Nearly four years later, Heston Kjerstad is still a Razorback at heart. After a memorable Major League cameo, he’s back at his old stomping grounds. Like many former Arkansas baseball players, the second overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft still trains in Fayetteville during the offseason.
After all, most of his memories come from here. He needs no introduction to the regulars at Baum-Walker. The unique lefty power swing that mesmerized so many is now slowly starting to captivate people at Camden Yards at Oriole Park.
Kjerstad’s 13 games in the show were everything that an Amarillo, Texas boy could dream of, with two home runs that each had a unique story attached to them. His first home run, off Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Zach Eflin, halted a no-hitter in its tracks, and his second was hit in his home state.
“I’ll take any homer that I can get,” Kjerstad told Best of Arkansas Sports. “Getting the first few out of the way was nice and definitely special.”
Perhaps more special though was who was there alongside his proud family. Arkansas baseball coaches Dave Van Horn, Nate Thompson, Dave Hobbs, Bobby Wernes and Zach Barr all came out to support him the day after he hit his second home run.
“Them coming to support and catch a game meant a lot,” Kjerstad said. “Played a lot of baseball with them and they definitely helped me to where I am now. Look up to them a lot … They were there for BP (batting practice) and everything pre-game, got to hang out with them on the field a little bit. It was a lot of fun when they came in.”
Before the glamor of big league homers, there were trials and tribulations at both Arkansas and working his way up to the show. Luckily, thanks to his time on the hill, Kjerstad gained one of his biggest supporters who ended up helping him fight through a bout with myocarditis (inflammation of the middle layer of the heart wall) and a hamstring injury.
Razorback Power Couples
Through a relationship with his girlfriend, Klaire Trainor, whom he met when she was an Arkansas volleyball player from 2017 through 2020. She made 12 starts during the 2020 campaign and had a career-high 18 digs.
Kjerstad has associated himself with one of the most recognizable last names in school history. Klaire’s father is 1988 All-American kicker Kendall Trainor. He still holds the school record for the most field goals made in a single season, 24 in the 1988 campaign. Kendall’s brother is also an associate athletic director at Arkansas.
“She’s been one of my biggest supporters right along with family and friends,” Kjerstad said. She’s always always pumped. She’s always there whether it’s coming out to watch those big games or just support me. It’s good to have someone like that to cheer you on when times aren’t so great.”
Kjerstad and Klaire Trainor are hardly the first couple to grace the hills of Fayetteville, supporting each other throughout their time at Arkansas and beyond. Another power couple among Razorback athletes over the years includes fellow Arkansas baseball alum, Cannon Chadwick, a pitcher from 2015-17, and Payton Chadwick (formerly Payton Staumbaugh), 2018 national champion in the 60-meter hurdles.
Chadwick’s teammate Evan Lee, who made his own MLB debut in 2022, also became a couple with Sydney Lee (formerly Sydney Parr) a member of the 2018 Super-Regional bound softball team.
There’s also AJ and Calli Derby (formerly Berna), who a decade ago made their marks in football and basketball, respectively, for the Hogs. As of last summer, they were living across the street from their good friend Brandon Allen and his family.
For Kjerstad, having fellow Razorbacks at every turn helped him get through his rough patch. Klaire’s got her own Razorback pedigree as well.
Two Pro Hogs in Baltimore
Kjerstad is now flourishing as part of an Orioles core that includes among others, newly minted unanimous 2023 AL Rookie of the Year Gunnar Henderson, righty starters Grayson Rodriguez and Kyle Bradish who just finished the 2023 season with 101 wins and their first division title since 2014. Plus, you can’t forget about a fellow Razorback who has helped Kjerstad along. That would be 2019 All-Star James McCann, who played for the Hogs from 2009-11.
“He’s a veteran up there,” Kjerstad said. “He kind of takes me under his wing. He’s been really good to me. Sharing a little bit about going to the same school and having some stories about playing there is really cool to have that exchange.”
From one great Razorback to another, it’s easy to forget that Kjerstad finished seventh all-time in Arkansas history in homers despite only playing two full seasons. He also led the team in seven offensive statistical categories as a junior in 2020 before the season was halted due to COVID-19.
Nearly four years after taking the field at Baum-Walker, as Kjerstad gears up what will likely be his first opening day roster, Heston’s story seems to have come full circle. Once baseball season hits, he views the Razorbacks the same way tens of thousands viewed him, as a rabid fan as coach Van Horn chases his elusive title.
“I’m always turning the games on,” Kjerstad said. “Texting and talking to the coaches here and there about the team. ‘How’s it looking?’ I’m a huge Razorback fan now.”
More coverage of Heston Kjerstad and Pro Hogs from BoAS…