LEXINGTON, Ky. (FOX 56) — It’s hard to lose the love of the game.

“You know we all play catch with our dads growing up and from T-ball to high school to now playing a couple seasons of college baseball it’s been a huge part of my life,” Kentucky senior Alex Degen said.

Degen has carried that love of the game from New Jersey all the way here to Lexington, pitching for Kentucky.

He has kept that love, even after the game pitched him some tough love early last year.

“Came back after winter break first week I was here just felt like my arm was not feeling right now something’s weird I don’t know if it’s a biceps or something so talked to our trainers talked to some doctors got an MRI found out my rotator cuff was partially torn and for a pitcher a torn rotator cuff is not a good thing,” Degen said.

Degen missed his entire junior season, rehabbed his throwing shoulder, came back to the team this spring and still didn’t feel right.

“Coach Mingione he’s an honest guy it’s been such a blessing to play for him for the last 3-4 years he’s an honest guy and he said ‘Degen you’re just, it’s clear you’re not the same pitcher you used to be and I said obviously I’m not,” Degen said.

Tough love from his head coach, a tough pill to swallow knowing his career was over.

“Whether you’re gonna be a hall of famer in the MLB or whether you finish playing JV in high school you’re told one day you’re gonna have to stop playing,” Degen said.

Degen spent a ton of time on the mound but now he finds himself looking at some other chalk lines: the first base coach’s box.

Mingione gave him the title of student assistant coach; he’s the first base coach and he is all in on it.

“He loves Kentucky and loves doing anything to help us win and now I look across the field and see him at first base doing his thing, it’s pretty amazing but not surprised by his heart,” Mingione said, who is in his 7th season coaching the Wildcats.

Kentucky leads the SEC in stolen bases, proving to be a good baserunning team. Degen isn’t making those calls, of course, but still could take some credit in the team’s success.

“I’m not gonna take a whole lot of credit for the amount of steals we have this year my only thing I gotta do is they’ll get a sign from the dugout it’s just a 3 number sign and we have little wrist guards they wear on their belt and they look at the sign and I just repeat the sign to them make sure they got it,” Degen said.

“This guy pays attention he reads the scouting report he knows about pitchers’ pickoff moves he knows about catchers throwing behind, he is really good about reminding the guys where the outfielders are playing, a lot of times guys get from first to third because of his ability to remind them what’s going on so he impacts the game in a lot of ways and he definitely deserves some of the credit,” Mingione said.

This box represents a second chance at the game that he loves.

“It’s just a blessing to still be a part of this team obviously would love to be on that pitcher’s mound and still be a part of this program physically the way that I can but man it’s been a huge blessing to be over here,” Degen said.

Degen was awarded Kentucky’s highest humanitarian honor: the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, and was also named to the SEC Community Service team with over 300 hours of service. He graduated this May with nonprofit management and financial planning certificates.