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Sarasota baseball dad watches son's MLB dreams come true

Todd Kerkering, the emergency manager for the city of Sarasota, was moved to tears at his son Orion Kerkering's debut.

Orion Kerkering was named to the Philadelphia Phillies postseason roster Oct. 3.
Orion Kerkering was named to the Philadelphia Phillies postseason roster Oct. 3.
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The tears came fast. 

Todd Kerkering, the emergency manager for the city of Sarasota, had no chance to stop them, even if he wanted to. That was his son on the field pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies — Orion Kerkering, No. 50 — against the New York Mets on Sept. 24. 

Orion Kerkering made his Philadelphia Phillies debut Sept. 24 against the New York Mets.
Courtesy image

Orion Kerkering, a Venice High and University of South Florida graduate, is well-regarded as a pitcher, landing at No. 7 on's Phillies organizational prospect rankings. He has a particularly devastating slider, which combines with his hard-to-read delivery to create a tough at-bat for hitters. 

But Kerkering was not supposed to be here — at least not this fast. He began the 2023 season with the low A-level Clearwater Threshers. His projected arrival time in the big leagues, according to, was 2025. Yet a week and a half before the playoffs began, the Phillies were calling his number, thanks to a meteoric rise through the team's farm system. Across four levels of the minor leagues, Kerkering held a 1.51 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 53.2 innings. After one scoreless appearance at AAA-level Lehigh Valley, the Phillies had seen enough: They needed Kerkering for the playoff push. 

So he traveled to Philadelphia for the team's series against the Mets. Todd Kerkering was not far behind. Then the debut performance: A perfect inning, complete with two strikeouts. For Todd Kerkering, the tears fell, and the television cameras captured it. Overnight, the video of Kerkering showing his emotions became a viral sensation. 

Kerkering, a former Marine, said he got plenty of messages about it the next day, most of them sympathetic — even from his military buddies. 

"At first, they were all like, 'What are you doing?'" Kerkering said with a laugh. "But they all ended their texts with, 'I would have done the same thing.'" 

What else is a proud father to do?

Kerkering said he is proud not just because of Orion's baseball ability, but because of the person Orion is. 

When Rich Carroll Sr., the founder of Venice Challenger Baseball, died in 2021 at 72, Orion felt moved to do something. 

The Challenger organization provides a space for kids who aren't able to play traditional Little League baseball to enjoy the game. After learning of Carroll's passing, Kerkering, who was at USF at the time, had all of the league's players sign a pair of cleats. He was going to wear them during his team's season-opening game to honor Carroll and all he had done for the baseball community. Learning of his son's plan, Todd Kerkering asked what Orion would do if his coach didn't like the move, or violated a uniform rule. 

Orion gave three words in response: "I don't care." 

He'd deal with the consequences later. Expressing what was weighing on his heart was more important. 

Todd Kerkering's emotions while watching his son Orion Kerkering were captured by television cameras and made him a viral sensation online.
Courtesy image

Todd Kerkering was not a baseball guy growing up. He admits he does not know the finer details of the sport as well as others might. When Orion Kerkering started his Little League career, Todd Kerkering did not know if his son had something special, though others hinted he might. All Kerkering cared about was his son having fun, he said. 

As Orion Kerkering got older, it became clear that he had a future in baseball — if not at the major league level, then at least at the college level. That's when Todd Kerkering started giving him the only piece of advice he ever gave. 

"I told him, 'Know that somebody wants your spot,'" Kerkering said. 

Orion Kerkering took it to heart, over and over. He never let someone take his spot — and in fact was motivated to take other people's spots, like he did with the Phillies. 

Kerkering's appearance was not a one-off. He made two more regular-season appearances, against the Mets and the Pittsburgh Pirates, and did not allow a run in either. On Oct. 3, nine days after his MLB debut, Kerkering was officially named to the Phillies' postseason roster for the team's National League Wild Card Series against the Miami Marlins. The three-game series runs through Oct. 5. If the Phillies advance, there's a strong chance Kerkering will be with the team for however long its postseason run lasts. 

Todd Kerkering will be there for as much of it as he can. Kerkering said Oct. 2 that he would be flying to Philadelphia the next morning for the series opener. He'll be there for every game, though he joked that he's hoping for a two-game sweep so he can get back to work sooner. It has been a whirlwind few weeks, he said, but he would not change it for anything.

"You're watching your kid put their everything into something," Kerkering said. "It doesn't matter what it is. Some people want to be the best AC guy or the best plumber or the best doctor. Just seeing your kid get to where they want to be, that's what it's really about, not just baseball." 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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