Kohn branching out from famous family tree
Angels reliever comes from clan steeped in military, S.C. politics
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Michael Kohn's talents are reflected in his ERA and rooted in his DNA, with a family history of remarkable achievement.
He doesn't throw nearly as hard as his buddy, Jordan Walden. Kohn doesn't have Scot Shields' lethal two-seam sinker. Kohn's curveball doesn't break like Jason Bulger's, and his changeup isn't as deadly as Fernando Rodney's.
What Kohn, the Angels' 24-year-old right-hander from Camden, S.C., has is the knack of getting hitters out. He has done it ever since he made the move, on a lark, from the infield and catching to the mound as a senior at College of Charleston, moving swiftly through the Angels' system as a 13th-round Draft pick in 2008 to reach the Major Leagues in his third professional season.
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Kohn -- pronounced Kahn -- was good last year as a rookie, fashioning a 2.11 earned run average in 24 appearances. He figures he can be even better as a sophomore now that he's more comfortable in the environment and can cut loose and bring his heater back up a few miles per hour into the mid-90s range.
"I'm focusing on being more aggressive in the strike zone this year," he said.
It has shown already this spring with some high-quality Cactus League work. He has yielded one earned run in nine innings (1.00 ERA) with seven strikeouts and two walks.
"The ball is coming out hotter than last year," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Michael looks very good. He pitched well for us last year, and he's carving out a role in our bullpen."
Kohn's defining characteristic has been his poise under duress. He has put himself in jams and found the resources to pitch his way out of trouble.
His career ERA in 107 Minor League appearances is 1.87 with 204 strikeouts in 135 innings. He has yielded only 72 hits, holding batters to a .159 average.
Radar guns and the degree of break on sliders and curves can't gauge matters of heart, intelligence and resolve, and how they can converge to make a player something special.
In the case of Kohn, his fascinating heritage supplies answers. Achievement runs deep on both sides.
"My dad's father was a three-star admiral in the Navy," Kohn said. "On my mom's side, my grandfather's brother, Bob Sheheen, was the longest serving member of the state of South Carolina's House of Representatives" -- from 1977 through 2000.
"My second cousin, Vincent Sheheen, ran for governor of South Carolina in November and ended up losing to Nikki Haley by what I believe was the closest race in state history. He was leading by 15,000 votes, but she won the swing votes and that carried the election.
"It's a pretty interesting family history. Republicans and military on my dad's side, Democrats and politicians on my Mom's side."
And achievers everywhere, the characteristic that runs through the Kohn-Sheheen family tree, from the ground up.
From 1986 through 1994, Bob Sheheen, Vincent's uncle, was speaker of the South Carolina House. Vincent, an attorney, has served in the state building representing Chesterfield, Kershaw, and Lancaster counties.
Vincent's father, Fred Sheheen, is the former executive director of the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education.
"My mom, Rebecca, is one of seven girls," Kohn said. "My mom's dad and Vincent's dad are brothers. She's an insurance agent. She left the politics to the men in the family. Her grandfather had been mayor of Camden.
"My mom and dad met at College of Charleston. He moved to Camden, married my mom and has been a builder since '87. He runs Kohn Construction Company. He was getting started when Hurricane Hugo came through, and that created a lot of work for him."
Through his paternal grandfather, Vice Admiral Edwin Rudolph "Rudy" Kohn Jr., Michael, as a child, met presidents (Bush, the first, and Clinton) and other dignitaries.
A distinguished Naval aviator and commander for 38 years, Rudy Kohn was a Penn State graduate who flew 310 missions in Vietnam and earned a den full of medals for his service. He became commander of the Pacific fleet in San Diego and an active figure in Camden, where the extended Kohn family settled, until his death on Nov. 2, 2009.
"He had a burial ceremony in Arlington National Cemetery right when I got called up to the big leagues last year," Kohn said. "We had had a burial back home in November, and this was in July. My grandmother told me he would have wanted me to stay there and pitch.
"He was a disciplinarian, but not in an intimidating way. He taught me manners. There are a lot of remarkable people in my family, on both sides, and he was one of them."
Kohn isn't sure where his athletic genes originate.
"My mom's grandfather played baseball growing up," he said. "That's about it, as far as I know."
In their commitments to service, military and political, the Kohns and Sheheens made indelible marks in their fields.
The extended family holds an annual summer reunion in Camden, where dozens of people share stories and memories and have rounds of laughter over one tale in particular.
"In our family," Kohn was saying, "they like to talk about how only two people have had to go to summer school because they failed a class. One was Vincent, who almost became governor of South Carolina. And the other was a guy who became a Major League baseball player.
"I had some problems with algebra."
His summers fully booked, he can't make those reunions now. But all the way to the opposite coast, he can sense the family's laughter in South Carolina when the Kohns and Sheheens gather and talk about those two kids who turned out all right.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.