St. Francis de Sales baseball coach Tony Burmistrz said Kemari Simmons has the quickest hands of any hitter he has seen at the high school level.
His speed and agility are typically the product of hours of lessons, but Simmons has improved in other ways.
Unable to take hitting lessons from a private instructor, Simmons put a mattress against an inside garage wall, borrowed a hitting tee and whacked the ball into it. When it came to pitching, he threw at fence in his backyard and then taught his dog, Max, fetch it back to him.
"I didn't want to break the window in my mom's car," Simmons said. "I also didn't want to put a hole in the garage wall, so I put up the mattress. That wouldn't have been too cool."
His mom, Kerri, is a single parent, so Kemari said he knew lessons were out of range, but ingenuity wasn't.
"I really wasn't worried about what I didn't have, but instead I figured I would make use of what I have," Simmons said. "I just wanted to get batter at baseball and work on my hitting. This is what I did."
All the hard work has translated to a .618 batting average, third-best in the state and 32nd nationally, according to MaxPreps.com. He has hit safely in 21 of the Pioneers' 22 games this year, according to Burmistrz. According to the Illinois High School Association's record page, Simmons' .618 average is the seventh-best single season average, tying him with Lockport's Nick Mitidiero (2005). He is just ahead of Chatham Glenwood's Jayson Werth, who plays now with the Washington Nationals.
"Kemari embodies everything you could want in a ballplayer: talent, knowledge, pride, hustle, and desire," Burmistrz said. "This kid can hit at any level.
"He is obviously the fuel to our team."
When it wasn't too cold outside, he converted a cone to use as a tee and a broomstick as a bat.
"The cone was low, so it helped me on hitting low balls," Simmons said. "A lot of times when I am 0-and-2 in the count, I get a low outside fastball and I drive it to right field for a hit.
"I just went outside and taught myself how to hit."
He also worked on his pitching and used the family's beagle as his ball chaser.
"I taught him to fetch the ball when I threw it against my fence," Simmons said. "It wasn't too hard because Max is a smart dog and after all, dogs know how to fetch."
He said Max would bring it right back to the pitcher for a treat.
While Simmons loves the game and hopes to play in college, he credits his mom for giving him love and support.
"My mom is the most important person in my life," Simmons said. "It is tough being a single parent, but my mom has given us a lovely home and the chance for me to go to a Catholic school and get a good education.
"She has made sure I have what I need."