Twins' Max Kepler retraces steps in trip back to Germany

BERLIN (AP) — When Max Kepler makes an acrobatic catch for the Minnesota Twins, perhaps he owes a bit to his parents.

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Back in his hometown of Berlin, the 26-year-old outfielder paid tribute to his parents, professional ballet dancers Kathy Kepler and Marek Rozycki.

“I used to sit in the wings and watch them perform,” he said Monday during an interview with The Associated Press. “I was there with my sister, once, twice a month, watching them do their thing. So I think I subconsciously I learned a lot from just the way they go about themselves on a professional level.”

Kepler is in Germany for a five-day Major League Baseball promotional tour. He reminisced about Little League ball in the German capital. He said his dad gave tips on preparation and recovery, his mom on motivation.

“They’re my support team,” he said. “They’ve pushed me through thick and thin, ups and downs. There have been a lot of times where I’ve doubted myself, just continuing to play baseball. They’re the main factor for me still being in the game.”

Kepler played for the Regensburg Legionnaires in the Bundesliga, Germany’s highest-level league, and signed a minor league contract with the Twins in 2009. He made his big league debut in 2015 and hit .252 last season, setting career highs with 36 homers, 90 RBIs and 98 runs.

After helping with a clinic for kids in Regensburg on Saturday, Kepler was back in Berlin to visit his old school, the John F. Kennedy School, for another kids’ camp on Monday.

“It’s been amazing,” he said. “Any time I get to see the kids that used to be me, back in the day, in their shoes, looking up to major league players, I can really relate. It really brings out a lot of emotions, and also memories from my past. We don’t have much time, because we’re jumping from city to city in five days, but that’s my favorite part about it – just getting to relate to the kids.”

Kepler wishes he had more time to spend with kids. After visits to Munich, Regensburg and Berlin, he heads to Frankfurt on Tuesday. Kepler hasn’t had time to evaluate to the state of baseball in soccer-obsessed Germany.

“It’s just going to take some time to really build that community here, like it always has, and keep them interested in the game and away from the sports that are overshadowing baseball,” he said. “But that’s why I’m here and I’m trying to make a small difference in the German baseball world.”

Kepler played for several Berlin soccer teams including Lichterfelde, Hertha Zehlendorf, Berliner SC and even Hertha Berlin. He gave up soccer when he moved to Bavaria and concentrated on baseball.

“Soccer’s cut-throat in this country, like baseball is in the U.S.,” he said. “Kind of sad I dropped it at the time, but luckily it all paid off,” Kepler said.

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Ciarán Fahey Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

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