Driven: Sun Devils baseball recruit Cody Kiemele excels on diamond, oval

Cody Kiemele anxiously awaits his turn on the track at Phoenix Raceway, where the future ASU baseball commit pursues his passion for racing. (Photo by Dorian Zavala/Cronkite News)

AVONDALE – Even in these days of specialization, two-sport high school athletes who excel on the field and the track aren’t unusual.

Unless the track is a raceway and the athlete’s “other” sport is professional stock car racing.

Meet Cody Kiemele, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound highly touted left-handed pitcher from Arlington High School, in Riverside, California, who has verbally committed to Arizona State.

But Kiemele’s athletic endeavors aren’t limited to the baseball diamond. On a recent afternoon at Phoenix Raceway, as the engines roared from cars zipping around the track and the hot sun beamed onto the blistering black top, Kiemele anxiously awaited his turn to make his ARCA Menards racing circuit debut and test his skills on a higher circuit.

“I love Arizona, I love how everything is here, especially this track,” said Kiemele, who was excited to talk about how much he is going to enjoy being in the Valley.

Although Kiemele is scheduled to race part-time for team owner Joe Nava throughout the ARCA Menards Series West season while he finishes his senior year at Arlington High, he plans to concentrate solely on baseball once he arrives at ASU.

Similar to many high school athletes, Kiemele, 18, plays two sports. But it is a rare occasion to find a high school athlete driving professionally. Kiemele is a different breed of athlete.

Even more interesting is that Kiemele didn’t start with baseball or racing.

“I did soccer and basketball when I was younger,” Kiemele said. “I did that and everything else until I was about 9.”

Although Kiemele wanted to play baseball as a child, his mom believed he was bored while standing around waiting for the ball to be hit and decided to put him in other sports at the time.

He describes his younger self as a very impatient kid which was a problem for him because, as he put it, baseball can be a slow-moving sport and a lot of the time players don’t see much action during an inning.

Kiemele tried his hand in taekwondo. It was in those classes that he finally realized how to be patient and utilize that skill in all other aspects of his life, including baseball.

He was finally allowed back onto the diamond when he was 9, after his mother headed his pleas to let him play baseball again in part because a lot of his friends were playing ball and he just wanted to be included with them.

Baseball might have been his chosen sport, but in his veins ran the blood of a race car driver. The son of Rob Kiemele, a former race car driver, it felt as if the track called Cody’s name from a young age.

Cody’s journey into racing was not always easy. His first race as a young child came when he was just 5, and he was allowed to race a go-kart. But he was quickly pulled after his father witnessed a bad wreck in that race.

Even though he wasn’t allowed to race as a youngster, Cody was always around the sport as he followed and learned from his father.

The need for speed isn't just on the mound. ASU baseball commit Cody Kiemele is a rising star in both baseball and stock car racing. (Photo courtesy of Rob Kiemele)

The need for speed isn’t just on the mound. ASU baseball commit Cody Kiemele is a rising star in both baseball and stock car racing. (Photo courtesy of Rob Kiemele)

“I remember going with my dad to the track when he had to do his runs … seeing him race around the track always gave me the urge to do that at some point,” Kiemele said.

At 10, he was allowed to race again and jumped on it from the start. “I began bandit racing, and it was so much fun because my dad was finally allowing me to race,” Kiemele said.

Bandolero racing is different from the regular stock car racing one might see on television. Bandolero is a type of entry-level racing in the United States and Canada, where cars can reach more than 70 mph, but do not accelerate very quickly.

Kiemele finished fourth in the nation while competing in the bandit division, where he raced all over California and in Las Vegas. Cody’s father prepared him to shine.

“I wanted my son to get used to racing faster cars so I tried him on stock cars a couple times but it didn’t go as well as we wanted it so we scaled it back for a bit,” Rob said.

Cody’s racing skills accelerated when he reached junior league but even so, Rob knew baseball was the future for his son.

“My son is dedicated in just about everything he does, but I know his future is baseball because there’s never a NASCAR college,” Rob said. “Education is big in our family, my wife is a school teacher so we know the best way he’s going to get his education is through baseball.”

Cody and his family began making visits to different universities to get a read on the different programs and what they had to offer. Rob said he and Cody made two trips to every college that expressed interest before ultimately choosing ASU.

“We met with Bloomy on our first visit and really liked what he was showing us,” Rob said of Sun Devils baseball coach Willie Bloomquist. “We’re big on family so to see how Bloomy runs his program, I knew this is where I wanted my son to go.”

Arlington High School baseball coach Tim Klevano loves the competitiveness his pitcher shows every time he takes the mound but said there is more to Kiemele that most don’t see.

“He is highly competitive, he doesn’t back down from any challenge or anyone to be honest,” Klevano said. “We butt heads sometimes but that’s what I love about the kid, he has conviction in his beliefs and leaves everything on the mound.”

While Klevano talked about his pitcher, his expression changed as he described the effect Kiemele has on his team.

“He’s full of personality, lots of energy and enthusiasm … his commitment to making those around him better,” Klevano said. “The guys on the team gravitate to his personality and it’s kind of infectious.”

Kiemele transferred to Arlington High School from Aquinas High School in San Bernardino, California, after the 2022-23 school year, and hasn’t looked back.

“Coming into our baseball program, he came from another program and when you transition from one program to another, it’s a difficult task for a teenager but he’s done great, he helps the team in just about every aspect and it’s been fun to have him,” said Klevano.

The Arlington Lions currently sit atop the River Valley standings with a record of 4-0 in league play and 14-2 overall. Kiemele has managed to be one of the Lions’ main pitchers in the rotation despite taking time away from the team when he has to race. As he and his father both noted, the race track will always be there once Cody is done with baseball. For now, his dedication to his team never wavers.

“I think Cody makes up for that in other ways, even though he’s a pitcher and he only plays on certain days, he tries his hardest to make the team better and tries to make the dugout environment better,” Klevano said.

When Klevano was asked about the type of player the Sun Devils are getting once Kiemele arrives in Tempe, the coach kept it short.

“They’re getting a dog that just won’t quit,” Klevano said. “There is no quit in him.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Dorian Zavala expect to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Zavala is interning with Varsity Sports as a technical director and aspires to be a play-by-play caller or color commentator. Zavala also enjoys taking photos of athletes during competitions.