WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Kevin Jordan is what you call “phenom.”
He was an elite athlete but chose baseball, because it was his grandfather’s sport and, when his grandfather was growing up in the 1920s and 30s, Major League Baseball wasn’t an option for an African-American man.
It was for Kevin. He was projected as a 5th-round draft pick – the New York Yankees were high on drafting him there – until things changed his senior year in high school.
A scout for the San Francisco Giants had been keeping a close eye on him as well, and said, “He saw Kevin play and Kevin didn’t look at the same. There was something off, he wasn’t moving as well, looked like he had lost some weight,” said Wake Forest University baseball coach Tom Walters.
Walters was recruiting Kevin to play at Wake Forest. He brought Kevin to Winston-Salem to see a doctor who quickly figured out Kevin’s kidneys were failing — he had about 8 percent function in the two of them, combined. He needed a kidney transplant.
“Obviously the first check box is what, Kevin’s O-positive and the doctor said that, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘I’m O-positive,’” Walters said.
And Kevin’s family appreciated that but figured they could find a donor within their relatives.
Then, in early 2011, Kevin’s father called Wake Forest, “and he says that, ‘You still willing to get tested? We’ve run out of options,’” remembers Walters.
And, a few weeks later, there was Walters in the hospital to donate one of his kidneys to Kevin – a young man who had yet to play a game for Walters at Wake Forest.
“Just one of those things where it just came over me and I was like, ‘It’s meant to be me, this is why I’m here,’” Walters said.
Doctors did the transplant on Feb. 7, 2011.
Kevin went on to play at Wake Forest but was never quite the same player.
“I lost that chip on my shoulder I had been playing with all those years,” he says.
After a few years in sales in Winston-Salem, Kevin got a call from Walters with the idea of starting a new foundation called “Get in the Game.”
“Get in the Game is an organization that is designed to empower kids to make positive change,” says Michael Barron, Walters’ long-time friend and Get in the Game’s executive director. “These life skills – listening, empathy, kindness – those are all the life tools that they’ll use to combat the very things that we’re talking about, right now.”
“We’re calling them, ‘Game Changers,’ to have control of their own destiny,” said Walters, of the program. “So many kids today, they grow up and they look at the world with trepidation, and they look at the world and dread their day, they look at the world is hopeless and they feel like they can’t make a difference in their world. We want to empower them and get them to be more intentional and work on and get them to understand that they have all the tools necessary to make a difference in their world and we want them to make the world that they want to grow up in.”
“Seeing their energy around it, that’s enough to show me that there’s something good that we’re doing,” said Kevin. “I remember not being able to talk about subjects like that.”