for all of the love and support.”

Keys and the Lookouts taking four of five from the Biloxi Shuckers over the weekend, improving his lifetime record at MGM Park to 18-6. He had 140 career punch-outs at USM.

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